Some reviews

9-6-13

These are the first reviews I’ve published since moving to Ohio. I still have another giant stack of comics to review, but I’ll just post these now.

GEN13/MONKEYMAN AND O’BRIEN #1 (Image, 1998) – B. This is fun, but it’s not as fun as Art’s other Monkeyman and O’Brien stories because half the issue is devoted to the Gen13 characters, who I don’t care about. The Gen13 characters are all shallow and generic. Rainmaker, in particular, is an offensive stereotype, an example of the Native American woman as an exoticized other. Also, this comic has too much plot. Most Monkeyman and O’Brien stories have extremely thin plots that are just excuses for the title characters to fight giant monsters, and I think that’s preferable. Despite its flaws, though, this is one of the only Gen13 comics that deserves a place in my collection.

MIND THE GAP #3 (Image, 2012) – C+/B-. This has a somewhat intriguing plot, but it doesn’t really make sense without having read the first two issues, and it didn’t grab me enough to make me want to read them. I like Rodin Esquejo’s art but I think he’s a better cover artist than an interior artist.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #260 (DC, 1980) – D+. Gerry Conway is easily the worst Legion writer. Other people have written worse individual Legion stories, but Gerry’s Legion just never managed to generate any kind of excitement. He also didn’t understand any of the characters except the most Marvelesque ones, Timber Wolf and Wildfire. For example, this issue, in which the Legionnaires try to solve a murder mystery at a carnival, contains almost nothing of any interest (except for the name “Jovian Attack Squid”). It also includes a weird scene where Princess Projectra pretends to be a fortuneteller, which makes me wonder why Conway decided to include her in this story instead of Dream Girl.

AZTEK THE ULTIMATE MAN #8 (DC, 1997) – C+/B-. I had trouble understanding this comic because it assumes too much knowledge of the previous issues. Morrison and Millar try to explain what’s been going on, but they don’t really succeed. Even if I had read the last seven issues, though, I don’t think I’d have enjoyed this comic significantly more. I don’t understand what its concept is, or what distinguishes it from any other superhero comic.

SUPERMAN PLUS #1 (DC, 1997) – B-. This is not a particularly memorable comic, but it’s a nice piece of nostalgia, because it guest-stars the Legionnaires who were trapped in the 20th century. The “Team 20” stories were some of the earliest Legion comics I read, back in junior high. While they may not have been among the better Legion comics, they were among the first comics I ever truly loved, and they acted as an escape valve during one of the most miserable periods of my life (7th through 9th grade). I have read many comics that were infinitely better, but few that aroused such strong feelings in me. So it was nice seeing Inferno and Gates and permanently intangible Tinya again. Sadly, I’ve resigned myself to the possibility that there may never be any new comics featuring any of these characters.

PROPHET #44 (Image, 2014) – B+/A-. I’ve been reading this series out of order, but it hardly seems to matter. The plot is the least important thing about Prophet; the things that make it interesting are the artwork, the worldbuilding, and the concept creation. I forget if I’ve said this before, but Prophet is an impressive example of science fiction in the strict sense, because it presents an utterly alien world and challenges the reader to wrap his/her mind around it. (Or maybe that’s fantasy, not science fiction, I’m not sure.)

B.P.R.D.: VAMPIRE #5 (Dark Horse, 2013) – B+. I think I’m going to have to read many more BPRD comics before I can even start to make sense of them. But these comics are sufficiently well-drawn and well-written that I feel like I want to read more of them and to understand their world better. This issue features art by both Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, and I’m kind of surprised to discover that they have different art styles and that I can tell them apart, even if I’m not sure which is which.

COURTNEY CRUMRIN #3 (Oni, 2012) – A-. I’ve started reading this series from the beginning in the nice-looking Dark Horse hardcovers, so this story makes a little more sense to me now than it did when this series is coming out, though I’m still missing a lot of information. This specific issue was very continuity-heavy and difficult to understand. But I look forward to reading it again after I’m caught up on all the continuity. Ted is an excellent storyteller who deserves more credit than he gets – I was sorry to see that Princess Ugg is only selling in the 3000-copy range, though I expect it’ll do better in collected form.

COURTNEY CRUMRIN #5 (Oni, 2012) – A-. See above. This issue is easier to understand because it’s mostly a flashback.

DETECTIVE COMICS #861 (DC, 2010) – B-. This comic is competently written and drawn, but in writing this review, I had to flip through it again to remind myself what it was about. The only thing about it that really stands out to me is the way it contrasts Batman and Batwoman’s methods. Jock is certainly not a bad artist, but he was no substitute for J.H. Williams; his art just serves the story rather than being interesting on its own. I don’t want to say that J.H. Williams’s artwork was the only attractive thing about this Detective Comics run, because Greg Rucka did tell some fascinating stories, but Rucka’s Batwoman stories are certainly far less memorable without him.

DETECTIVE COMICS #401 (DC, 1970) – C+/B-. The Batman story in this issue is mediocre. It’s heavily derivative of “The Most Dangerous Game” and it has a disappointing ending. The Batgirl/Robin story is slightly better only because it’s drawn by Gil Kane, and because it ends with some suggestions of romance between Dick and Babs.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #158 (DC, 1978) – B+. Gerry Conway is underrated as a Justice League writer. Like Englehart, although not as effectively, Gerry wrote the Justice Leaguers as distinctive characters with personalities – unlike Gardner Fox and the other classic Justice League writers, who were almost totally uninterested in characterization. Just flipping through this issue, for example, I notice a scene where Wonder Woman mentions that she had dinner with Barry and Iris, which is cute because it suggests that the Justice Leaguers have lives outside their costumed identities. The trouble with this issue is the plot, which is excessively convoluted and wastes too much time on an obscure character named Ultraa.

DEADPOOL #20 (Marvel, 1998) – B/B-. These Joe Kelly issues of Deadpool have been disappointing. There’s hardly any of the fourth-wall breaking I expected, and Kelly’s humor tends to be excessively obvious and unsubtle. At least this issue was funny; Deadpool and Batroc are an effective comedy duo.

GROO: DEATH AND TAXES #4 (Image, 2002) – 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 is the conclusion of a four-part miniseries in which Groo decides to stop killing people. Of course, in this issue, that decision backfires on him horribly, and he decides that from now on he’s only going to kill people when absolutely necessary. The trouble is that number one, as far as I can tell, Groo has not kept that resolution. Number two, this story ends in an unsatisfactory way. Much of the issue focuses on a tyrannical king who keeps declaring war on other countries for no reason, and at the end of the issue, he’s still on his throne and his people are still suffering. Other than that, though, this is an enjoyable Groo story.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #218 (DC, 1973) – B+/A-. Unusually for this period, this issue is just a regular Superman/Batman team-up story, instead of a Super-Sons story or a team-up between Superman and a different hero. It’s mostly forgettable, although it does end in a surprising and disturbing way. At the end of the story, the villain escapes from Batman and Superman and then dies, but Batman and Superman think that he’s alive and that “someday he’ll expose our failure to the entire world.” Creepy. But the real highlight of the issue is the Metamorpho backup story, which, despite boring artwork, is a terrific demonstration of Bob Haney’s bizarre sense of humor.

ACTION COMICS #756 (DC, 1997) – C-. This is a thoroughly generic Superman story. It takes place during the electric-costume era, but even Superman’s new powers and costume aren’t enough to create any excitement.

HITMAN #6 (DC, 1996) – A. This issue develops the characters of Tommy and Nat in effective ways, and includes some excellent dialogue, which is probably Garth’s greatest strength as a writer. I typically think of Hitman as Garth Ennis’s humor comic, but this issue is actually pretty grim, as it involves the death of Tommy’s closest friend.

TALES TO ASTONISH #94 (Marvel, 1967) – A-. The best thing about this issue is the artwork. The Sub-Mariner story is about a rebellion in a South American banana republic, which was perhaps Stan Lee’s single most overused premise. In JLA/Avengers, Kurt Busiek established that the Marvel Earth is bigger than the DC Earth, and part of the reason why is because Stan Lee created so many generic Latin American countries. However, Bill Everett’s artwork here is gorgeous, not quite at the same level of his Sub-Mariner stories from a few years later, but still wonderfully imaginative and beautifully rendered. The other notable thing about this story is that Dorma, who is usually a helpless hostage, actually gets to do some stuff. The Hulk story also includes some very effective art by Marie Severin, although Stan oddly chose to include the High Evolutionary and his New Men, who really demand a more Kirbyesque style of artwork.

HELLBLAZER #58 (DC, 1992) – B+/A-. There are some awesome moments in this story. In one scene, Constantine tricks some dude into snorting his dad’s ashes instead of cocaine. In another scene, Kit shows John an adorable drawing she made of him when he was asleep, and comments, “Goodbye, Mister Cool.” The plot of this issue is not as exciting, though, because it ultimately turns into a clichéd Jack the Ripper story – and Ennis’s take on Jack the Ripper looks pretty lame in comparison to From Hell, which was coming out at the same time. Also, William Simpson’s artwork, with the exception of the aforementioned cute drawing of sleeping Constantine, is very unattractive.

ATOMIC ROBO: DEADLY ART OF SCIENCE #4 (Red 5, 2011) – A-. I think this is my favorite Atomic Robo miniseries because it’s so adorable seeing Robo in a relationship. Unfortunately the writer adds an unpleasant element of creepiness by pointing out that Robo is chronologically just 8 years old. (Which is about the same as his mental age, come to think of it.)

UNCANNY X-MEN #542 (Marvel, 2011) – B-. This comic is a waste of Kieron Gillen’s talent. There are some nice character moments here, but in general this issue is so heavy on plot and continuity that Kieron never gets the chance to inject his personal touch. The other problem with this issue is that it’s drawn by Greg Land. At a couple points during this issue, I actually caught myself liking his artwork, and then felt ashamed of myself.

HEARTLAND #1 (DC, 1997) – A+. This is perhaps Ennis and Dillon’s greatest individual work. This one-shot special focuses on Constantine’s ex-girlfriend Kit and her family in Belfast, and initially seems like a plotless slice-of-life story. But as the comic goes on, we realize that Kit and her younger sister Bernadette have unresolvable disagreements that go all the way back to their childhood. And we also realize that their family’s problems are a microcosm of those of their city and their nation. Like Kit and Bernadette, Belfast’s Catholics and Protestants are unable to resolve their disagreements, because their disagreement has such deep roots and their basic worldviews are incompatible. In its emphasis on the tangled roots of family conflict, this story reminds me of Long Day’s Journey into Night. This story also functions as an effective introduction to the Belfast conflict for non-Irish readers, because Ennis puts us in the place of the character of Bernadette’s boyfriend, who comes from England and is as much an outsider to Belfast as the reader. A particularly effective moment is when he’s shocked at the fact that not only are there soldiers everywhere, but the local people have stopped noticing them. In addition to Garth’s storytelling, his dialogue is fantastic – largely because the characters speak his native dialect – and Dillon’s artwork, especially his facial expressions, have rarely been better. Ennis and Dillon are one of the great creative teams of their era, and this comic may be their masterpiece.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER 8 (IDW, 2014) – A+. One more review for tonight and then I’ll stop. This is another great MLP: FF comic because it explores the relationship between two characters who are rarely seen together. Applejack and Rarity are the two entrepreneurs among the Mane Six, but their approaches to business are radically different. This leads them into some hilarious conflicts as well as some adorable moments when they finally make up. Also, because this is a Cook/Price story, it’s full of sight gags and in-jokes. Seeing Equestria’s version of the East Coast is hilarious; I think my favorite part of this was the Mount Rushmore parody with the faces of the four princesses. I felt like Andy’s artwork in this issue was looser and less detailed than usual, but that may just have been my imagination.

MS. MARVEL #7 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. This is my favorite current Marvel comic; I think Hawkeye is objectively better but I don’t enjoy it as much. And this two-part Wolverine team-up is the highlight of the series so far. I actually prefer Jacob Wyatt’s art to Adrian Alphona’s. I like how he occasionally draws Kamala in a cartoony style, like in the first panel on page 3, and the splash page with the sewer cutaway is quite creative. This issue’s story had a nice blend of humor and darkness – I was surprised when Kamala actually had to kill the crocodile.

PRINCESS UGG #3 (Oni, 2014) – A. I am still in love with the overall concept of this series, and this issue effectively advances the plot while also providing some useful background material about Princess Ugg’s origin. In particular, it answers the question of why she wanted to go to this school where everyone hates her and her culture. Also, I like that Ulga is developing into a well-rounded character with both positive qualities and flaws. This issue suggests that her inability to get along with her roommate is partly her fault, even though her roommate is utterly insufferable. Maybe it’s just because I finished Susan Kirtley’s book on Lynda Barry today, but I feel like Naifeh’s depiction of teen girls is somewhat similar to Barry’s. Both authors depict teen girls who are forced to rely entirely on their own resources because no one else sympathizes with them.

ASTRO CITY #14 (DC, 2014) – A-. This wasn’t the best issue of this series, but the protagonist is an adorable old lady, and I love how she treats her killer robots like pets. However, it was obvious very early on that her ne’er-do-well nephew was renting out the robots to criminals. I’m glad that Kurt and Brent (and Graham) are finally able to maintain a regular schedule.

SEX CRIMINALS #7 (Image, 2014) – A-. I had to flip through this issue to remind myself what happened in it, but having done so, I remember that it was pretty impressive. Whereas the last couple issues have been relentlessly grim, in this issue Jon finally takes action against the Sex Police, and Susie confides in Rachel. I don’t think I’ve explicitly mentioned it before, but one of the notable things about this series is the use of fourth-wall breaking, in the form of direct address to the reader. Sometimes it happens in the middle of a scene, like on the second page of this issue, where Susie interrupts her conversation with Rachel to comment on what she just said. It’s a fascinating narrative technique, and when Jon and Susie do it, it’s almost like they’re going into The Quiet and taking the reader with them.

ALL-NEW MARVEL NOW! PREVIEWS 2 (Marvel, 2014) – F. This is not an actual comic book but a collection of unlettered previews, which are a terrible invention. The artwork on its own is unreadable without the lettering, and therefore these previews don’t provide the reader any useful information. If I’m going to read unlettered previews, I might as well also read manga in the original Japanese.

HOWTOONS: REIGNITION #1 (Image, 2014) – B+. I’ve been unimpressed by most of Fred Van Lente’s work since the end of Incredible Hercules. However, this is a cute comic. I like the two kid protagonists, although I’m a bit disappointed that they’re adoptive siblings, rather than products of an interracial relationship. And I love the idea of using comics as a means of instruction in how to make stuff. In addition to that, the instructions for making stuff are effectively integrated into the story. I wonder if this comic would be of interest to critical making scholars like Roger Whitson or Garnet Hertz.

THE FLASH #70 (DC, 1992) – B-. This issue comes from one of the best periods of Mark Waid’s run on the Flash – it comes right between “Born to Run” and “The Return of Barry Allen.” However, this story is too similar to Bill Messner-Loebs’s three-parter in #45-47, which included the same characters, Gorilla Grodd and Rex the Wonder Dog, and was published just three years before. Mark’s story adds the additional elements of Green Lantern and Gorilla City, but it still seems like a retread.

RESURRECTION MAN #1 (DC, 1997) – C+. This series seems to be somewhat well-remembered today, but this issue is not a good introduction to it. The premise appears to be that whenever the protagonist dies, he comes back to life with a new superpower. However, this issue’s story is told in a disjointed style which makes it difficult to understand what’s going on. Also, this issue includes a female character who gets fridged.

SAGA #22 (Image, 2014) – A-. This was a very difficult issue to read, because it includes a scene where Marko crosses the moral event horizon (cf. tvtropes.com) – he throws a bag of groceries at Alana, which qualifies as domestic abuse. I do feel that BKV has convincingly demonstrated why Marko would be motivated to do such a thing. But my natural instinct is to see this as an unforgivable act, and this is frustrating because I have such strong sympathy for Marko – especially since he was on the right side of his argument with Alana. I mean, saying another woman’s name in one’s sleep is not nearly as serious as using drugs in front of one’s child. But after this I find it hard to see how Alana and Marko can ever get back together, and I really hope that’s not the direction this series is going. I almost dread reading the next issue. On a lighter note, Prince Robot’s dad is an impressive sight.

SILVER SURFER #5 (Marvel, 2014) – B+/A-. This is my least favorite issue of the series so far, but it’s still a fun read, and the ending is very touching. This series effectively blends absurdity with profundity; the Surfer and Dawn are effective foils for each other. This series is one of the better Marvel comics right now – although I’d rank it below Rocket Raccoon, Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel – and it’s certainly the only good Silver Surfer solo comic since the original one.

TANGENT COMICS: GREEN LANTERN #1 (DC, 1997) – B+/A-. This is from the Tangent Comics fifth-week event, in which each issue starred a new character who was inspired by the name of an existing DC character. Thus, the Green Lantern in this issue is not any of the familiar GLs, but a mysterious woman who uses a green lantern to resurrect the spirits of the dead and give them closure. This issue is structured like a horror anthology, with three seemingly independent ghost stories, and at first it seems narratively unsatisfying. But as the story goes on, it turns out that the three stories are closely related. J.H. Williams’s artwork here is amazing. In particular, the third sub-story is drawn in a very different style than the first two, with an almost Clear Line-esque style of coloring. The difference between this story and the other two is evidence of Williams’s versatility, which might be the one thing that most defines him as an artist.

THE BATMAN ADVENTURES #3 (DC, 1992) – B+. Compared to the best issues of this series, this issue has a much simpler plot, and the storytelling is not as impressive. Still, this is a fun comic, involving a hilarious plot by the Joker – he kidnaps prominent people and beats them with a baseball bat on live TV. Of course the actual beating is not shown on-panel, this being a children’s comic, but it’s funny anyway.

MASTER OF KUNG FU #27 (Marvel, 1975) – C+. Not one of the better issues of this series. At this point, Doug Moench was still finding his voice, and this issue also suffers from being drawn by John Buscema rather than Paul Gulacy. The classic period of MOKF didn’t start until somewhere in the #30s (in particular, the issues from #38 to #50 are among the best Marvel comics of the ‘70s). None of the supporting characters – Leiko, Tarr, etc. – appear in this issue, and the plot involves Shang-Chi foiling an assassination attempt by Fu Manchu, which is just about the most generic possible plot for this series. Speaking of Fu Manchu, I think it’s just as well that Marvel lost the license to this character, because he’s a terrible racist stereotype who deserves to be forgotten. Though I do wonder if the original Fu Manchu novels have any positive qualities – I just posted a Facebook status asking this question.

DNAGENTS #16 (Eclipse, 1984) – B+. I really like this mostly forgotten ‘80s indie comic, but I haven’t read any issues of it lately because I have a nearly complete run, and I can’t remember which issues I’m missing. When I spotted this issue at the Ohio Valley Antique Mall, I initially passed this up before I checked my blog and realized I didn’t have it. The problem with DNAgents is that Mark Evanier is not a superhero writer and he didn’t really understand the conventions of the genre. Also, the series had a consistently grim tone, and ended with the deaths of all the characters, as well as Rainbow’s unborn child. Still, Mark is one of the best dialogue writers in the history of American comics, and all the main characters in this series are adorable, except Surge, who I can’t stand (oddly, he was the only one who got his own solo series). In terms of characterization, the highlight of the issue is the scene where Tank’s girlfriend Casey tries to seduce him and fails. The artwork in this issue is a mixed bag; there are five different credited artists, most of whom are pretty bad. It’s a pity that Mark has never revived this series.

SUPERBOY #7 (DC, 2011) – C+. This issue has some attractive painted artwork, but the story initially makes no sense, until it turns out that it’s a nightmare caused by a Black Mercy (or rather a close relative thereof). Even then, I don’t understand the continuity of this issue, and even if I did understand it, I wouldn’t care, because this issue was published just before the start of the New 52.

100TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1 (Marvel, 2014) – B-. This is a cute story, but I don’t remember much about it. Partly this is because, by design, this comic tells an incomplete story. It begins in medias res and ends on a cliffhanger which will never be resolved, unless Marvel Comics still exists in 47 years and the creators involved are all somehow still alive. I bought this issue mostly because it includes Rocket, Groot, and Rocket’s three sidekicks, who are essentially alien versions of Huey, Dewey and Louie. Speaking of whom:

DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #8 (Gladstone, 1988) – A+. “The Crocodile Collector” is a classic Don Rosa story, in which Donald and the nephews go on a quest for a rare crocodile and end up discovering the source of the Nile as well. The story is an informative lesson in geography, since the ducks’ quest leads them up the course of the Nile, from Egypt to Tanzania to Rwanda. (The latter is described as “just about the tiniest, most obscure country in Africa! Or the world for that matter! Sadly, about six years later that ceased to be true.) Rosa mostly seems to succeed in avoiding offensive African stereotypes; it looks like he did at least some research and tried to avoid making all the African countries look reasonably accurate. The climax of the story, where Donald and the nephews realize they’re standing on a heap of giant crocodiles, is an amazing moment. This issue also includes a ten-pager by Barks, which would be worth the price of the comic on its own. In this story, the nephews create a fake treasure map which Donald mistakes for a real one, and it leads him to the site of a V-2 missile test. Besides the obvious Cold War resonance, this issue is notable because of the unusually shaped panel in which the rocket descends onto the test site. I believe that my advisor Donald Ault has written about this specific panel in one of his essays on Barks, although I can’t recall where that essay appeared.

WHAT IF? #40 (Marvel, 1983) – B/B-. Unlike some of Peter B. Gillis’s other What If stories from this period, this is not a great story. The premise is that Baron Mordo becomes the Sorcerer Supreme instead of Dr. Strange. But then things turn out the way you’d expect, and at the end of the story, Dr. Strange is Sorcerer Supreme anyway. The saving grace of this issue is some very good artwork by Butch Guice, although it’s heavily based on Ditko’s Dr. Strange artwork.

TALES OF SUSPENSE #92 (Marvel, 1967) – A+. ToS is my favorite of Marvel’s three anthology titles (the other two being Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales). Neither of the stories in this issue is a classic, but both are excitingly written and beautifully drawn. The Iron Man story involves Tony intervening in Vietnam, which is a bit surprising since much of Marvel’s target audience at the time must have been fiercely antiwar; it seems like Marvel tried to maintain a neutral attitude to the war, and somehow they got away with it. The Cap story includes a poignant scene where Cap mourns his lack of a social life or a true secret identity. However, it’s most notable for a famous mistaken line of dialogue: “Only one of us is gonna walk out of here under his own steam – and it won’t be me!”

BATMAN #287 (DC, 1976) – B-. David V. Reed is a boring and old-fashioned writer; his Batman stories are significantly inferior to those of Robbins and Englehart and O’Neil. And while I love Ernie Chan’s inking on Conan, as a penciller he’s only average. The most memorable thing about this issue, though, is the last panel. At one point in the story, Bruce consults “a noted authority on numismatics, Professor Nola Roberts.” In the last panel, Bruce and Nola are at a picnic, with Bruce resting his head in Nola’s lap. She says, “But, Bruce, I brought all these lovely coin catalogues you wanted to see….” Bruce replies, “Later, Nola… much later.” DC would never let Bruce get away with that sort of thing nowadays.

BATMAN #244 (DC, 1972) – A+. In hindsight, Denny O’Neil’s writing is overwrought and histrionic. But “The Batman Lives Again” is still an absolute classic, one of the single best stories published by DC in the ‘70s. The climactic scene, where a shirtless Bruce tears open the door of Ra’s’s tent and shouts his name, is a Crowning Moment of Awesome; Bruce has never looked more frightening or more indomitable. At this point the ensuing battle is a foregone conclusion, and indeed Batman only needs one more panel to finish Ra’s for good (at least until he was reintroduced a few years later). Of course I’ve read this story before, but I’m proud to have the original version in my collection. This issue also includes a Robin backup story written by Elliot S! Maggin, which is actually kind of annoying. In this story Robin befriends a poor kid from a housing project, who resents Hudson University students for being rich and overprivileged. It seems like this story is heading toward a “check your privilege” moment, but it never quite gets there. At the end, Dick decides to help Hudson University set up a tutoring program for poor kids, but there’s no indication that he intends to do anything to make Hudson University cheaper.

CLANDESTINE #8 (Marvel, 1995) – B+. I think this was the only Alan Davis ClanDestine comic I hadn’t read, but unfortunately it’s not one of his better ClanDestine issues. This issue does not include Rory or Pandora, who are easily the best thing about this series. Instead, we get three brief and unsatisfying vignettes involving three of the older Destine men. At least there’s some spectacular artwork here, including a scene where Alan Davis gives us his take on the Dark Dimension and the Mindless Ones.

SHOWCASE #59 (DC, 1965) – A+. This is the third appearance of the Teen Titans and the second story in which they were identified as such. It is also a hilarious and gorgeously drawn story, a prime example of Haney and Cardy at their best. The story revolves around the Flips, a group of teenage musicians who are being framed for a series of thefts. They have this ridiculous act where they show off their skills with a motorcycle, a surfboard and a baton. Clearly, this was just an example of Haney trying to show he was hip and with-it even though he was almost 40, but it’s funny. The story is extremely convoluted, involving two different groups of people masquerading as the Flips, but again this is funny rather than annoying. And of course Nick Cardy’s art is incredible; his page layouts are dynamic, and in this story he gets the opportunity to draw two different cute teenage girls.

TALES OF THE BEANWORLD #10 (Eclipse, 1988) – A. I bought this at Comic-Con and asked Larry Marder to sign it, and he was kind enough to draw a little sketch on the cover. Beanworld is fascinating because it’s a reality which is completely unlike anything the reader is familiar with, and because it has its own bizarre but internally consistent set of rules. Larry calls it an “ecological fable” and says that “it’s not just a place, it’s a process.” Beanworld stories are less about narrative than about exploring the workings of the complex system that connects the Beans and the Hoi Polloi and Gran’ma Pa. I think this comic would actually be worth studying from an environmental theory perspective; it seems to have some affinity with the theories of people like Timothy Morton and Jane Bennett. Of course there also is a story here – this issue, for example, introduces the Pod’l-pool Cuties – but that story proceeds at a slow and leisurely pace. Larry’s artwork is perfectly suited to this comic, or vice versa; his art is extremely cartoony, but Beanworld is a world where everything is a cartoon.

USAGI YOJIMBO #70 (Dark Horse, 2003) – A. I actually bought this in 2004 to give to someone else as a gift, and it took me until now to find my own copy. This is one of many stories in which Usagi battles and defeats a gang of stupid crooks, but what makes it distinctive is the presence of Lone Goat and Kid. The emotional highlight of the issue is a scene where Jotaro and Gorogoro play together. This is one of the few times that Jotaro gets to interact with another child, and it’s adorable.

UNCANNY X-MEN #157 (Marvel, 1982) – B+. The Classic X-Men reprint of this issue was one of the first comics I ever owned, so I know it practically by heart. However, the original version of the issue was one of the few X-Men comics from this period that I didn’t have, so I needed to get it for the sake of completism. As an introduction to Claremont’s X-Men, this issue is okay, but the Deathbird/Brood two-parter was not one of his better stories from this period. There’s some good Dave Cockrum artwork here, but the only really memorable character moment is Kitty playing with the clothes-generating machine. The cover indicates that Phoenix is going to return in this issue, but that’s extremely deceptive – it’s actually Kitty in a Phoenix costume.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: FANTASTIC FOUR #0 (Marvel, 2005) – C+. This has some cute scenes in it, including a funny twist ending where it turns out that what Doom thought was a doomsday device is actually an iPod. However, in general this is a thoroughly generic Fantastic Four story, the kind of thing I’ve read dozens of times before. It would work effectively as an introduction to the characters for completely new readers, but it has little value for a more experienced audience.

RAGNAROK #1 (IDW, 2014) – A. Walt Simonson is one of the comic artists I admire the most; I think he’s the greatest living successor to Kirby. And in this series he returns to the character and the mythology that inspired his greatest work. So far this series is not as impressively written as his best Thor comics, although that’s an almost impossible standard. However, I really like Regin and I think it’s cool that she’s both an absolute badass and a devoted mother. And the artwork, oh my God. As I was writing this, I posted a Facebook status asking if Walt was “the greatest artist who works in a Kirbyesque style, other than Kirby himself,” and in response to a challenge from Corey Creekmur, I defined that as an artist who’s engaged in doing “strong misreadings” of Kirby, in Harold Bloom’s sense. And I think the answer to that question is yes. As Aaron King subsequently pointed out, Walt’s storytelling style is nothing like Kirby’s; however, his designs have an epic grandeur and majesty that is extremely Kirbyesque. And on top of that, he’s one of the great visual storytellers in American comics, in terms of his page layouts and compositions. So overall, I can’t wait for the next issue of this.

DETECTIVE COMICS #622 (DC, 1990) – A. Again, the second part of this three-parter was one of the first comic books I ever read (and it was pretty disturbing for an eight-year-old or however old I was at the time), but I never got around to reading the first part. The “Dark Genesis” three-parter is almost completely forgotten – I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone mention it, and it didn’t appear on CBR’s list of the top ten John Ostrander stories. This is too bad because it’s a very compelling piece of work which uses metafiction in interesting ways. In this story, a serial killer tries to frame Batman for a series of murders, at the same time that an unauthorized Batman comic book appears on the newsstands. Each issue of this story includes a substantial excerpt from this fictitious in-universe Batman comic book, which is brutal and disturbing and features a character that bears little resemblance to the Batman we know. This Batman is Lucifer himself, possessing a man named Simon Petrarch. The Batman comic segments are drawn, in a very creepy style, by Ostrander’s Grimjack collaborator Flint Henry, while the frame story is drawn by Mike McKone. Overall this story is an example of Ostrander at his best, and also an effective use of metafiction. Also, the covers for each issue are drawn by Dick Sprang, and were probably his last comic book work.

STARS AND S.T.R.I.P.E. #14 (DC, 2000) – B+. I’m sorry to say that this series is probably Geoff Johns’s greatest work. It’s not very substantial, and Courtney’s cuteness sometimes crosses the line into saccharine-ness. But at least this series has a non-sexualized female protagonist, is free of tragedy and horror, and is not continuity porn. That distinguishes it from almost all of Geoff Johns’s later work. This is the final issue of the series, which is unfortunate because it meant Geoff Johns was free to turn his attention elsewhere. As noted above, this story sometimes plays on the reader’s emotions excessively – like, there’s one scene where Courtney encounters her deadbeat dad, who is so much of an asshole that he’s almost beyond belief. But again, if this story is flawed, at least it’s flawed in a better way than most Geoff Johns comics.

JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE #15 (DC, 1990) – B-. This is the first part of “The Extremist Vector,” the conclusion of which was one of the first comics I ever read (this is becoming a familiar pattern by now). There is some funny dialogue in this issue, but unfortunately the script is by Gerard Jones rather than JM DeMatteis – who, incidentally, I finally got to meet at Wizard World Atlanta this summer. That was probably the highlight of an awful show. Anyway, this issue mostly focuses on the Extremists, a group of uninspired, boring villains. They only become interesting when you realize that they, like their enemies Silver Sorceress and Blue Jay, are based on Marvel characters, and that the point of this story is “what if the Marvel villains defeated the Avengers and killed everyone and conquered the world”? This point completely went over my head when I originally read Justice League Europe #18, over twenty years ago, and now I kind of want to reread it. But other than that, this is not one of the better ‘90s Justice League stories.

DIRTY PLOTTE #8 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1994) – B. There’s some gorgeous and disturbing artwork by Julie Doucet in this issue, but not a lot of actual storytelling. It seems like half her Dirty Plotte stories take place on the same street in Montreal. This issue also includes some work by other lesser artists, as well as one page by Henriette Valium, whose art is just ridiculously convoluted and detailed – he’s like an underground version of Geof Darrow. This page makes me want to seek out more of his work.

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