Late reviews

7-8-14

I wrote these reviews a while ago but forgot to post them.

ROCKET RACCOON #1 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. I AM GROOT! Translation:

This comic combines a fantastic character (well, two great characters if Groot counts) with an artist who is perfectly suited to draw that character. It’s as though Rocket Raccoon and Skottie Young seem to have been made for each other. Skottie has an incredible ability to draw characters and scenes which are plausible and hilariously goofy at the same time, and therefore Rocket Raccoon is a perfect outlet for his talent. This comic sort of exemplifies the difference between Marvel and DC, in that it makes no attempt at “realism” or “seriousness”; it’s just supposed to be fun, and it is. After Ms. Marvel and Lumberjanes, this is the third great debut of 2014.

SAGA #20 (Image, 2014) – A. This issue is enjoyable but it doesn’t advance the story very much, except by getting rid of Princess Robot. The tensions in Marko and Alana’s relationship are starting to become clear, and because of that, this issue is rather depressing. I enjoyed it, but unlike most recent issues of Saga, it wasn’t the best comic of the week.

SEX CRIMINALS #6 (Image, 2014) – A+. This is the grimmest issue of Sex Criminals so far, though it does suggest that the story is going to take a turn for the better, because Jon is finally tired of being jerked around by the Sex Police. This issue also gives us a much better understanding of Jon’s character than we’ve had before. This issue’s revelations about Jon’s psychiatric history make him seem like a much more deep and conflicted character than previously. I do sympathize with the letter writer who accused Fraction of repeating the “dominant narrative” about medication having a deadening effect. I kind of ignored this when it was mentioned in issue 5, but it’s much more difficult to ignore here.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #6 (IDW, 2014) – B+. This was a fairly insubstantial story, but a fun one. As two of the most egotistical and arrogant characters in the series, Rainbow Dash and Trixie are a very effective pairing. This issue also accomplishes the difficult feat of making the reader sympathize with Trixie to some extent. Still, this issue did not have the depth or density of a typical issue by Katie and Andy.

CHEW #42 (Image, 2014) – A+. Incredible stuff. The cyborg animals are an exciting addition to the universe of this series. I also loved the Quacken, an obvious reference to Scrooge and his nephews. The Vampire story has receded into the background for now, which is fine with me.

SAVAGE DRAGON #195 (Image, 2014) – B-. This is not a great issue, but it’s an improvement over the last few issues of this series. In comparison to recent issues of Invincible, the violence in Savage Dragon seems much more tolerable, since Savage Dragon has always used extreme violence for humor value. It’s nice to see Maxine back, although she’s a bit of a Chinese stereotype.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #20 (IDW, 2014) – A+. Oddly, I started reading this on the train back from the comic book store, and then forgot to finish it. This issue is a satisfying conclusion to Katie and Andy’s latest epic. One nice thing that it does is to suggest some depth to Celestia’s character. I think I like her better as a flawed human (or rather equine) being with a tragic past, as opposed to a perfect, unapproachable goddess, as she essentially was in at least the first couple TV seasons. As I have frequently mentioned here, one of Katie and Andy’s greatest skills is the narrative density of their work. This issue, as usual, is full of fascinating gags and Easter eggs. The Tom Baker version of Time-Turner is hilarious, and Pinkie Pie’s line “This is a humor comic!” is definitely going to be mentioned in my essay on transmedia storytelling in MLP.

BATMAN #313 (DC, 1979) – C+. This Two-Face story is pretty forgettable. There’s nothing especially interesting about the main plot of the issue. The scene with Lucius Fox and his son is suspiciously reminiscent of the scenes with Joe and Randy Robertson in the #60s of Amazing Spider-Man. The only part I did like was Bruce’s date with Selina, but even then, it’s disturbing that he knows her secret identity but she doesn’t know his.

ADVENTURE COMICS #426 (DC, 1973) – B. As discussed in my review of #425, this issue was from a very brief period when Adventure Comics was devoted to adventure stories, with no main character. The average quality of the issue is much lower than that of #425, mostly due to the Vigilante story, which is a formulaic piece of work by the thoroughly average creative team of Bates and Sekowsky. However, the Adventurers’ Club and Captain Fear stories have some very nice artwork by Jim Aparo and Alex Niño. In particular, Aparo was at his artistic peak around this time.

USAGI YOJIMBO #25 (Dark Horse, 1998) – A+. This issue is a retelling of the folk tale of Momotaro, which is framed as a story that Usagi tells to some children from an orphanage. I had heard of Momotaro but didn’t know the details of his story, so this issue was very informative – which I think is intentional; many Usagi stories double as introductory lessons to various aspects of Japanese culture. The frame narrative also demonstrates Usagi’s essential good nature and his wonderful rapport with children. He gives his dessert to a hungry child, then buys another one for himself, but then another equally hungry child shows up, so Usagi buys another dessert, and so on. The story also provides some surprising insight into another character, Stray Dog, who turns out to have been personally funding the orphanage.

SCOOBY-DOO! TEAM-UP #5 (DC, 2014) – B+. The sad thing is that this is probably the best and most kid-friendly superhero comic DC published this month. Not that there’s anything wrong with this issue. It’s funny and lighthearted, and it depicts a Wonder Woman who is truly heroic and inspirational. Sholly Fisch has a certain talent for writing kid-oriented superhero stories that take themselves seriously but still make the reader laugh. It’s just too bad that a story like this is appearing in a random issue of Scooby-Doo Team-Up rather than in Wonder Woman’s own title, which is completely inappropriate for children.

MS. MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2014) – A. The novelty of this series is wearing off a little, but it continues to be Marvel’s most important current comic. Kamala Khan is an important heroine because as a Muslim girl, she belongs to one of the most invisible and oppressed minority groups in America, and therefore she faces extreme barriers to becoming a superhero, and yet she tries anyway. She reminds me of Jamie Reyes in that sense. And also she’s just so adorable and has such good intentions. The scene where she confronts her father is kind of a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.

AKIKO #5 (Sirius, 1996) – B. This is a very entertaining comic; the characters are all fascinating, and the dialogue, especially the exchanges between Spuckler and Beeba, is hilarious. And maybe Mark Crilley’s greatest strength is his ability to make up names. In this issue we’re introduced to the Sleeslup worms, whose name has echoes of slippery, slimy and sleazy. The glaring problem with this comic is the background art. Crilley’s characters are rendered with great detail, but his backgrounds are usually just computer-generated greytones. The result is that you have these very well-drawn characters just floating in the middle of nowhere – rather than inhabiting a convincing and immersive world, like in Bone, which is the first comic that comes to mind as a comparison. Maybe that helps explain why Akiko has mostly been forgotten today.

VILLAINS UNITED #3 (DC, 2005) – A-. This seems to be one of Gail Simone’s best-liked works. Like so many recent DC comics, it’s brutally violent – in particular, it involves a good deal of torture – although the violence is somewhat excused by the fact that all the characters involved are villains. What really makes this story exciting, though, is that all the characters have unique and well-developed personalities, and Gail does a great job of playing them off each other.

HERO FOR HIRE #7 (Marvel, 1973) – B+/A-. This comic is clearly a relic of the ‘70s, not only because of the blaxploitation but also because of the scene with a deranged Vietnam vet. Despite being somewhat dated, though, it’s a lot of fun; Steve Englehart’s writing is very entertaining, and Billy Graham’s artwork is serviceable if not great. The story is an homage to A Christmas Carol, but the parallels to that story are never excessively obvious or distracting, unlike in similar comics such as Teen Titans #13.

SUICIDE SQUAD #64 (DC, 1992) – B. This is a well-written action-adventure story, but only half of it is about the Suicide Squad. The other half is devoted to a bunch of new villains who probably never appeared again after this series. The cover is a close-up of Deadshot’s face, but he doesn’t play as prominent a role in the story as I had hoped.

HAWKEYE #18 (Marvel, 2014) – B+/A-. I was delighted to realize that the Philip Marlowe character is actually Harold H. Harold from Tomb of Dracula. Sadly he dies in this issue, which is the latest in a series of rather depressing Kate Bishop stories. All the recent Kate Bishop issues have been fairly well-written, but I’m getting tired of seeing Kate suffer constant humiliation and defeat, especially when Young Avengers depicted her as a much more confident and successful character.

HAWKWORLD #15 (DC, 1991) – A-. Although the Hawkworld ongoing series is less well remembered than the miniseries that preceded it, I think it’s a hidden treasure. Graham Nolan is a somewhat underrated talent, and Ostrander’s characterization of both Katar and Shayera was fascinating. He depicted them both as strong, forceful personalities that often clashed with each other. And much like Wolff & Byrd, two other characters created around the same time, Ostrander’s Katar and Shayera are friends and partners but not lovers; they have a collegial relationship but they both have other romantic interests. This sort of relationship between characters of opposite gender is still very unusual. This particular issue is a War of the Gods tie-in, but I actually didn’t realize that until the very end, because the gods involved are Thanagarian gods, and their appearance makes perfect sense in the context of Hawkworld. This issue is an effective demonstration of how to write a story that fits into a company-wide crossover while still advancing the narrative of its own series.

SPAWN/WILDC.A.T.S #1 (Image, 1996) – C-. This is one of the worst Alan Moore comics I’ve ever read, though I suppose I shouldn’t have expected much from it. The plot is exactly the same as that of Days of Future Past, and the dialogue is below Alan’s usual level. And the artwork is by an untalented Jim Lee clone. This comic is only worth owning for the sake of completism.

SILVER SURFER #3 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. I usually hate this character, but Slott and Allred have made me excited about him. The plot and dialogue in this issue are perfectly suited to Allred’s artistic talents. Like Allred’s artwork, Slott’s story is hilarious and cartoony, but also heroic in a Silver Age-esque way. Dawn Greenwood initially seemed like a pointless character, but with this issue we finally begin to see why she matters. Of course the highlight of the story is the renaming of the Surfer’s board as “Toomie”.

DEADPOOL #9 (Marvel, 1997) – B+. This issue is enjoyable for the same reasons as the other Deadpool comic reviewed above. Joe Kelly’s dialogue is hilarious and his stories create an enjoyable tension between humor and graphic violence. I didn’t notice any significant fourth-wall-breaking in this story.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #4 (Marvel, 2014) – B+/A-. I’m not all that invested in the main plot of this issue, especially since it assumes knowledge of a crossover story that I didn’t read. The main things that make this comic appealing are KSDC’s characterization and David Lopez’s artwork. I especially loved the panel where Jackie’s hair “shakes hands” with Carol’s hair.

MARVEL PREMIERE #7 (Marvel, 1973) – B-. Gardner Fox was actually a surprisingly appropriate writer for Dr. Strange because of his thorough grounding in the weird fiction of REH and Lovecraft. Names like Dagoth and Shuma-Gorath remind you of those authors, even if the plot of this comic is not reminiscent of REH or Lovecraft in any substantial way. This comic is also notable as a very early work of P. Craig Russell. His artwork was pretty generic at this point, but there are a couple panels here where you can see his skill at drawing architecture. The first line of this issue is “What is it that disturbs you, Stephen?”, which must be where PCR got the title for his 1997 remake of Dr. Strange Annual #1.

THE FLASH #238 (DC, 1975) – B-. I enjoy Cary Bates’s Flash stories, and I think that the Flash, with its traditional focus on plot at the expense of characterization, was the ideal title for him. But I have to admit that most of his Flash comics were just average, even before the endless Trial of Barry Allen saga. The Flash story in this issue is forgettable; it involves a villain who somehow has the ability to switch places with other people. This story also depicts Iris in a somewhat unflattering light. I get the feeling that Cary Bates killed Iris off because he just didn’t like her. In fact I may actually have read that somewhere. This issue also includes a Green Lantern backup story, which is also no better than average, though it is significant because it introduces Hal’s cute alien sidekick Itty.

THE FLASH #203 (DC, 1973) – B+. This is the story in which we learn that Iris Allen was born in the 30th century. The weird part is that it’s clearly not the same 30th century that the Legion of Super-Heroes comes from. In this 30th century, there was a nuclear war in 2945, and by 2970, everyone lives in giant sealed towers and water is severely rationed. The weird part is that the writer, Robert Kanigher, makes no attempt to resolve the contradiction between this story and the Legion, nor does he even admit that this contradiction exists. This seems kind of insulting to the reader’s intelligence – it’s as though the reader isn’t supposed to realize that the Legion and the Flash exist in the same universe. Of course in 1973 DC was still publishing Super Sons stories, so clearly continuity was much less valued then than it is now, and that wasn’t such a bad thing. As for the actual story in this issue, it’s just okay; the best thing about it is Murphy Anderson’s beautiful inks over Irv Novick’s pencils.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #30 (IDW, 2014) – B+. Again the main attraction of this issue is James Roberts’s dialogue. I said before that Kieron Gillen is the best prose stylist in mainstream comics at the moment, but James Roberts is also a contender for that title. The highlight of the issue is the scene where Rodimus Prime discovers the corpse of his future self, and then suggests cutting his arm off to ensure that that particular future won’t happen. I still find it impossible to tell the characters in this comic apart. There’s a roll call right before the first page of the story, but it only lists nine characters, and there are many more than nine Transformers in this issue.

SMALL FAVORS #7 (Eros, 2003) – B+/A-. Colleen Coover’s pornographic work is actually fairly similar to her mainstream work (e.g. Bandette and X-Men: First Class) in that it’s all about happy people. I think Colleen really likes to draw people who are happy. And in Small Favors, that means people who have sex without serious consequences or drama. Which is why Small Favors is pornography in the strict sense – because it depicts sex as a purely enjoyable phenomenon, ignoring the emotional baggage associated with it. (In this sense Small Favors contrasts with something like Omaha the Cat Dancer.) The result is a comic which is extremely fun, but sometimes becomes boring due to the lack of serious conflict.

WONDER WOMAN #198 (DC, 1972) – B/B-. This is a reprint of issues #183 and #184, both written and drawn by Mike Sekowsky. In issue #183, Ares invades Paradise Island. This issue is very unusual for pre-Crisis Wonder Woman because it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, and it depicts the Amazons as brave, heroic warriors, refusing to surrender even against overwhelming odds. In that sense, this might be the most exciting story I’ve read from this era of Wonder Woman, although Sekowsky’s writing and artwork are rather crude. Unfortunately, in #184, Sekowsky has Diana go and recruit various legendary heroes, like Siegfried and Lancelot, to hold off the invasion. The obvious disturbing implication here is that the Amazons can’t save themselves without male assistance. What makes things even worse is that Diana loses to Siegfried in single combat, and on two different occasions in these two stories, the caption boxes describe Diana as a girl. Overall #184 squanders the feminist potential created by #183. This issue is edited by Dorothy Woolfolk, whose rules seem to have been different from those of other DC editors at the time; specifically, this issue includes a lot of sentences that end with periods instead of exclamation marks.

GREEN LANTERN #103 (DC, 1978) – C+. This comic is pretty silly. The worst part of it is a scene where Green Arrow jumps into space without a spacesuit and survives. According to the writer, you can survive under those conditions for ten seconds, and this appears to be true, but it still seems wildly implausible that Ollie could take such an extreme risk without suffering any harm. Besides that, this comic has little else of any interest. I think that by this point in the ‘70s, Denny O’Neil’s writing style was already becoming obsolete.

STRAY BULLETS #6 (El Capitan, 1995) – B+/A-. I haven’t read this series before, and I assumed it was just another crime comic, but I enjoyed this issue more than I expected to. This issue is more a science fiction story than a crime story. It takes place in the 31st century, which is barely distinguishable from the 20th century, and stars a master criminal named Amy Racecar. Over the course of the story, Amy Racecar proves that God doesn’t exist and then causes an apocalyptic nuclear war. And yet somehow this comic is quite funny. The horrible events in the story are played for humor instead of pathos, and it works. David Lapham’s style of draftsmanship is quite distinctive – it reminds me of Carla Speed McNeil, but not quite – and for some reason I actually like the fact that nearly every page in the issue uses a 2×4 grid.

COSPLAYERS #1 (Fantagraphics, 2014) – B-. I don’t know when was the last time Fantagraphics published a standard-format comic book. This issue is notable for that reason alone. Other than that, I didn’t like it at all. I haven’t read any of Dash Shaw’s work before, but this issue fails to demonstrate why he’s one of America’s most celebrated young cartoonists. It’s very similar to Ghost World in that it focuses on two sarcastic teenage girlfriends, but Dash Shaw’s artwork is much worse than Clowes’s. In particular, Shaw’s artwork has a serious lack of emotional subtlety – his characters’ faces look flat and expressionless. Partly because of this, the story in this issue seemed dispassionate and lifeless, and I didn’t feel any connection to the characters. Maybe this was on purpose, but if so, I don’t understand what the purpose was. Finally, although this comic is called Cosplayers, I don’t feel that it told me anything about the cosplayer lifestyle that I didn’t already know. Again, perhaps that wasn’t the point, but in that case, what was the point?

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