More late reviews

Again, I wrote these reviews last month or the month before, but never got around to posting them.

7-21-14

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: GALAXY’S MOST WANTED #1 (2014) – C+/B-. This is a very slight and forgettable piece of work, though it has Rocket Raccoon and Groot in it, so at least it’s fun. The writer is Will Corona-Pilgrim, who I’ve never heard of. This issue also includes a reprint of Thor #314, which is kind of touching because it involves a reunion between Drax and Moondragon, but it also reminds me how awful Thor was before Simonson took it over.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE TWO-IN-ONE nn (2014) – A+. I taught Hip Hop Family Tree vol. 1 earlier this semester and I’m writing about it for an upcoming article, so obviously I love it. Ed Piskor’s design sense is incredible and he does a great job of making me care about a topic in which I previously had little interest. This issue is a great example of Ed’s sense of design in that it’s designed to look like a ‘70s Marvel comic (complete with Bullpen Bulletins page), and it’s also full of what appear to be scribbled notes. On the last page, for example, the word “HOMESTEAD” is written across the lower right-hand corner with a red marker, and you can see the imprint of the marker on the other side of the page. This is all done with digital trickery, of course, but it still looks really cool. I just wish this comic was printed on newsprint instead of glossy paper. I don’t have much to say about the actual content because most of it is stuff that I’ve already read in the collected edition.

DOCTOR SOLAR, MAN OF THE ATOM #26 (Gold Key, 1969) – B-. This is surprisingly convoluted for a ‘60s non-Marvel superhero comic. It involves two alternate dimensions and multiple versions of each of the characters. None of the characters are particularly well-developed or original, and the artwork is boring, but the plot twists are interesting enough to retain my attention. One thing that surprised me about this comic is that Dr. Solar was actually the hero’s real name, and Man of the Atom was his secret identity; only the Valiant version of the character was named Phil Seleski.

JONNY QUEST #4 (Comico, 1986) – A+. Another flawless issue of the great forgotten comic of the ‘80s. Bill Messner-Loebs’s storytelling ability is very underrated; he has a knack for telling a complicated story with lots of moving parts, but in such a way that the reader never gets confused or overwhelmed. This particular issue has at least two different plotlines running at once, one involving the mob and another involving a dinosaur, but they both come together in a satisfying way. The artist for this story is Tom Yeates, who is also highly underrated. I think he maybe gets a bad rap because he’s not nearly as good as, say, Bernie Wrightson or Mark Schultz, but that doesn’t make him a bad artist.

VENGEANCE SQUAD #5 (Modern Comics, 1977; originally Charlton, 1995) – C+. The first story in this issue is terrible. It’s a boring James Bond parody with lazy artwork by Pete Morisi. The saving grace of this issue is the Mike Mauser story by Cuti and Staton. This story is a fairly typical Cuti/Staton collaboration, which means it’s pretty funny, though not as funny as some of their later work with this character.

MS. TREE #4 (Eclipse, 1983) – B+. I am a big fan of Ms. Tree even though I don’t normally like detective fiction. Ms. Tree might be the most brutal female vigilante in the history of American comics, and Max Collins’s writing is gripping and realistic. Terry Beatty’s artwork is not exciting but it’s good enough to get Collins’s ideas across. This particular issue is the first one published under the title Ms. Tree (as opposed to Ms. Tree’s Thrilling Detective Stories) and it’s the story where Ms. Tree’s late husband’s first wife gets killed and she gets custody of his son. This comic features Leroy lettering, which I normally hate, but somehow it seems appropriate in this context.

TALES TO ASTONISH #69 (Marvel, 1965) – B. These old Ant-Man/Wasp stories are frustrating because the Wasp is typically a helpless hostage whose primary role is to be rescued by Hank. Also, as with issue 55, reviewed above, this issue’s villain is the Human Top. The writer, Al Hartley, tries to present the Human Top as this devious criminal mastermind, but he just seems like a joke to me, and his plots seem to succeed mostly because Hank has a serious case of plot-induced stupidity. Bob Powell’s artwork on this issue is excellent, though; he does a nice job of conveying Giant-Man’s majestic size. The Hulk backup story is much more effectively written and drawn, though it seems like kind of a generic Hulk/Leader story. Reading this story, I wondered why Thunderbolt Ross never had a heart attack, considering his age and his constant temper tantrums.

DEFENDERS ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 1976) – B. This issue is kind of disappointing. Like every Gerber Defenders story, it’s deliberately silly and nonsensical, but I had trouble identifying what exactly he was making fun of, or why I should care. It’s been a while since I read any other issues of Gerber’s Defenders, so maybe I’ve forgotten how to read this series properly. I do think it’s a shame that Gerber never got to be the regular writer on Incredible Hulk, because I love the way he writes the Hulk.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #1 (Image, 2014) – A-. This is essentially the third volume of Phonogram, although as the letter column explains, it’s not called that because it takes place in a different and incompatible universe. I think I actually like it better than Phonogram, though, because Phonogram is difficult to understand without some knowledge of Britpop, and I have very little interest in that kind of music. The Wicked + The Damned is technically about music, but it doesn’t reference any particular kind of music. Instead, this series is about the connection between celebrity culture and mysticism. It has some of the same concerns as “Manchester Gods,” which may have been the high point of Kieron Gillen’s run on Journey into Mystery. I’m excited to read more of this series.

CARTOZIA TALES #2 (Cartozia Press, 2013) – B-. Isaac Cates gave this to me for free at the Dartmouth comics conference earlier this year. This series is produced according to some kind of Oulipian constraint, but the nature of the constraint only becomes clear after you read more than one issue (more on this below). In isolation, this comic is just a collection of chapters of ongoing stories, none of which have any obvious connection to each other. These stories are drawn in a wide variety of styles, and they include some intriguing ideas – for example, enchanted bear masks, an upside-down town, and my favorite, “a Muchness, a creature large enough to use a spruce tree as a toothbrush.” But it’s hard to see what all this adds up to.

FANTASTIC FOUR #58 (Marvel, 1967) – A+. The period from the #40s to the #60s of FF was the absolute peak of the superhero genre. This issue is the second part of the Doom/Silver Surfer story, which may have been better written than the original Galactus story, because of its greater sense of focus. The Galactus story began halfway through #48 and ended halfway through #50, and was interspersed with a lot of other material, while this issue is entirely devoted to Dr. Doom. The impressive thing about this story is the utter hopelessness of the FF’s flight; Stan and Jack succeed in making Doom seem like a terrifying and unstoppable threat. And Jack’s artwork here is some of the best of his career; his fight scenes are stunningly powerful, and the first two panels, with Doom appearing in a bolt of lightning, are unforgettable.

CARTOZIA TALES #3 (Cartozia Press, 2014) – B/B+. With this issue the idea behind this series becomes clearer. If I understand correctly, Cartozia Tales has nine different creative teams and nine different ongoing series, but in each issue, the creative teams trade off series. After writing that sentence, I did a little research and discovered that I’m wrong. There are seven regular creators, and each issue also has two guest artists. The stories all take place in a world whose map is divided into nine sectors, and each issue, each of the artists is randomly assigned a sector of the map. Hence the term Cartozia. I approve of this because it’s an interesting experiment in collaboration and constrained writing, although the shifts in creative teams are very disorienting. I like the worldbuilding in this comic, though I have trouble making enough sense of the stories to really get into them.

SIMPSONS COMICS #16 (Bongo, 1996) – D+. This comic is pointless: it doesn’t reveal anything new or interesting about the characters, it doesn’t have any kind of serious message, and it’s not particularly funny. In other words, it’s very similar to most recent episodes of the TV show.

FANTASTIC FOUR #297 (Marvel, 1986) – C-. This issue has some cute character moments, but the main plot, involving two alien races, is uninteresting, and the subplot, involving the Ben-Johnny-Alicia love triangle, is annoying. I know that Johnny and Alicia’s romance was not Roger Stern’s idea, but he certainly could have done a better job of making it palatable to the reader.

LUMBERJANES #4 (Boom!, 2014) – A+. I think this is currently my third favorite comic after Saga and Sex Criminals. When I heard that issue 4 would introduce some male characters, I was kind of apprehensive; I sort of wanted this series to remain a female-only space. But the boys in this issue are actually awesome, because they’re just as gender-transgressive as the girls: they’re clean and polite and they like to bake cookies. And the clear implication is that there’s nothing wrong with this. Indeed, when the boys’ camp director accuses them of being unmanly, nobody else agrees with him. The camp director was the one weak link in this issue, in fact, because his existence suggests that in the world of Lumberjanes, traditional gender stereotypes still exist. I’d have preferred to believe that Lumberjanes takes place in a world where such stereotypes don’t exist, or where standard gender roles are completely reversed. Besides all of that, the plot of this series is still very exciting, and it’s a charming moment when Jen and her campers resolve their differences.

MS. MARVEL #6 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. Team-ups between Wolverine and a teenage superheroine are obviously incredibly clichéd, but Kamala Khan is such a fascinating character that this issue is more than just a retread of Wolverine: First Class or whatever. This may be the first story in which Wolverine teams up with a fangirl of his. Kamala’s familiarity with Internet culture and fan culture is one of the things I love about her. I remember it was kind of shocking when Hathor turned into a lolcat in Prince of Power #3, because up to that point, I don’t think superhero comics had ever referenced Internet memes at all. But in this issue, Kamala Khan not only says “embiggen” repeatedly, she describes Wolverine as “Wow. Such athletic. Very claws. So amaze.” It’s a sign that G. Willow Wilson is actually aware of what’s currently popular among young people. Another highlight of this issue is the Sheikh Abdullah scene, which is easily the most positive depiction of a Muslim clergyman that I’ve ever seen in a work of American popular culture. Also, it’s kind of cool that the Inventor is a Thomas Edison clone with a cockatiel’s head.

RAT QUEENS #7 (Image, 2014) – B+. This was my least favorite issue yet, mostly because of the lack of Betty – though the one scene involving her is pretty hilarious. Besides that, the overall tone of this issue is very dark, with less black humor than in previous issues, and several pages are wasted on combat scenes with no dialogue. But this is still one of the comics I’m most excited about, and I hope I get to meet Upchurch and Wiebe so I can tell them how much I love their work. I’m sure that a lot of the jokes in this series are going over my head because I’m not a D&D player, and I still love it. After looking back at issue 6, I realize that Betty is hallucinating because she ate the mushroom dude; I totally missed that on the first reading.

SILVER SURFER #4 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. The main flaw with this issue is that the Guardians of the Galaxy guest appearance is completely unnecessary. I mostly don’t mind Marvel’s relentless marketing of Rocket Raccoon because I love the character so much, but the GOTG appearance in this issue is too much of an obvious sales gimmick. Besides that, this is another quality issue. It’s strange how this issue takes place on Earth, in a very ordinary setting, and yet it’s almost as bizarre as the previous three issues.

PRINCESS UGG #2 (Oni, 2014) – A. An effective follow-up to last issue. Despite the silly title and the cartoony art, this comic is much more serious than it appears, because it’s all about racism and cultural insensitivity. (Similar things could be said about many of Ted Naifeh’s other works; his comics all look like they’re supposed to be funny, but actually have dark and disturbing undertones.) For me, the most poignant moment of this issue is when we discover that Ulga can’t write her own name, because she comes from an oral culture – and yet for the same reason, she remembers more history than her classmates do. It’s obvious that Ted has done his research here.

SUPERMAN #360 (DC, 1981) – B-. The first story is an entertaining but forgettable Superman story, with fantastic art by Curt Swan. There is little to distinguish this story from any of the hundreds of other Curt Swan-drawn Superman stories of this period, but at least it’s fun. Unfortunately the backup story, by Bob Rozakis and Alex Saviuk, is complete crap.

USAGI YOJIMBO #33 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – A+. “Broken Ritual”, is perhaps one of the best single issues of the Fantagraphics run. It might be the spookiest ghost story Stan has ever written. It’s also one of his only stories that involves seppuku. Stan’s artwork is brilliant – especially in the flashback sequences, which are drawn in a notably different style – and by this point in the Fantagraphics series, his style is barely distinguishable from what it is now.

JSA: THE LIBERTY FILE #2 (DC, 2000) – C+. The only redeeming quality of this comic is Tony Harris’s artwork. The story is terrible; it’s convoluted and full of clichés – for example, Mr. Terrific’s girlfriend gets killed just after he’s proposed to her – and the reader has no reason to care about any of the characters. Tony Harris is an excellent artist but he shouldn’t be allowed to write comics.

SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND LOIS LANE #122 (DC, 1972) – C. Like many early-‘70s Lois Lane comics, this one is seriously bizarre and kind of offensive. It pays lip service to feminism while not actually being feminist at all – Lois and Rose/Thorn use feminist buzzwords, but they rely on Superman to solve all their problems for them. Robert Kanigher, who wrote this story, clearly had a rather shallow understanding of feminism. The first backup story, a reprint from 1962, is even worse. Of the three stories in this issue, the one that presents Lois in the most positive light is the last one, which is a reprint from 1944. In this story, Lois succeeds in breaking up a crime ring with no assistance from Superman at all. I think I’ve read somewhere that the Golden Age Lois Lane was a very powerful and compelling character, and that DC consciously decided to tone her down and make her more of a sexist stereotype. This issue is a good example of that process at work.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #21 (IDW, 2014) – B+. This is a reasonably good issue, but it has an overly convoluted plot, and it’s not nearly as fun as recent episodes of the TV show. I wonder how Trixie manages to make a living as a stage magician, given that she lives in a world where there’s real magic.

SUPERMAN FAMILY #173 (DC, 1975) – C-. All the stories in this issue were kind of bad. The highlight of the issue is the charming Golden Age-esque Kurt Schaffenberger artwork on the first story, which is the only one that’s not a reprint. However, this story has a hopelessly confusing plot.

BATGIRL SPECIAL #1 (DC, 1988) – C-. I was initially tempted to give this issue an F, but it’s not offensively bad; it’s just mediocre and seriously flawed. The first big problem is that it starts in media res, without effectively explaining what’s been going on, and the writer, Barbara Randall, assumes the reader is familiar with several obscure previous stories. For example, one of the major characters in this issue is Batgirl’s friend Marcie. This character only appeared once before, in Secret Origins #20 (also written by Randall), and yet there is never any explanation of who she is. The second problem with this issue is the new villain, Slash, who is a serial killer who preys on rapists. She ought to be at least a somewhat sympathetic character, but Randall depicts her as an evil, bloodthirsty sadist, which removes whatever moral ambiguity she might have had. Of course the crippling problem with this comic is that it was created solely for the purpose of writing Barbara Gordon out of the DC universe, thus paving the way for The Killing Joke, a comic we would all have been better off without.

8-7-2014

MARTIN LUTHER KING AND THE MONTGOMERY STORY #nn (it’s complicated) – A+. This is a modern reprint of a comic book published as propaganda for the Montgomery bus boycott. It was reprinted to coincide with the release of volume one of March. The art and writing are unspectacular but accomplish their purpose effectively, and in any event, this comic deserves an A+ for historical importance and for inspiring John Lewis to create March. The most memorable moment here is the panel where a man tells MLK “First thing I want you to know is that Coretta and the baby are all right” and then tells him that his house has been bombed.

USAGI YOJIMBO COLOR SPECIAL #5 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A+. This is the first new Usagi comic book since 2012, which would be cause for rejoicing, except that it would be better if Stan didn’t have to work and could devote all his time to caring for his wife. What a pity that such an awful series of personal hardships has happened to such a talented and generous man. Anyway, this issue collects stories oriignally published in Dark Horse Presents or its online version, including several very short pieces as well as a longer two-part story. Besides Sergio, Stan is probably the greatest creator working in comic books right now (I specifically mean comic books, not other types of comics) and all this work is fantastic. The two-page Jotaro story is especially hilarious, and The Artist is a powerful meditation on the artist’s devotion to his craft. It can even be read as a parable of Stan’s personal situation – somehow he still manages to devote his full effort to his art despite all the horrible things that are happening around him. However, I do feel that based solely on the artwork shown on panel, it’s hard to tell why Yoshi-sensei’s art is such a dangerous departure from tradition. I assume the other artist mentioned in this story, Shigehiro, is named after Hiroshige.

GROO VS. CONAN #1 (Dark Horse, 2014) – 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. Of course this issue also features Conan, though I was actually disappointed that Conan only appears on a few pages and doesn’t get to meet Groo yet; I assume we’ll see more of him in subsequent issues. The scenes with Mark and Sergio are funny, but I do feel they act as somewhat of a distraction from what should be the main event, the encounter between Groo and Conan.

GROO THE WANDERER #45 (Marvel, 1988) – 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 most notable thing about this issue is its resemblance to the Garfield episode “Don’t Move,” also written by Evanier. In this episode, Garfield leaves Odie for a minute and tells him not to move from a spot marked with an X. Odie then has a series of adventures which carry him all around town, but ultimately ends up standing right next to the X, and Garfield is angry that he moved. In this story the exact same thing happens to Rufferto, although the punchline is different.

BATMAN #231 (DC, 1971) – B-. The Ten-Eyed Man is perhaps the most ridiculous Batman villiain ever, and it’s a tribute to Frank Robbins’s writing skill that he actually succeeds in making this absurd character seem kind of scary. As a result, the Batman story in this issue is not significantly worse than other Batman stories from this period, although it’s not great either. As usual, though, the Robin back-up story is kind of stupid. Notably, it ends with Robin going on a date, and the caption says that the birds’ songs are “ringing announcements of the life-giving warmth ahead.” That sounds like a reference to something non-Code-approved.

X-MEN #131 (Marvel, 1980) – A+. This is the third appearance of my favorite Marvel character, Kitty Pryde, and she steals the show in this issue, saving the X-Men from Emma Frost’s captivity and then having an awkwardly cute encounter with Peter. Of course I know this issue very well, having read it before in reprinted form, but I’m still glad I own the original version now.

SUPERMAN FAMILY ADVENTURES #12 (DC, 2013) – A-. This was probably the best Superman comic since All-Star Superman, which is kind of sad in a way. The resolution to the series is a bit anticlimactic – it includes an intervention by the Tiny Titans, who seem to belong to a different and less serious universe than the Superman Family Adventures characters, despite being drawn in exactly the same style. The ending, in which Lois reveals that she knows Superman’s secret identity, is heartwarming, although it wraps up all the loose ends so completely as to leave little room for a possible sequel.

INCREDIBLE HULK #170 (Marvel, 1973) – B+. This is not one of the best Hulk comics of this era, but it includes some memorable interactions between Hulk and Betty. At this point in time Betty was essentially a helpless damsel in distress, but Hulk’s protective attitude toward her, despite her fear of him, is quite touching. Also, this issue has some nice artwork by the extremely underrated Herb Trimpe.

UNCLE SCROOGE #281 (Gladstone, 1993) – A-. This was the first issue of the second Gladstone run, and it has a lovely Don Rosa cover. The issue gets an A because of the first story, a ten-pager by Barks, in which Scrooge tests his nephews to see which of them is worthy of inheriting his fortune. Basically it’s the same setup as the Biblical parable of the talents: Scrooge gives each of them some money in order to see what they do with it. Unsurprisingly, Huey, Dewey and Louie play the role of the good and faithful servant; they invest their money wisely and end up as Scrooge’s sole heirs. Meanwhile, Gladstone, like the bad servant in the Bible, hides his money away, but Donald does even worse; he not only loses the money but gets into debt. I assume the Biblical allusion was intentional, although the story is funny even if the reader doesn’t pick up on it. I also suspect this story may be the reason why Bruce Hamilton’s company was called Another Rainbow.

The reason this issue only gets an A- is because of the backup material, which reminds me why Carl Barks was called “The” Good Duck Artist, implying that there was only one.

BONE SOURCEBOOK #1 (Image, 1995) – D. This was published when Bone moved to Image from Cartoon Books, and was intended to introduce new readers to the series. It includes little if any information that can’t be found elsewhere.

LIFE WITH ARCHIE #36 (Archie, 2014) – B+. Archie’s death is a shameless publicity stunt, but at least this issue is well-executed. Paul Kupperberg used to be a below-average writer but he handles this story with great skill and tactfulness. The impressive thing about this issue is that it fits seamlessly into both of the two mutually exclusive ongoing storylines, the one where Archie marries Betty and the one where he marries Veronica. The creators accomplish this by never showing Archie’s wife’s face. However, the unintentional side effect of this is to emphasize how indistinguishable Betty is from Veronica.

DALGODA #8 (Fantagraphics, 1986) – A-. This is one of two issues I was missing from this underrated and nearly forgotten classic. Dalgoda is one of the best ‘80s science fiction comics, right up there with Nexus and Alien Worlds. Jan Strnad’s writing is tender and funny, and Dennis Fujitake’s artwork is attractive, though heavily derivative of Moebius. This issue, the last of Dalgoda’s solo series, ends with the heroic death of Dal’s friend Posey. It’s been so long since I read any other issues of Dalgoda that I’ve forgotten who this character is, but his death is a powerfully written scene anyway. This issue also includes a Bojeffries Saga backup story which is quite funny.

HAWKWORLD #16 (DC, 1991) – B+. The selling point of this issue is that it includes a fight between Hawkwoman and Wonder Woman, perhaps DC’s two best female protagonists at the time. The actual fight only occupies a couple pages but is very well written. Shayera and Diana have almost exactly opposite personalities, and this results in a lot of dramatic tension, as they initially hate each other but then become fast friends. This is another highly underrated series.

TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #1 (DC, 2006) – C. My previous reviews of this series also apply to this issue. The first story is complete crap; it’s full of gratuitous blood and gore, and it depicts the Spectre as worse than the criminals he punishes. The backup story is hilarious and nostalgic and beautifully drawn. I almost always prefer buying back issues rather than trade paperbacks, but in the case of this series, I would have been better off getting the Dr. Thirteen: Architecture and Morality trade.

YOUNG JUSTICE #43 (DC, 2002) – A+. The problem with Peter David’s serious stories (e.g. Incredible Hulk #388 and 429) is lack of subtlety. In these stories PAD hits the reader over the head with the point they’re trying to make, and treats his characters as plot devices rather than people. In this issue PAD masterfully avoids making any of these errors. The topic he addresses here is discrimination against Muslims and other Asians following 9/11. The parents of a girl in Traya’s school are killed in a suicide bombing in Bialya (i.e. Iraq), and when it turns out that Traya is also from Bialya, her classmates start bullying her. PAD handles this issue with extreme delicacy and subtlety; for example, he subtly suggests that post-11 Islamophobia is comparable to Japanese internment, but leaves the reader to figure out why. There is a lot of emotion bubbling beneath the surface of this story – in particular, the cover is heartbreaking – but the story never becomes histrionic or overwrought. In summary, this is one of PAD’s best single issues of Young Justice, and when compared to the Hulk stories mentioned above, this issue suggests that his writing has improved over time.

DAGAR THE INVINCIBLE #14 (Gold Key, 1976) – B-. The most interesting thing about this issue is that it’s far more violent than a typical Gold Key comic. When Dagar goes to the realm of the dead to rescue Graylin, he has to fight several of his dead former enemies, and he ends up killing some of them again. The other cool thing here is that this issue explains why vampires are afraid of crosses even in a world where Christianity doesn’t exist. Other than that, this is only an average Dagar story.

AVENGERS #24 (Marvel, 1965) – A-. The most exciting thing about this issue is its portrayal of Kang. This character is typically depicted as a loathsome villain, but this issue reminds us that he’s also a master strategist and a charismatic leader. Kang is forced to fight alongside the Avengers when three of his generals try to overthrow him, and he quickly reveals himself to be more than a match for them (i.e. the generals). It’s too bad that later Kang stories didn’t emphasize this aspect ofh is character more heavily.

HELLBLAZER #43 (DC, 1991) – A+. I’ve wanted to read “Dangerous Habits” for years, but this is the first time I’ve come across an issue of it. This issue. is fantastic because it emphasizes both the good and bad side of Constantine’s character. Dying of lung cancer and knowing that he’s going to go to hell, Constantine tries to get help from an angel, who tells him that both his illness and his impending damnation are completely his own fault. But rather than crushing his spirit, this encounter makes Constantine realize he has to solve his problems himself rather than rely on anyone else, and he comes up with a brilliant solution (which is not described in this issue, though I already know what it is). I really want to read the issues on either side of this one.

BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #4 (DC, 2013) – A-. Besides Astro City, this is the best DC comic of the last two years. Dustin Nguyen’s artwork is adorable, and the stories, while silly, are also very clever. I wish this series hadn’t ended at issue 12, and I think DC would be better off if all their comics were done in the same style as this series.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #33 (DC, 1992) – C-. I read this because I had a dream about the Legion (I do that sometimes) and it made me want to read any Legion comic at all. At this point I’ve given up hope that DC will ever publish a Legion comic again, and even if they did, I wouldn’t read it. I’ve mostly gotten over my anger at DC for their horrible treatment of Legion fans, and I’ve found other things to be a fan of. But still, the Legion was my primary fandom for a big chunk of my life, and it helped me get through some tough times, and I really wish DC would treat this franchise with the respect it deserves. Anyway, it’s too bad that this is hardly a Legion comic at all. It’s basically continuity porn, in that the purpose of the issue is to explain, via a complicated retcon, why the Legion doesn’t admit members with device-based superpowers. And this is a typical problem with Tom and Mary Bierbaum’s Legion: they got into comics through fandom, and they spent too much time turning their personal fan theories into official continuity. This issue does have some good points: part of it is drawn by Chris Sprouse, and it includes some scenes with the SW6 Legionnaires, who were far more interesting than the adult Legionnaires of the time.

SHE-HULK #6 (Marvel, 2014) – B-. I still can’t stand Ron Wimberly’s art. It might be effective for a different type of story, but it’s not effective in a superhero comic. Other than that, I like this story, but I’m not happy with the anticlimactic ending, in which Jen decides to give up investigating the Blue File. Annoyingly, I forgot to get issue 7 on Wednesday; I could have sworn I added it to my stack, but when I got home it wasn’t there.

AQUAMAN #40 (DC, 1968) – B-. This was Jim Aparo’s first DC story. His artwork at this point was okay, but not nearly at the same level as his artwork from a year or two later. The story, by Steve Skeates, is somewhat disappointing. Mera gets kidnapped by an unknown party, and Aquaman goes off to search for her, but when he thinks he’s found her, it turns out he’s actually found another woman who coincidentally looks just like her. Besides being implausible, the problem with this story is that it fails to accomplish anything; at the end of the issue, Aquaman is no closer to finding Mera than before.

RED CIRCLE SORCERY #7 (Archie, 1974) – B+. The stories in this issue are all pretty silly, but they’re worth reading anyway because of the grim, atmospheric artwork. The best-drawn story in the issue is the first of the two by Vicente Alcazar; his heavy spotting of blacks reminds me of Alex Toth. I’m glad that Archie is reviving the Red Circle Sorcery/Chilling Adventures in Sorcery brand.

SWAMP THING #80 (DC, winter 1988) – A-. Rick Veitch’s Swamp Thing is yet another underrated comic from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. I suppose it’s been forgotten because it’s basically the same as Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, only with less creativity. This issue, for example, is very similar to the story in the #50s of this series where Swampy gets teleported into space by Lex Luthor. Here essentially the same thing happens again, though the level of urgency is greater because of Abby’s pregnancy.

GROO THE WANDERER #31 (Marvel, 1987) – 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. This specific issue is a very standard example of the Groo formula: Groo somehow has acquired some money, and Pal and Drumm try to trick him out of it by getting him to make bad investments in weapons. Of course this leads to all sorts of hilarious mayhem.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND MI13 #12 (Marvel, 2009) – A-. This series got very positive publicity when it was coming out, and I bought some issues of it, but I was not a huge fan. Reading it again, I like it a lot and I’m sorry that I’m not more familiar with Paul Cornell’s work (because I don’t watch Doctor Who). This issue is written like a British television drama but it also makes effective use of continuity from Tomb of Dracula.

JEZEBEL JADE #1 (Comico, 1988) – A. I had no idea this miniseries existed until I came across two issues of it at Heroes Con. It’s a Jonny Quest spinoff but it’s very similar in tone to the Jonny Quest ongoing series. There is a much greater level of violence than would have been possible on the Jonny Quest TV show, and yet this comic still has a basic wholesomeness and lightness about it. The artwork is by a young Andy Kubert, whose style at this point in his career was very similar to that of his father. Although this miniseries is mostly forgotten today, it was nominated for an Eisner in 1989, and I think the nomination was deserved.

ACTION COMICS #569 (DC, 1985) – C+. The first story in this issue is awful. Sometime prior to this story, Superman broke up with Lois and started dating Lana instead, and this story is partly about Superman and Lois’s attempt to resolve their differences. The trouble is that at least at this stage of his career, Paul Kupperberg was very bad at characterization and dialogue writing, and the scenes between Superman and Lois are embarrassingly bad. The backup story is not very good either, but it’s amusing because it’s a piece of character assassination. In this story, some aliens are looking for a person to play Superman in a movie, and they end up choosing a man named Michael Betker, who is depicted as an ugly weakling who sneezes constantly. It turned out that Michael Betker was a real person and that Michael Wolff, who wrote this story, had some kind of grudge against him. So in the letter column of Action Comics #587, DC had to issue an official apology for their portrayal of Betker. Unsurprisingly, Michael Wolff only wrote one story for DC after this one.

ATOMIC ROBO PRESENTS REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #7 (Red 5, 2013) – D-. This is actually worse than the earlier issues of this series. Although this is billed as an Atomic Robo comic, Robo doesn’t appear in it; instead, this issue is about a past adventure of Tesla and Westinghouse. Nothing really interesting happens in the story, there are no laugh-out-loud funny moments, and the story ends one page after the staple. The rest of the issue consists of a preview of another Red 5 comic, which looks awful.

UNCLE SCROOGE #237 (Gladstone, 1989) – A+. “Riches, Riches Everywhere!” is a classic Barks story, which expresses one of the central themes of Barks’s Uncle Scrooge stories: that there are some things more important than money. When Scrooge and Donald get lost in the Australian desert, Scrooge tries to use his prospecting talents to dig for water, but all he manages to find is gold, diamonds, oil, and so on. The irony here is just amazing – Scrooge finds all sorts of extremely valuable natural resources, but none of them are of any use to him at all. I realized as I was writing this that the title is a reference to “water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.” This story also includes a nice piece of misdirection. Early on, we’re introduced to two characters who appear to be crooks intent on stealing any valuables Scrooge finds, but it turns out that they’re actually friendly people who are following Scrooge and the nephews in case they get into any trouble. I initially thought this was ridiculous, but on reading the story again, I realized that there was no actual evidence that the two characters were criminals; I just assumed that they were. Overall this is a fantastic piece of storytelling. The backup story in this issue is terrible, but oh well.

YOUNG ALLIES 70TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL #1 (Marvel, 2009) – A-/B+. I bought this comic years ago, before I came to Atlanta, but I never read it because it includes some unappealing Golden Age reprints. The lead story in this issue is a funny and sad piece of work by Roger Stern and Paolo Rivera, in which Bucky encounters the two surviving members of the Young Allies from World War II, both of whom are at death’s door. I initially assumed that the Young Allies were newly created characters and that they were supposed to be an homage to the Newsboy Legion, but no, it turns out that they’re actual Golden Age characters. Even though I’d never heard of them before, Stern and Rivera do an effective job of making me feel sorry about their deaths. Unfortunately the Golden Age reprints included in this comic are pretty bad, especially because the black member of the Young Allies is a racist caricature.

THE FLASH #164 (DC, 2000) – C-. In this bleak and depressing story, which Wally somehow finds himself in an alternate world where his powers don’t work and no one recognizes him. Like much of Geoff Johns’s work, this comic is not fun at all, which makes me wonder what the point of it is.

DETECTIVE COMICS #525 (DC, 1983) – B-. This is interesting mostly because it’s an early appearance of Jason Todd, who used to be kind of a cute kid before everyone got sick of him. Other than that, the Batman story is disappointing. Batman loses a fight with Killer Croc, and as Bruce Wayne, he says some very hurtful and boorish things to Vicki Vale. This story does not present Batman in a positive light. The art is by Dan Jurgens, who was a poor substitute for Don Newton.

USAGI YOJIMBO #7 (Dark Horse, 1996) – A. This issue introduces Nakamura Koji, one of a very few characters (along with Ino and Katsuichi) who is capable of defeating Usagi in a fair fight. At the end of the issue, Usagi fights Koji and gets his ass kicked, which is very surprising to see. This story also sets up the Duel at Kitanoji storyline, which was not resolved until six years later. The only problem with this issue is the rather excessive violence; in just 24 pages, Usagi and Koji kill almost 20 people.

TEEN TITANS #30 (DC, 1970) – B+. Nick Cardy’s artwork in this issue is amazing, especially since Aquagirl makes a guest appearance. I don’t think anyone in the history of comic books has ever drawn teenage girls better than Nick did. This issue doesn’t have much of a plot, but it does end with a dramatic scene in which Aqualad struggles to get himself and Tula back into the water before their oxygen runs out.

SERGIO ARAGONES FUNNIES #12 (Bongo, 2014) – A+. This is another brilliant piece of work from the greatest artist currently working in American comic books. The centerpiece of this issue is an autobiographical story about Sergio’s encounters with Toshiro Mifune. Reading this story reminds me what a wonderful man Sergio is; he knows how fortunate he is to have had the life he’s had, and he feels deeply grateful for every bit of it. This story powerfully conveys the depth of Sergio’s respect for Toshiro Mifune and the pleasure he takes in remembering their brief meetings. I’ve always been in awe of Sergio, ever since I met him at Comic-Con in 2002, and this issue reminds me of why.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #1, 2 and 3 (Image, 2014) – A. I bought all three of these when they came out, but didn’t read them. I forget what motivated me to read them now, but I’m glad I did. I’ve been living in the South for eight years, though never in the type of small town where this story takes place, and I find that this comic powerfully captures the absurdity of this part of the country. My favorite moment is the scene where Dusty Tutwiler describes Birmingham as “the big city,” but this story is full of all kinds of other things that seem very true to even my limited experience of the South, including sweet tea and obsession with football. Also, Jason Latour’s artwork is fantastic, particularly his coloring and his use of mixed media. I look forward eagerly to the next issue.

DEADPOOL #10 (Marvel, 2009) – B+. The dialogue in this issue is hilarious, and I’m coming to realize that the dialogue is the primary selling point of any Deadpool story. The only problem with this issue is that it guest-stars Norman Osborn, a character who I can’t stand and who in my opinion should still be dead.

INVINCIBLE #67 (Image, 2009) – A-. This is a good issue from an exciting period of this series. It includes some fun scenes in which Nolan and Allen try to acquire various weapons to use against the Viltrumites. But the high point of the issue is the running joke where Norman, who is staying at Allen’s place, is driven nuts by Allen and his girlfriend’s loud sex.

GROO THE WANDERER #71 (Marvel, 1990) – 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. This issue focuses on Evanier’s fictional surrogate, Weaver. Having just written what he thought was a serious book about Groo, Weaver is horrified to discover that everyone thinks the book is a joke, until he realizes he can make a fortune by writing humorous books about Groo. Of course this leads to all kinds of hysterical consequences, but this story is also interesting as a reflection on the nature of authorship. This story does make me wonder whether or not the printing press exists in Groo’s universe; apparently it does, but I’m not entirely sure. In the opening scene, a person is reading aloud from Weaver’s book in a tavern, which seems like something that would happen in an oral society. The disturbing part of this issue is Weaver’s sidekick Scribe (a.k.a. Stan Sakai), who never speaks and who follows Weaver everywhere without hesitation, even when Weaver literally jumps off a bridge.

HELLBOY 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Dark Horse, 2014) – A-. Nothing here is as perfect as “Pancakes,” but all the stories in this free giveaway issue are at least reasonably good. On an artistic level, this issue is fantastic, with artwork by Cameron Stewart, Bob Sikoryak and Fábio Moon as well as Mignola himself. Besides the Bob Sikoryak parodies, the best story in the issue is the first one, “The Coffin Man,” but it ends very abruptly.

SUGAR & SPIKE #78 (DC, 1968) – A+. This is probably the best American comic book that’s not currently available in an affordable reprinted edition. It is also very difficult to find the original issues. I’ve had this series on my want list since it appeared on the Comics Journal’s Top 100 list in about 1999, and I currently have just seven issues of it, most of which were purchased at major conventions. I think this series is great both because of the humor, including the running joke about babies being smarter than adults, and because it’s a brilliantly written adventure comic. In this issue, for example, some criminals steal Bernie the Brain’s “electronic hypnotizer” and use it to hypnotize the entire adult population into buying worthless empty boxes, and only Sugar, Spike and Bernie can save the day. This series is obviously the inspiration for Rugrats, but unlike Rugrats it’s actually good. DC really ought to reprint the whole thing in black and white, like Dark Horse did with Little Lulu.

ROCKET RACCOON #2 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. More amazing stuff. This series is more humor-oriented than the movie, but Rocket and Groot’s characters are basically the same. Besides the characterization, Skottie Young’s artwork is the main selling point of this series. The double-page splash with the maze was a particular high point, although I had trouble figuring out the order to read this page in. The Xemnu the Titan guest appearance was a nice touch.

USAGI YOJIMBO: SENSO #1 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A+. Again, I wish Stan could afford to take care of his wife rather than having to work, but it’s amazing that he’s able to put out work of such high caliber, despite having higher priorities. This issue is mostly a lengthy battle scene, but it offers a lot of insight into the characters involved. A particularly impressive moment is Usagi rushing off heedlessly to help Jotaro; Usagi is usually so well-mannered and polite that I forget how angry he can get when provoked. It’s kind of cool seeing the final confrontation between Usagi and Lord Hikiji, because I don’t think that the regular series is ever going to reach that point.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #7 (IDW, 2014) – B+. This issue was pretty cute. Even though I think Pinkie Pie is best pony, the star of this issue was actually Luna. Her arrogance and irritability are really cute somehow. I’m reminded of the scene in a recent issue of the regular issue where Luna orders tea by shouting “SERVANT! TEA!” This issue achieves the purpose of MLP: Friends Forever: to bring together characters who usually don’t interact.

SAGA #21 (Image, 2014) – A+. I’m contractually obliged to give every issue of Saga a grade of A+, but these last few issues have been kind of slow. There are too many plot threads going on and we’re not seeing enough of the protagonists. I have to admit that I thought the “I had a big accent” scene was the most disgusting thing in the issue, far more so than the panel with the guy getting his spine ripped out.

HAWKEYE #19 (Marvel, 2014) – A+ I guess. I had great difficulty following what was going on in this issue, although according to the Bleeding Cool review, that’s sort of the point. I didn’t think this issue was as immediately impressive as the Pizza Dog issue, but I give Fraction and Aja credit for doing something experimental. I think this issue will require multiple readings in order to unlock its secrets.

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #6 (Archie, 2014) – A. This is actually one of the most powerfully Lovecraftian comics I’ve ever read. It seems very close to the tone of Lovecraft’s original stories. The only thing that keeps this comic from being completely horrific is that it stars Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and even then, this issue is much less funny than earlier issues of this series. I was also impressed by the Chilling Adventures with Sabrina backup story, and I plan on reading that series too (once I figure out how to get comics in Oxford, Ohio).

CHEW: WARRIOR CHICKEN POYO #1 (Image, 2014) – A-. This issue was as well-written and well-drawn as a typical issue of Chew, but I’m getting kind of sick of this running joke with Poyo, and I would rather have read a regular issue of Chew than this one-shot.

FANTASTIC FOUR #44 (Marvel, 1966) – A+. This is the first appearance of Gorgon, the first member of the Inhumans to be introduced other than Medusa. Therefore, it marks the beginning of the greatest run of issues in the history of superhero comics. Over this and the following 20 issues, Lee and Kirby gave us the first Inhumans story, the Galactus saga, the debut of the Black Panther, “This Man… This Monster,” and the Doom/Surfer four-parter. It was an unparalleled series of great moments. This issue is mostly a series of fight scenes, but it effectively leads into the great stories to come.

SAVAGE DRAGON #82 (Image, 2000) – B. This issue is a very quick read and is pretty light on content, but it’s a pretty effective pastiche of ‘70s Kirby. Clearly the highlight of the issue is the bug-riders, who appear to be based on the Hairies from Jimmy Olsen.

USAGI YOJIMBO #41 (Dark Horse, 2000) – A-. This is an early chapter of Grasscutter II, and mostly consists of setup, plus a flashback to Sanshobo and Ikeda’s past. It’s a fun read, but Grasscutter II didn’t have the same epic scope as its sequel.

ATOMIC ROBO: THE SAVAGE SWORD OF DR. DINOSAUR #4 and #5 (Red 5, 2014) – B+. The main attraction in both these issues is Dr. Dinosaur, whose dialogue is just wonderfully bizarre. The subplot with the scientist who thinks he’s fallen in love with a rock-girl is also cute. I like the setup for the next miniseries, but somehow when new Atomic Robo comics come out, I’m never aware of it. I think my (former) local store just doesn’t shelve them in a visible place.

AVENGERS #169 (Marvel, 1977) – D-. This fill-in issue is terrible, especially considering that it came right at the start of the classic Korvac Saga. The premise (involving a dying rich man who tries to blow up the world) is boring, and Marv Wolfman and Sal Buscema fail to do anything exciting with it. The story also includes some glaring errors. It’s not clear how the Avengers learned the location of the first three bombs, or even that there were four bombs. And when Iron Man goes to Peru, he encounters Indians who look suspiciously like Mayas, who live thousands of miles further north.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: SUPER-HEROES #18 (Marvel, 2011) – C+/B-. The story in this issue is just average; the problem is that it’s an unannounced reprint of Marvel Adventures: Iron Man #7. At this point Marvel clearly no longer cared about the two Marvel Adventures series (possibly due to the departure of Nate Cosby a year earlier) and they were both cancelled six issues later. It’s a shame because at their peak, the Marvel Adventures line was possibly the best thing Marvel was publishing.

RESET #2 (Dark Horse, 2012) – B+. This Peter Bagge miniseries is enjoyable for the same reasons as Hate: hilarious dialogue and wildly exaggerated cartoonish artwork. Still, I wonder if Peter Bagge is suffering from creative stagnation, because this issue has different subject matter from Hate but is written and drawn in the exact same style. I feel like Bagge’s style has changed very little over the past twenty years or so.

COMIC BOOK COMICS #5 (Evil Twin, 2011) – C+. The history in this comic is interesting, and it includes some facts I wasn’t aware of. The problem with this issue is that Ryan Dunlavey’s artwork never does anything more than illustrate Fred Van Lente’s text. If you extracted all the text from this comic and published it as a prose essay, that essay would make perfect sense on its own, even without the artwork. That means that this issue does not make effective use of the medium of comics. It’s a surprise that Fred Van Lente would make this mistake, given his experience writing for comics; I wonder if instead of writing an actual script, he just wrote the essay and then gave it to Ryan Dunlavey to illustrate.

B.P.R.D.: 1947 #2 (Dark Horse, 2009) – B. I don’t really understand these BPRD stories because I’m reading them out of order, but I did enjoy this issue because of Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba’s brilliant artwork. I kind of assumed that they both had the same style, but it turns out I can actually tell them apart, though I wasn’t sure which was which until I read another comic book that was drawn by Fábio Moon alone.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #21 (Marvel, 2001) – B. This is a primarily humorous story; one of the villains is Grendel’s mother, but at the end of the story, she becomes a professional wrestler. This issue is funny, but after reading it I could barely remember anything about it.

INVINCIBLE #113 (Image, 2014) – B+. Praise be to ceiling cat, I can finally read this comic again. I skipped issue 112 because of the extreme violence, and I decided that if either Eve or the baby died in this issue, I would be done with this series for good. But this issue actually restores some of the idealism that made Invincible a compelling superhero comic in the first place. Eve gives birth safely, and the issue ends with Eve telling Mark to go save the world, and Mark replying “Yes, mam.” For the first time since somewhere around issue 100, I actually feel proud of Mark and I feel like he’s capable of winning in the end. Another nice touch in the issue is that Mark’s rape by the female Viltrumite is actually acknowledged; we see that Mark is scared of her and that he flinches when Eve touches him. Based on the previous two issues, it seems like this extremely disturbing scene was just going to be ignored. This series is still potentially on the chopping block for me, but Kirkman is at least starting to redeem himself after the mess he made of issues 110 to 112.

FUTURE SHOCK #nn (Image, 2006) – C+. The only good stories in this free preview issue are the ones with Invincible and Savage Dragon, and both of those are too short to be truly interesting. The Tom Scioli story is well-drawn, but it’s so similar to Kirby that it lacks any originality.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #80 (Dark Horse, 1993) – B+. I bought this issue for the Monkeyman and O’Brien story, which is a lot of fun, with excellent artwork and clever references to Spider-Man and Gamera. Art Adams’s artwork looks much better in color, though. This issue also includes a chapter of Hermes vs. the Eyeball Kid, which I do not consider one of Eddie Campbell’s best works, and a third story which is not worth mentioning.

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