Oh my God, this is a lot of reviews

10-10-14

CAPTAIN MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2014) – C+. This was a boring and confusing issue and it made me question my commitment to this series. At this point it had been at least two months since I’d read issue 4, and I had no idea what was going on in this issue. And there wasn’t a lot of humor either. Luckily this series would subsequently improve (I’m writing this after having read the next three issues).

CAPTAIN MARVEL #6 (Marvel, 2014) – B-. This was a reasonable conclusion to “Higher, Further, Faster, More” (I remembered the first word of that title as “Harder,” which gives a totally different impression). The problem is that it was not much of a story to begin with. It was too heavily tied to continuity, I didn’t care much for any of the characters besides Carol herself, and there were no particularly exciting plot twists. Again, though, luckily the next issue was better…

CAPTAIN MARVEL #7 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. This is much better just because it includes Rocket Raccoon and a cat, and it’s actually funny – starting with Tic preparing some bizarre tentacled thing for breakfast, and continuing with Rocket Raccoon and Chewie’s mutual enmity. The humor in this issue is sometimes too forced, but most of the time it works. And this time there is a bizarre twist ending, as the issue ends with the cat laying hundreds of eggs.

MIND MGMT #11 (Dark Horse, 2013) – B+. This is one of the more interesting issues of this series yet. I still don’t quite understand the story behind this comic, and I don’t think I will until I get around to buying the first hardcover. But this issue explores some fascinating questions related to perception and memory and illusion. The scene where Meru and Harry finally manage to see Shangri La is quite impressive. What is the connection between this comic’s theme of mind control and its use of materiality? That’s a question I’ll have to think about.

MIND MGMT #14 (Dark Horse, 2013) – B+. Not much to add here. This story appears to be about Meru’s early life and it includes some impressive depictions of Indian architecture.

THE DUMBEST IDEA EVER! FCBD #nn (Scholastic, 2014) – A-. I’ve been casually following Jimmy Gownley’s work for about a decade now – I think he was handing out free copies of Amelia Rules! at the first few Comic-Cons I attended. I think his depictions of childhood are very powerful and authentic, but the problem with his earlier work is that it was overproduced. For example, he’s a fantastic letterer, clearly heavily influenced in this area of his work by Dave Sim, but in the past he sometimes used weird lettering to an excessive degree. Worse, he tended to use way too much digital artwork, and it clashed with the cartoony, hand-drawn aesthetic of his pencil art. This particular comic is a preview of his new graphic novel for Scholastic, and it shows that his work has matured and that his excessive tendencies have been toned down. There’s still the same realistic depiction of adolescence, although the protagonist is male rather than female this time. The lettering is still brilliant, although again very similar to Dave Sim’s lettering. But the distracting computer artwork is mostly gone, and it’s much easier to concentrate on the story, which is very cute. I’m not going to run out and buy the full version of this book, because the story seems kind of boring compared to other Scholastic books like The Amulet and Cleopatra in Space, but I expect it to do quite well.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #14 (Dark Horse, 1988) – A-. The Concrete story in this issue is touching and funny; in this story, Concrete visits his parents’ graves, then falls into an open grave and can’t get out. There’s also a Mr. Monster story which has no plot to speak of, but some nice art and lettering.

ABE SAPIEN: THE DROWNING #1 (Dark Horse, 2008) – B+. This is nothing particularly great but it’s a fine addition to my Hellboy collection. Jason Alexander’s artwork in this issue is extremely dark and scratchy; I usually don’t like this sort of art but it’s appropriate for this story. This miniseries involves Abe Sapien investigating a shipwreck which is haunted by some kind of monstrous squids or something, so the story requires a cold and chilly mood.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #12 (Marvel, 2011) – B+. This is not the best issue of the series because there’s a lot of plot and not a whole lot of characterization, although the issue does end with a very touching moment between Mettle and Hazmat. I really wasn’t excited to see Korvac and Carina again; I think the potential of these characters was mostly exhausted in the Korvac saga from Avengers #167-177.

MILK & CHEESE #7 (Slave Labor, 1997) – A. Like Groo, Milk & Cheese are one-joke characters, but that joke is a funny one. These characters are not capable of sustaining a long narrative – Evan himself admits this on page one – and so this issue consists of a series of two- to four-page stories. Some of those stories may have appeared elsewhere before; I distinctly remember having already read the one about the comic book store, possibly in an issue of Wizard. Dorkin’s humor in these stories is extremely brutal and offensive in a hilarious way, and his artwork and lettering are so dense that this comic probably took me about half an hour to read. I don’t think I could stand to read an entire volume of Milk & Cheese stories, but a single issue worth of them is just enough.

SERGIO ARAGONES FUNNIES #10 (Bongo, 2013) – A-. The autobiographical story in this issue, “My Second Peso,” is as delightful as usual, though it has a grim undertone because it’s about Sergio being exploited by older kids for his artistic ability. I almost wish this series would be devoted to autobiographical stories exclusively, because the other long story in the issue, “Titanic Tales,” is pretty dumb.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #56 (DC, 1994) – D+. Tom McCraw is the second worst Legion writer after Gerry Conway, and the brief Legion on the Run era was one of the low points of the franchise. The Legionnaires’ new codenames (Pulse, Virus, Wave, etc.) are silly and it’s hard to believe anyone in-universe would actually be fooled by their cover identities. And the story doesn’t make sense and wouldn’t be interesting even if it did.

BACCHUS #30 (Eddie Campbell, 1997) – A-. This issue includes chapters of two different Bacchus stories as well as an Alec/Danny Grey story. I don’t have much to say about the first two; I really like Bacchus but I find that the various chapters of his saga tend to blur together in my memory. The Danny Grey backup is interesting because it’s a detailed examination of a character who seems to have vanished from Eddie’s more recent autobiographical work.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT #12 (Gemstone, 1995) – A+. Incredible stuff here. Jack Davis’s “Bargain in Death!” is a story of anatomical murder which is more hilarious than horrible. Joe Orlando’s “Ants in Her Trance!” is also pretty funny, but the twist ending is surprisingly logical and clever; it’s about a hypnotist who gives his wife a post-hypnotic command to wake up when he says “snap out of it”… and then discovers that this works even when she’s dead. Graham Ingels’s “The Ventriloquist’s Ghost” is mostly just disgusting. The last story in the issue, “A Corny Story” by Jack Kamen, is less exciting and would have been more at home in Weird Science or Weird Fantasy. I really need to collect more of these Gemstone EC reprints – I’d eventually like to have all of them.

SERGIO ARAGONES FUNNIES #11 (Bongo, 2013) – “Bill’s King Kong” is one of Sergio’s best short stories yet. It’s extremely funny (it details an incident where Sergio created a giant King Kong head and put it in Bill Gaines’s window) and it also reveals the deep affection Sergio had for his old boss. Reading Sergio’s stories about Bill really makes me wish I’d gotten the chance to meet him. The other two stories in the issue are much less substantial. “The Ghoul’s Tale” has a cute twist ending and “One Day at a Time” is very reminiscent of the beginning of the first Toy Story movie – which is a spoiler but not much of one, because the twist to this story is really obvious.

MS. MARVEL #4 (Marvel, 1977) – B-. This issue suffers from a common problem with ‘70s Marvel comics: there’s a preponderance of plot over characterization, and the plot isn’t exciting. Carol spends the whole issue fighting two unmemorable villains, and only gets back to her normal life at the end. At least there’s some okay Jim Mooney artwork which reminds me of his classic version of Supergirl. Later in this series Claremont would get better at balancing plot and characterization.

SAVAGE DRAGON #197 (Image, 2014) – B. On my Facebook page, someone recently mentioned Erik Larsen as a prominent contemporary successor to Kirby, and I think that’s accurate. His comics don’t stand up to close literary analysis (not to say that this is necessarily true of Kirby) but they’re fun to read and full of energy, and the action sequences and character designs are fantastic. This issue is notable mostly because Malcolm finally scores a decisive win over Dart, possibly Erik’s most loathsome villain. The Vanguard backup story in this issue is awful; I almost wish Erik would run advertisements instead, because then I wouldn’t feel obligated to read them.

STRANGE TALES #154 (Marvel, 1966) – B+/A-. Both stories in this issue are beautifully drawn, but sometimes seem like rehashes of earlier material. The Dr. Strange story involves the new Supreme Hydra and Laura Brown, the daughter of the old one. Therefore it’s very reminiscent of the Supreme Hydra saga from the #130s of this series. Of course the main attraction of the story is Steranko’s artwork. I think that once Steranko started writing his own material, he was able to come up with more interesting plots that catered more to his artistic strengths. The backup story has some nice artwork by Mirthful Marie, but is hard to distinguish from other Dark Dimension stories involving Clea and Umar.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #6 (Marvel, 2011) – A-. This is one of the better issues of this series. Christos Gage’s major strength as a writer is the depth of his characterization, and this issue is a deep exploration into Reptil’s personality, which ends with him going to Jessica Jones for therapy. It also includes the startling revelation that Reptil and Finesse had a sexual relationship; I started reading the series later and I didn’t realize this at all.

DAREDEVIL #138 (Marvel, 1976) – C+/B-. This issue would have been excruciating to read if not for the surprise guest artist, John Byrne. At this point in its history, the Daredevil title was going nowhere. It was a title that had little reason to exist other than Gene Colan’s artwork, and he was long gone. If not for Frank Miller, I don’t think Daredevil would still be published today. For instance, this issue is a Ghost Rider team-up which is painful to read because of Johnny Blaze’s silly cowboy dialogue. (Example: “Don’t say it, Roxy. I know what’s in your heart, ‘cause it’s forcin’ mine tuh do somersaults, too.”) The plot is of no interest whatsoever, and it crosses over with Ghost Rider, a title I’ve never had any desire to collect. So again, the only thing that saves this issue is the John Byrne artwork. The inking isn’t great, but at least this artwork is effective, closer to his work on Iron Fist than X-Men.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #11 (Marvel, 1975) – B+. The guest star this issue is Luke Cage, and this comic is fun because Luke and Ben both have massive egos (at least where their combat skills are concerned) and they initially can’t stand each other. Their back-and-forth dialogue is much more exciting than the plot, although the latter does have some mild interest; this issue has a slightly touching ending which reminds me a little of Frankenstein.

ARCHIE #253 (Archie, 1976) – B-. In his scholarship on Archie, Bart Beaty has observed that classic Archie comics were basically interchangeable. There was no continuity and each issue was very similar to all the others. Therefore, Archie is a good example of a typical comic book, whereas most of the works that comics scholars study are extremely atypical. (This is just my recollection of what Bart said in his paper at CSSC; I’m sure I’m oversimplifying his argument.) In a way, this issue is a good example of that thesis, though there is some stuff here that is quite out of the ordinary. The second story, “Tarbland of the Grapes,” is very bizarre. It begins with the premise that Archie is Tarbland, king of the jungle, and Betty is his mate. There is no explanation of how this situation came about. In the story after this one, Archie manages to convince himself that Mr. Lodge has been eaten by a carnivorous plant. Weird.

ATOMIC ROBO: DEADLY ART OF SCIENCE #5 (Red 5, 2011) – B+. This is mostly an effective conclusion to my favorite Atomic Robo story so far, but the ending leaves me a bit unsatisfied. By the end of the story, Robo is on the road to being who/what he is in the present, but we never really find out what happens to Jack Tarot or Helen. Perhaps this story was intended to set up another Atomic Robo miniseries also set in the ‘30s.

HERO FOR HIRE #10 (Marvel, 1973) – A-. This issue has an extremely convoluted plot which ends on a cliffhanger, but it’s fun to read because of Steve Englehart’s lively and humorous writing. George Tuska’s style of artwork is really too old-fashioned for a story which is meant to be highly contemporary, but at least he tries. It’s bizarre seeing him draw things like bell bottoms and lava lamps in a thoroughly non-psychedelic style. I need to collect more of these early issues of Hero for Hire, especially #8 and #9.

SAGA #23 (Image, 2014) – B+/A-. This was the most frustrating issue of the series so far. As I read this issue I grew steadily furious at both Marko and Alana, because obviously Alana is on the wrong side of their marital dispute, but Marko’s act of throwing the groceries at her is unforgivable. And I was especially pissed at Izabel for, essentially, urging Alana to forgive her abusive husband. It’s just all so frustrating. But I guess I have to trust that BKV knows what he’s doing here. And to paraphrase what Michael Pullmann said on my Facebook wall, I don’t have to be able to forgive Marko in order to keep reading – I guess I can sympathize with him while acknowledging he did something awful. I don’t know. It’ll be a long wait for the next issue.

LUMBERJANES #6 (Boom!, 2014) – A+. This is at least my #2 favorite comic right now and is seriously challenging Saga for the #1 slot. This issue is not quite at the same stratospheric level as #5, but is still incredibly fun. I love how the capture-the-flag game is such serious business. Jen and the camp director’s conversation is rather touching, especially the line about how the girls don’t need Jen to punch a bear because they can do that themselves. I was a little confused by the main plot point involving Diane and Jo, but it is nice that Jo is finally receiving a spotlight, since I think she’s been the most neglected character so far. It’s kind of weird that Bubbles spent the entire first four issues in hat form, but suddenly decides to spend almost all his/her time in hat form, now that we know s/he’s alive.

SAVAGE DRAGON #198 (Image, 2014) – B+/A-. This is the best issue of Savage Dragon in quite a long time. I still think Maxine is kind of a stereotype, but at least she’s a female character I genuinely care about, something which is very rare in this series. Malcolm’s adventure in the underworld is exciting, and the two-page splash at the centerfold is Erik’s best illustration in recent memory. For the first time in a while, I’m actively looking forward to the next issue.

HELLBLAZER #44 (DC, 1991) – A+. I’ve wanted to read “Dangerous Habits” for a long time, but somehow it always eluded me. Having finally gotten around to it, I think it’s one of Ennis’s masterworks and one of the great DC comics of the ‘90s. This chapter is largely devoted to setting up for the incredible coup de theatre in the next issue, but about the first half of the issue involves Constantine saying goodbye to his friends, knowing that his last-ditch effort to save his life might not work. Therefore this issue acts as an effective and concise summary of Constantine’s character. The key moment here is the giant close-up of his face with the caption “I’m not ashamed.” I recently saw a comment on Scans_Daily complaining about Ennis’s tendency toward protagonists who are “Real Men,” and I definitely agree. Clearly a character like Jesse Custer is an embodiment of a certain rather outdated notion of masculinity, and this is one of my main objections to Preacher. Ennis’s version of Constantine is a very different model of masculinity; he’s a deeply flawed character, and his character flaws are of the kind that make him disgusting and difficult to fully identify with. And this makes him a far more interesting character than Jesse. We see a lot of that side of his character in this issue. The one point here that rubs me the wrong way is the scene on the page before the “I’m not ashamed” panel, where Constantine looks at the Houses of Parliament and thinks “All I ever wanted was for the world to be free of your kind.” I think he’s lying to himself here; his actions usually seem to result from far less altruistic motives.

PRINCESS UGG #4 (Oni, 2014) – A-. This issue feels like a conclusion to the first story arc of the series, but it also feels inconclusive, in a good way. I was surprised that Ulga does not succeed in taming Julifer’s unicorn. She does find another (hilarious) solution to the problem, but the message here seems to be that she’s not going to win Julifer’s loyalty all at once, and this seems more realistic than if she had succeeded. Ulga is emerging as a complex and multifaceted character with both appealing and unappealing qualities, and I think this sort of character is Ted Naifeh’s trademark. Both Courtney Crumrin and Princess Ugg are about girls who are somewhat prickly and difficult to love – they’re kind of anti-Disney princesses, and of course the whole point of Princess Ugg is to critique the Disney princess phenomenon.

HELLBLAZER #45 (DC, 1991) – A+. This is one of the best DC comics of the ‘90s. I already knew the outline of Constantine’s plan, in which he sells his soul to three different devils, long before I read this issue. But it’s exciting watching it play out. Ennis’s sense of pacing is brilliant, and he effectively convinces the reader that this is Constantine’s greatest victory, his greatest stroke of genius – although as we realize next issue, it’s also a victory that benefits no one but himself. Will Simpson’s draftsmanship is rather poor, but he does a nice job of distinguishing the three demon lords; one of them in particular changes shape in every panel in which it appears. The last panel – the full-page splash with Constantine giving the First of the Fallen the finger – is perhaps the greatest moment of Ennis’s career. It’s a Crowning Moment of Awesome which reminds me of the concluding pages of Daredevil #236 or Kingdom Come #3; it’s that same level of absolute magnificence. Garth Ennis and John Constantine have rarely been better.

CHEW #43 (Image, 2014) – A. It seems like it’s been forever since the last issue of Chew. Warrior Chicken Poyo didn’t really count. Olive is amazing in this issue, though the preview page at the end suggests that she may be headed for a rude awakening when she encounters the Vampire. Besides that I don’t have much to say about this issue. Layman and Guillory are extremely consistent, meaning that every issue of Chew is at the same level of quality, but no issue particularly stands out. I do think the novelty of this series is going to wear off eventually, and I hope that the Vampire story arc isn’t drawn out for too long. The cover gimmick in this issue was used previously for #34.

THAT’S BECAUSE YOU’RE A ROBOT #nn (Image, 2014) – A-. Before this issue, the only other Shaky Kane comic I’d read was the one issue of Doom Patrol he did, which was a parody of Kirby. And now that I look at my copy of that issue, I realize Shaky Kane only did the cover. So I’m not at all familiar with his work, which mostly seems to have been published in rather obscure venues. He’s a fantastic artist though. He reminds me most obviously of Geof Darrow, but his work is less insanely detailed and he makes heavier use of primary colors. Reading this comic is almost like reading a coloring book. David Quantick’s storytelling is completely absurd and nonsensical in a humorous way. Overall I liked this issue, and I’ll pick up the other one-shot by this team if I see a copy of it.

ODDLY NORMAL #1 (Image, 2014) – B-. I like the premise of this series, but there’s just not enough here. The story ends before it really gets going. This is partly due to Otis Frampton’s very spare style of artwork, with very few panels per page and very little detail in each panel. The preview artwork at the end looks fascinating, though, and it gives me higher expectations for future issues. In terms of the content, my main reaction is that Oddly’s parents are just awful; they’re too wrapped up in each other to notice that their daughter is miserable in school and has no friends.

DETECTIVE COMICS #597 (DC, 1989) – B+. The villain in this issue is a filmmaker, Milton Sladek, who produces live footage of people being beaten – like snuff films, except the victim survives – and then exhibits them privately to rich sadists. There is a strong element of social critique here, which is not surprising since this story is written by Alan Grant, of Judge Dredd fame. Grant suggests that Sladek himself is not the villain; rather, the real villains are his overprivileged rich customers, who are so jaded that they can only get off on watching less fortunate people get beaten. However, the story ends on a false note when Batman invites Sladek’s customers to visit one of his victims in the hospital, and the customers immediately realize the error of their ways and swear not to watch violence videos anymore. I didn’t buy this; if these people are heartless enough to watch the videos in the first place, why would they change their minds so quickly? I suspect that the editor may have required Grant to include this ending, and that this story would have ended differently if the main character was Judge Dredd instead of Batman.

CONCRETE: THINK LIKE A MOUNTAIN #2 (Dark Horse, 1996) – A+. Paul Chadwick is one of the most underrated creators in American comics. I think it may only be his use of science fiction elements that prevents him from being recognized as a genius on the level of more canonical creators like Clowes or Pekar or Los Bros. His stories are mature and complicated and serious, and his artwork is incredible, especially in color – this issue often reminded me of Moebius or something like that. Environmentalism is the key theme of his work, and “Think Like a Mountain” may be the one story where he confronts environmental issues more directly. In this story Concrete gets involved with a radical environmentalist group as an embedded reporter/documentarian. But it quickly becomes clear that they’re trying to recruit him for their cause, and that they’re not above using underhanded and deceptive tactics in order to do so. Chadwick depicts the magnitude of the environmental crisis facing the planet, but he avoids presenting environmentalists in an unambiguously positive light. This miniseries is probably one of the high points of his career.

TINY TITANS: RETURN TO THE TREEHOUSE #1 (DC, 2014) – B+. And now for something far less serious. This is more or less exactly the same as every other comic by Baltazar and Franco, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Highlights of this issue are a surprise unexplained Brainiac 5 appearance and a scene in which the Titans find Solomon Grundy asleep in a coffin.

THE SANDMAN #32 (DC, 1991) – A+. I think this was actually the only issue of Sandman that I hadn’t read. This was by accident; at Comic-Con many years ago I bought all the other issues of “A Game of You” except this one, and I never got around to reading this issue. I don’t have a complete Sandman collection, but I’ve read all the other issues I’m missing in reprinted form. Though actually, on looking at my database again, I think it’s also possible that I haven’t read issue 21 either. And it’s odd that I haven’t read this issue because I once received a very good student paper analyzing its first four pages, up to the point where Barbie wakes up. Anyway, this is an awesome comic. The contrast between the dream world and the waking world (which was what the student paper was primarily about) is extremely stark. Barbie’s fantasy world is fascinatingly bizarre; I feel like Martin Tenbones and the Cuckoo and the rest could have supported a comic book on their own. I kind of want to reread the rest of “A Game of You” now that I know how it starts; I always thought it was one of the weaker Sandman stories.

HELLBLAZER #46 (DC, 1991) – A. This is an excellent aftermath to the epic epicness of issue 45, though I did have problems with it. The issue begins with Constantine suffering from a sort of PTSD. It dawns on him that he’s just endangered the entire universe to save his own skin, and that he’s saved his own life but that his friend Matt is still doomed to die of the exact same disease. And he ends up feeling like a complete shit, which of course he is. At this point Garth Ennis introduces Kit, who initially seems like – I don’t want to use the obvious term that begins with M because it’s sexist and offensive. But she does seem like an excessively perfect and flawless character, and this makes her suspect because she’s Ennis’s new creation and he’s obviously trying very hard to sell her to the reader. This is less of a problem since I have read some later stories which reveal significant depths to her character; it’s just a little offputting. The issue ends with a very appropriate quotation from a Pogues song, “Rainy Night in Soho.” The Pogues are a significant intertext to this comic and it seems like Ennis’s version of Constantine is based to some extent on Shane MacGowan.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #237 (DC, 1976) – C+/B-. This is weaker than most World’s Finest issues of this era. It has a rather boring plot in which Superman and Batman try to stop an invasion of alien locusts. However, it does include a scene where Superman rides a giant bird with praying mantis legs, so that’s something.

DEADBEATS AND COMPANY #60 (Claypool, 2003) – D+. This is one of those comics I’ve had for many years without ever bothering to read it. In fact, I remember getting it for free at Comic-Con as part of a promotion, so it’s possible that I’ve had it for eleven years, ever since it came out. When I finally did get around to reading this comic, it was not worth the wait. This series has some mildly interesting soap opera elements, but it’s one of the most overwritten comics I’ve ever read; as a writer, Richard Howell may be even more verbose than Don McGregor. Each panel in this issue has so many word balloons and caption boxes that the pace of the story slows to a crawl. And Howell isn’t even a good prose stylist. His characters speak in clichéd dialogue that bears no resemblance to how real people talk. This series eventually switched to digital distribution because it fell below Diamond Comics’s minimum order numbers, and I’m not surprised because I can’t imagine who would have been buying it.

MORNING GLORIES #38 (Image, 2014) – C. I’m losing patience with this series because the story never makes any sense and it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. I’m still buying it but it regularly takes me several months to read each new issue. I still sort of like the characters, and I feel a certain amount of loyalty to the franchise, but I’m almost at the point where I can’t justify buying it anymore.

MANIFEST DESTINY #8 (Image, 2014) – B+. This is another series I’ve fallen behind on, but in this case it’s because of laziness and lack of time on my part, rather than lack of quality on the part of the comic. Like Chew, this series has fallen into a comfortable groove, and this issue offers us more of what I’ve come to expect from it: giant bizarre monsters, plausible-sounding 19th-century dialogue, and Sacagawea being awesome. I do wish that she wasn’t the only Native American character in the series. I’m curious about the people who live in this version of America, as well as the monsters.

MANIFEST DESTINY #9 (Image, 2014) – A-. Again more of the same. This issue heavily emphasizes the contrast between the more active Clark and the more contemplative Lewis (unless it’s the other way around, I have trouble telling them apart). The dynamic between Sacagawea and York is also fascinating. The scene at the end, with the fly bursting out of the guy’s chest like a xenomorph, is the most disgusting thing in this series so far.

HAROLD HEDD: HITLER’S COCAINE #1 (Kitchen Sink, 1984) – A+. Rand Holmes was an extremely talented Canadian underground cartoonist who went almost forgotten until fairly recently, when Fantagraphics published a retrospective volume about him. My dad has a small collection of underground comics, which he eventually gave to me when I was old enough for them, and it included Harold Hedd #2 from the ‘70s. That comic was an amazing discovery for me because of the way it combined Wally Wood’s art style with the underground sensibility. And also because of Holmes’s incredible sense of humor – I especially remember the opening scene where Harold Hedd can’t pee in the toilet because he has an erection, so he uses the sink instead. Then later I came across Harold Hedd: Hitler’s Cocaine #2, the second issue of the brief revival of this character from the ‘80s, and I thought that that was even better. So I finally got around to reading issue #1 and I continue to be impressed by Rand Holmes’s brilliant artwork and his comic genius. This story is a definite wish fulfillment fantasy, but Harold Hedd and his cousin Elmo are memorable characters, and Rand Holmes’s artwork is realistic while also being full of hilarious detail. It’s a real shame that Holmes produced such a small body of work – basically just four issues of Harold Hedd and a few stories scattered across various underground comics and Kitchen Sink anthologies. He deserves to be better known than he is.

FANTAGOR #3 (Last Gasp, 1972) – B/B+. After reading Harold Hedd, I wanted to read another underground comic. The most fascinating thing about Rich Corben’s artwork is his airbrush coloring, and unfortunately only one of his two stories in this issue is colored in that style. However, both those stories are quite well-written; they’re horror stories in the EC style, though slightly more X-rated, and they have a certain brutal and blackly humorous sensibility. I especially like the one that’s not colored in the airbrush style, which is called “Kittens for Christian.” It takes place in a postapocalyptic world where animals can grow to gigantic sizes. The protagonist is a 98-pound weakling who is commanded by Luther, a brutal bully, to bring back some cats for dinner. But he refuses to kill them, and ultimately the cats grow to giant size while remaining loyal to him. I haven’t read any Harlan Ellison, but this story is reminiscent of my ideas as to what Harlan Ellison’s stories are probably like, if that makes any sense.

MANIFEST DESTINY #10 (Image, 2014) – A-. With this issue I’m finally caught up. This current story is dragging on a bit too long – Lewis and Clark’s boat has now been stuck on the underwater arch for three whole issues, and it’s still not unstuck yet. But at least Lewis seems to have come up with a workable solution. This issue includes some fascinating interplay between Lewis and Mrs. Boniface. None of the characters in this comic are particularly deep, but the interactions between them are compelling.

UNCANNY X-MEN #119 (Marvel, 1978) – A-. This is an average Claremont and Byrne issue, which means it’s in the top 10% of all the superhero comics published in the ‘70s. Almost the entire issue is taken up with a battle between the X-Men and Moses Magnum, a forgettable villain who has only made a few subsequent appearances. But what makes this issue enjoyable is the scene at the end where the X-Men throw Sean a surprise birthday party – especially the part where Ororo kisses Kurt for no particular reason. This scene emphasizes the fact that although Claremont’s writing seems kind of embarrassing today, he was able to make the reader feel a genuine affection for his characters. There is another thing about this issue that seems very strange by modern standards. At the end of #113, Jean and Professor X were separated from the rest of the X-Men, and each half of the team believed the other half was dead. They continued to believe this until almost a year later when Scott and Hank ran into each other. But if Sean had ever given Moira MacTaggert a phone call (which he even contemplates doing in this issue), he would have discovered that Jean and Charles were still alive, and vice versa. I don’t know why he never bothered calling her, unless long-distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive then.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #18 (Marvel, 2009) – B+. I bought this at a library book sale while I was still living in Gainesville, but never got around to reading it, mostly because of the hideous library stickers on the cover. This is a late chapter of the “World’s Most Wanted” story arc, in which “Tony frantically makes his way across the globe to each of his hidden armories, using repulsor technology to delete the database that is his mind.” I don’t understand why Tony would do this instead of just, you know, killing himself, which he seems prepared to do anyway. And the story further suffers from the involvement of Norman Osborn. I almost want to institute a policy that any Marvel comic with Norman Osborn in it will receive an automatic deduction of 1/3 of a letter grade. I just hate this villain so much; he’s just pure evil with no appealing qualities, and he should still be dead. What I do like is Matt Fraction’s portrayal of Iron Man (as well as Pepper Potts for that matter). His version of Tony Stark is more or less the same as Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal, and is therefore inconsistent with how Tony has been written in the past, but I don’t mind because Fraction writes him with such charisma and humor. I also like Salvador Larroca’s art, though it’s a little too photorealistic for my tastes.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #23 (Marvel, 2010) – B+. I wrote so much about issue 19 that I’m just going to write a few sentences about this one. I don’t understand the story in this issue, but I love Matt Fraction’s portrayal of the Ghost, who he depicts as a spooky and disturbing character. Much of the issue takes place inside Tony’s mind, but the story ends before we learn much of anything about his psychology.

BATMAN #502 (DC, 1993) – C-. This issue was very lackluster. Since it’s a chapter of Knightquest: The Crusade, it stars Azrael rather than Bruce. Azrael was intentionally written as an unlikeable jerk, and it shows. I think I must have checked this issue out from the library when it came out, because it includes a letter from a fan with the coincidental name of Jason Peter Todd, and I know I’ve read that letter before, but I can’t remember anything about the story.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #340 (Marvel, 1990) – C+/B-. We continue with the theme of mediocre superhero comics from the early ‘90s. Half of this issue is devoted to a fight between Spider-Man and the Femme Fatales, four extremely lame villains who never appeared again after this story arc except as background characters. The other half is devoted to Peter worrying about the possibility that he might get killed and leave Aunt May bereaved. Because of this, Peter decides to subject himself to an experimental process, invented by a Dr. Turner, that might remove his powers. Despite supposedly being a genius, Peter apparently never considers the possibility that Dr. Turner might have ulterior motives. This was not one of Michelinie and Larsen’s better efforts.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY #3 (Marvel, 1976) – B/B-. This is a ‘70s Kirby comic and so I can’t give it too low of a rating. But I still found it disappointing. I was hoping this would be an epic cosmic story in the same vein as the Fourth World, and it was, but only for one page, where the main character has a vision thanks to the monolith. The rest of the issue takes place in prehistoric times, and includes some good combat scenes but not a whole lot else.

GREEN LANTERN #114 (DC, 1979) – B-. I had to interrupt myself in the middle of reading this comic, because when I got about two pages in, I started to worry that another scholar might have anticipated my argument in the chapter I’m working on, and I had to run to my bookshelves and check. It turned out my worry was unfounded and I ended up getting some useful writing done, but it was a while before I got back to my comic book. However, I don’t think this comic would have been improved by being read at one sitting rather than two. The main source of dramatic tension in this story is that Hal uses his power ring to put an energy shield around a leaking oil tanker, but then he suffers a head injury and can’t recharge his ring before the shield disappears. And he also can’t tell anyone else about this situation. The plot hole here is that Green Arrow knows about the energy shield, and he presumably knows how Hal’s ring works, and yet he can’t figure out for himself that the energy shield is going to vanish. I suppose this is a case of plot-induced stupidity. Besides that, the story in this issue is okay but the art, by Alex Saviuk, is below average.

BATMAN ’66 #11 (DC, 2014) – A-. I quit collecting this comic because I wasn’t reading the issues I already had, and now I’m embarrassed about that, because this series is cleverly written and funny. This issue introduces the Batman ’66 version of Harley Quinn and also includes cameos by a bunch of villains who only apppeared on the TV show. Jonathan Case’s artwork is perfect for this story; he shows familiarity with the period, and his realistic style contrasts interestingly with the wackiness of the plots.

AVENGERS: THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #7 (Marvel, 2011) – C-. This issue illustrates the problem with most crossover stories. It has an overly complicated plot and no characterization to speak of. Too many pages are wasted on giant fight scenes, and the issue includes too many giant crowd scenes and too many characters who don’t get to do anything. The things I usually like about Allan Heinberg’s writing were almost completely absent here. The only good thing about this comic is Jim Cheung’s artwork. Somehow I always pay particular attention to the way he draws Wiccan’s headband; I don’t know why but it seems like this detail is kind of a signature of his.

YUMMY FUR #24 (Vortex, 1991) – A. “The Little Man” is both funny and disturbing. It’s a wish-fulfillment fantasy which reminds me a lot of the pissing contest scene in Blankets. But the subtext is that 10-year-old Chester Brown was kind of a disgusting kid (apparently the part where he exposes himself in class really happened) and that his mother was suffering from some kind of severe depression. This story kind of demands rereading. This issue also includes an adaptation of a scene from the Gospels. I kind of love Chester’s depiction of Jesus as a frightening and imposing figure. We’re all used to thinking of Jesus as kind and gentle, but Chester emphasizes how scary he must have been to people who met him.

YOUNG AVENGERS #10 (Marvel, 2006) – B+/A-. After reading the bad Allan Heinberg comic reviewed above, I wanted to read a good one. Heinberg’s writing seems kind of simplistic in comparison with Kieron Gillen’s version of these characters, but he still does a good job of letting their personalities come through. This issue also introduces Speed, who is convincingly depicted as a dangerous creep who is probably in jail for a good reason. I already read this issue when I borrowed the trade paperback from a friend, but it’s worth having it in my collection.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #31 (IDW, 2014) – B+. I still don’t understand or care about the plot of this comic, and I still can’t tell any of the characters apart – they all have more or less the same personality. But this comic continues to be worth reading because of James Roberts’s amazing dialogue. I also liked this issue’s mystery novel-esque plot.

Now for this week’s comics, if I can stay awake long enough:

BATGIRL #35 (DC, 2014) – A-. The A is because this is the first time DC has ever seriously attempted to appeal to its target demographic. We might describe that demographic as the Tumblr generation: Internet-savvy fans who are predominantly female. Marvel has been doing a fantastic job of courting this audience, and DC finally seems to have caught up. This comic passes the Bechdel test easily and has an appealing and distinctive female protagonist – I especially like how Babs uses her training as an urban geographer to fight crime. Also the artwork and even the coloring are very appealing. Babs Tarr is an emerging star. The minus is because Stewart and Fletcher almost seem to be trying too hard to prove how cool they are, and this issue occasionally reads like an old person’s idea of what young people’s lives must be like. Also, I think it’s unfortuante that this issue involves some cross-title continuity with Birds of Prey, because it’s probably going to be read by a lot of people who don’t read any other DC title. Still, this issue shows that DC is finally starting to understand the need to appeal to nontraditional audiences.

ROCKET RACCOON #4 (Marvel, 2014) – B+/A-. I feel like this series has been just a bit underwhelming given Skottie Young’s incredible talent. This ought to be Marvel’s best title, but I would rank it behind Ms. Marvel and maybe even She-Hulk. Still, this comic is incredibly fun, it’s beautifully drawn, and it wraps up the first story arc in a satisfying way while also setting up the next story. I particularly like Skottie Young’s use of what TVTropes calls Unsound Effects, i.e. sound effects that describe the action rather than imitating its sound. For example, in this issue we have OUCH! and GUT! and SHUT ‘EM DOWN!

THOR #1 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. The disappointing thing about this issue is that the new female Thor only appears on two pages and we don’t learn anything about her at all. Another reviewer mentioned how this is probably a ploy to ensure that people will stay around for the next issue, and I’m sure that’s true. But this comic does offer a plausible reason why there’s a female Thor, even though we don’t know who she is yet. And Frigga has probably never been written better. Also, I’ve never seen Russell Dauterman’s art before but I really like it. I eagerly await the next issue. The Thor title has been fairly consistently good over the past decade, which is nice since it was almost unreadable for a decade before that.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #8 (Marvel, 2014) – A. This is the best issue since #1, mostly because of the cats. I mean, seriously, there are panels here with like twenty cats in them. That alone is worth an A-. And I almost forgot about the splash page with the tentacles and chestbursters coming out of Chewie’s mouth; that has to be one of the best panels of the year, especially considering Rocket’s reaction. For almost the first time since this series began, I was seriously excited to read this issue, and I was not disappointed. I can’t imagine how the next issue could possibly top this one, though.

USAGI YOJIMBO: SENSO #3 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A-. This issue doesn’t advance the story very much, and it would be a B+ if not for the heartbreaking and inspiring scene where Chizu sacrifices herself to destroy the tripod. “Even for a ninja there can be honor in death” is the best line of dialogue Stan has written in many years. Gen also dies heroically in this issue, but his death has far less impact. Other than that, though, I already get the point that Usagi and his allies are almost helpless against the Martians, and I think it’s time for the story to stop belaboring that point.

GROO VS. CONAN #3 (Dark Horse, 2014) – B+/A-. I was initially dissatisfied with this. As mentioned in my review of #2, Mark doesn’t understand Conan very well; he writes Conan as a prehistoric superhero, and he has Conan as the king of a small village, which is inconsistent with Conan’s established history. Also, as the issue went on I realized that the Mark/Sergio scenes were actually more interesting than the Groo/Conan scenes, and I didn’t understand what these two halves of the story had to do with each other. More accurately, I didn’t get why Mark and Sergio were in this comic. As the issue went on, I eventually figured out that the two stories are analogous to each other. Obviously the situation with the comic book store parallels the situation with the bakery, but what’s more interesting is that Mark and Sergio play the same roles in their story as Conan and Groo do in theirs. In short, Mark is Conan and Sergio is Groo, which somehow makes a lot of sense. Still, it feels like kind of a cheat that this comic is more about Mark and Sergio than it is about the two title characters, although Groo and Conan do finally get to fight each other in the end.

AVENGERS: THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #5 (Marvel, 2011) – B+/A-. This issue is much better than #7, reviewed above, because there are far fewer characters and therefore there’s a stronger focus on the Young Avengers themselves. In this issue Cassie successfully uses time travel to bring her father back to life, and there’s also a heavy emphasis on the love triangle between her, Iron Lad and the Vision, even though the latter two appear to be the same character, in some sense I don’t understand. Cassie is kind of an awesome character – her innocence and youth are a nice contrast to Kate Bishop’s world-weariness – and I don’t quite understand why Heinberg decided to kill her off at the end of this miniseries.

HELLBLAZER #47 (DC, 1990) – A. This issue demonstrates one of Ennis’s great strengths: his ability to shift from humor to horror and back at the drop of a hat. In the first half of this issue, Constantine and Kit spend a night at the pub. This part of the story is kind of a paean to English drinking culture, something Ennis is presumably very familiar with. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the differences between American and European alcohol culture, since it’s come up in my class this semester, and this issue is kind of an elegant argument for the superiority of the latter. In the second half of the issue, though, some criminals destroy the bar and brutally murder its elderly proprietor, Laura. It’s a brutal and shocking moment, and it makes me want to run out and buy issue 48 (or order it from mycomicshop.com) so I can see Constantine take vengeance on the criminals. The problem with this plot, though, is that Laura knew there was trouble coming and didn’t bother to tell Constantine, who could have done something about it. Oh, also, the title of this issue is “The Pub Where I Was Born,” which is an unacknowledged quotation from the Pogues song “Sally MacLennane.” That makes at least four Pogues songs that play a major role in Ennis’s run on Hellblazer, along with “Rainy Night in Soho,” “Thousands are Sailing,” and “Rake at the Gates of Hell.” I’m sure there are others.

ASTRO CITY #16 (DC, 2014) – A+. To explain my review of this comic I have to describe my process of reading it. I was not impressed with this issue at first. I couldn’t tell where it was going, and it just seemed like a generic superhero story. I started to understand a bit more when I got to the birthday party scene and I remembered that this part of the issue was originally written as a Luthor/Superboy story. I could see how this scene on its own could have been an interesting exploration of Lex and Clark’s relationship. At the same time, I was afraid this was leading up to Simon’s suicide – that this was going to be a story about a teen who was bullied for being gay, with tragic consequences. But then I got to the end of the flashback section, where Starbright takes off “his” mask and turns out to be a black woman, and I was completely confused – especially since the next page revealed that Chet Markham was the original Starbright and that he died. So who was this woman? And then it hit me: the woman was Simon. Simon/Simone/Sally is a transgender character and what this story is really about is her transition from male to female. This is a shocking and eye-opening moment – it came as a complete surprise to me and yet made perfect logical and emotional sense. Overall I think this issue is probably the most powerful and sympathetic exploration of transgender themes in the history of superhero comics, and everyone who’s interested in such themes ought to read it.

SUPERMAN #375 (DC, 1982) – B. This is a fun comic, but man, Vartox is such a weird character, with his receding hairline and his bare chest. I don’t understand why Cary Bates and his colleagues were so obsessed with this character. His only memorable post-Crisis appearance is in Power Girl, where he’s depicted as a space-traveling lounge lizard, and I think this indicates the difficulty of taking him seriously. The Fabulous World of Krypton backup story, in which a dishonest scientist tries to steal Jor-El’s rocket, is more exciting than the main story because it has some nice Gil Kane artwork.

IMAGE EXPO PREVIEW BOOK 2: I IS FOR IMAGE (Image, 2014) – B+. This is exactly how a preview comic should be done. It presents substantial excerpts from a bunch of upcoming Image titles – rather than unlettered preview pages, which are totally useless – and it succeeds in making me excited about most of these titles. The two most impressive previews here are the ones for ODY-C and Tooth & Claw, and I was going to buy those anyway, but this issue also makes me curious about From Under Mountains and even Birthright. I’m especially excited about ODY-C, though. I love the idea of an all-female science fiction take on Homer.

TEEN DOG #2 (Boom!, 2014) – B+/A-. This is essentially the same as last issue; it’s a collection of short vignettes which are completely absurd in a funny way. What struck me as I read this story, though, was the resemblance to Scott Pilgrim of all things. There are a ton of video game references in this issue, including jaggy lettering. And Lawrence’s style of dialogue, with its heavy use of catch phrases, is kind of similar to O’Malley’s.

BATMAN ’66 #9 (DC, 2014) – B+/A-. This issue is inferior to #11, reviewed above, because of Craig Rousseau’s artwork, which is significantly worse than Jonathan Case’s. Rousseau’s art lacks the realism that makes Case’s artwork so effective. I did like the story, with the humorous interplay between Zelda and Haley. However, since Bruce’s date is named Kathy (i.e. Bat-Woman), I wonder why Dick’s date isn’t named Bette (i.e. Bat-Girl).

GEORGE PEREZ’S SIRENS #1 (Boom!, 2014) – B+. I’m going to file this under S for Sirens rather than G for George Perez. Gentleman George used to be my favorite artist. I’m not sure that’s true anymore, but I still love his work, and in this issue he gets to do one of the things he does best: draw sexy women. I think that’s basically the whole point of this series. The story is difficult to understand – it seems to be about some women from different historical eras who are all allies of a single time-traveling woman – but the real point of this comic is the artwork. I don’t think this series is going to win any awards, but I look forward to reading more of it.

FIRST ISSUE SPECIAL #6 (DC, 1975) – B-. “The Dingbats of Danger Street” was not one of Kirby’s better concepts. It’s really just a rehash of the Newsboy Legion and the Boy Commandos. There is nothing here that really grabs the reader’s imagination. It’s not even weird in a funny way, like Devil Dinosaur. Unsurprisingly this was Kirby’s only published story with these characters, though he did two more stories about them which have never been published.

MIRACLEMAN #11 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. Obviously this is an A+ comic, and I’m extremely glad that the copyright issues have been worked out and that I’m finally able to have it in my collection. I have the first ten issues of Miracleman, except #8 which was a reprint, but the later issues are prohibitively expensive. I wasn’t able to read them at all until I got to college and discovered that the special collections library had them. I don’t have much to say about the story, which I know pretty well already. Alan’s prose style is incredible, if somewhat purple at times, and John Totleben is an unacknowledged master of draftsmanship. Some of his architectural renderings in this and the next issue actually remind me of Philippe Druillet. My only complaint about this comic is that Marvel really didn’t need to include the original pencils for every single page. This material is only of interest to obsessive fans or scholars, and it could have been saved for some kind of special edition.

MIRACLEMAN #12 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. See above. I had mostly forgotten about the continuity with Avril Lear and Young Nastyman, so reading this part of the issue was a bit of a surprise. Another thing I realized when reading this issue is that Dicky Dauntless’s homosexuality actually makes a weird kind of sense, since he’s the analogue to Mary Marvel. Or maybe he’s supposed to be Captain Marvel Jr. and Kid Marvelman is supposed to be Mary Marvel, but I think the alternative arrangement makes more sense. On an unrelated matter, this issue and the previous issue also include some backup stories by Mick Anglo and his staff, and the one in this issue is notable for its highly racist depiction of Indians. This material might have been better left out of print.

INCREDIBLE HULK #272 (Marvel, 1982) – B+. I have mentioned before that I hate Bill Mantlo’s writing, but I’m beginning to suspect that this may be an irrational prejudice. His stuff is sometimes kind of funny in a weird way, like Bob Haney’s comics. And this issue is actually a significant moment in Bruce Banner’s character arc; I think it’s the first time Bruce ever turns into the Hulk while retaining his own personality. I think that’s all I want to say for now; for the first time since moving to this house, I have gotten all the way through my stack of comics waiting to be reviewed, and I need to go to bed now.

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