PROPHET: STRIKEFILE #1 (Image, 2014) – B+. This is not a continuous story (although one could argue that neither is the regular Prophet series); instead, it’s a guidebook to the Prophet universe. As such, it is really useful. After reading it feel as though I almost understand what’s going on in Prophet. As with the old Marvel Universe Handbooks and DC Who’s Who’s, this issue contains art by a large number of artists of varying talent. I wish Brandon Graham had done more than just one two-page spread.
ACTION COMICS #400 (DC, 1971) – B/B-. I’ve wanted to own this ever since I saw its cover reprinted in the “Superman from the ‘40s to the ‘70s” hardcover, when I was in high school. As an anniversary issue this is rather unimpressive – it’s just two regular stories by the regular creative team of Dorfman, Swan and Anderson. Leo Dorfman, incidentally, was one of the better ‘60s Superman writers, though he died in 1974 and is completely forgotten today. He seems to have been an old-fashioned thinker – his “The Pied Piper of Steel” from a couple issues earlier presents rock and roll music in a very negative light – but he knew how to tell an exciting story. Anyway, the first story in this issue is called “My Son… Is He Man or Beast?” but the son in question is an adopted son who is a spoiled little brat. The backup story, “The Duel of Doom” is kind of a cute love story, but is somewhat tarnished because the female lead is a stereotypical man-hating harpy who ultimately has to be saved by the male lead. What really makes this issue worthwile is the Swanderson artwork. Curt Swan, of course, is the best Superman artist ever by far, Anderson was his best inker, and I think the early ‘70s was their best period. Even though he’d been working for DC since the ‘40s, his artwork here looks surprisingly modern.
IRON MAN #2 (Marvel, 1968) – A-. This is easily the lowest-numbered issue of any long-running ‘60s Marvel title in my collection. I forget how much I paid for it but it was surprisingly cheap, though of course the condition is quite poor. This issue is a formulaic but surprisingly touching effort by Archie Goodwin and Johnny Craig. Janice Cord, daughter of Tony’s insane business rival Drexel Cord (apparently no relation to Edwin Cord, from David Michelinie’s Iron Man), emerges as an exciting character, willing to defy her father when she realizes his obsession with Tony has driven him nuts. I love Archie Goodwin’s writing – I think he may be one of the top five writers in comic book history, just in terms of actual skill – but I still don’t feel I understand Johnny Craig’s art.
UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #17 (Gladstone, 1989) – B+. “Lost Beneath the Sea” is one of the most bizarre Carl Barks stories I’ve read. It starts with Scrooge going on a trip to Asia to buy Mt. Everest, the Taj Mahal, and Hong Kong, but then his ship sinks, taking his Number One Dime along with it, and it turns out to have been recovered by some undersea Martians in giant metal suits. This story was published in 1963, three years before Barks retired, and it makes me think he must have been running out of steam. The only really funny part is the cablegram guy who keeps showing up in the most improbable places.
LOKI, AGENT OF ASGARD #6 (Marvel, 2014) – C-. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s crossover stories. (Though there’s certainly not just one thing I hate.) I had no idea what was going on in this issue or how it related to the Axis crossover, and I didn’t care. The only thing I liked was the sly retcon of John Byrne’s retcon of Claremont’s scene in which Arcade strikes a match on Doom’s armor.
INVINCIBLE #49 (Image, 2008) – A-. I haven’t gotten around to reading Invincible #114 yet because it looks like more depressing doom-and-gloom crap, and I get enough of that in real life – I’m writing this on election night. I don’t want to read a superhero comic where the bad guys win. That’s not the point of superhero comics. This issue is not so bad, though. There’s some high-quality art by Ryan Ottley, and the story sets up an exciting conflict between Mark and Cecil – a character who I never liked but who was always a source of effective dramatic tension, and I don’t think Kirkman should have just gotten rid of him. Still, my lack of enthusiasm for the current issues of the series is also lessening my interest in reading older issues of it.
AVENGERS ACADEMY #9 (Marvel, 2011) – B+. This issue focuses on Finesse, a character I don’t like (probably by design), and Tigra, a character I love. I’m going to ignore the part about Finesse and discuss the part that focuses on Tigra, which involves her attempt to deal with the trauma of having been sexually assaulted by the Hood. When the Avengers Academy students take revenge on the Hood by beating him up and posting video of the beating online, Tigra flies into a fit of rage and expels them from the Academy, over the objections of all the other teachers. Her behavior is completely understandable and yet it also seems kind of immature and childish, reinforcing her reputation as a joke character. As a more general comment, Christos Gage might be the closest current writer to Claremont or Roger Stern – he’s not the best prose stylist, but he’s a master of the Marvel style of plotting and characterization. None of his more recent stuff has seemed worth reading, though.
ADVENTURE COMICS #389 (DC, 1970) – C-. This series went sharply downhill after the Legion moved into Action Comics. I’m a fan of Supergirl, but the issues of Adventure Comics where she was the main character are just not all that good. The second story in this issue, “Supergirl’s Jilted Boyfriends,” is hideously stupid. The first story is marginally better, but also disturbing. Throughout the story, Linda Danvers and her friend Harriet are relentlessly bullied by another girl, and Linda never does anything to stop it. Reading some of these Silver Age Weisinger-edited stories, you get the impression that bullying and cruelty are inescapable facts about which nothing can be done. At least this issue does have some cute artwork by Kurt Schaffenberger and Jim Mooney.
ACTION COMICS #441 (DC, 1974) – B+. What makes this issue worthwhile is the Green Arrow/Black Canary backup story, by Maggin and Grell. In this story, Ollie and Dinah encounter a superpowered dog who turns out to be an amnesiac Krypto. The revelation of the dog’s identity was a delightful surprise to me, although I should have figured it out much earlier. I can’t remember anything about the Superman story in this issue (looking at it again, I am reminded that it guest-stars the Flash and the villain is the Weather Wizard).
MY LITTLE PONY ANNUAL 2014 (IDW, 2014) – B+. This issue is the center of a massive and stupid controversy that I don’t want to discuss in detail. There are unconfirmed reports that Ted Anderson was fired by IDW over something he included in this issue. If these reports are true, then it’s a disgrace. The people who were trying to have him fired are an embarrassment to bronies and to comics fans. It would also be a shame if he’d been fired because his stories have always been entertaining, though he’s not nearly as talented as Katie Cook. This issue does a great job of capturing what I loved about the “Power Ponies” episode. I especially love the villain who’s a giant smudge of ink, as well as the fourth-wall-breaking moments at the end. This comic is not an all-time classic or anything, but it’s a fun read and it’s certainly nothing that should cost a talented writer his job.
Now for the comics from this week:
GOTHAM ACADEMY #1 (DC, 2014) – A+. This is the best DC comic book of the past three years, if you don’t count Astro City as a DC comic. With this series and Batgirl, DC is finally making a serious effort to appeal to female readers – perhaps for the first time since they stopped publishing romance comics. And I feel like this issue is even more appealing for new readers than Batgirl #35. The writing is exciting, Karl Kerschl’s artwork is phenomenal, and I especially love Maps Mizoguchi. She just oozes energy. Every panel she appears in is a delight. I can’t wait for the next issue of this, and I think every DC comic ought to be like this.
SEX CRIMINALS #8 (Image, 2014) – A+. This is the most entertaining and upbeat issue of Sex Criminals in a while, at least until the last couple pages, where everything turns to crap. Jon has been going through some rough times but this issue offers hope that things are going to start getting better for him. I like the two new characters, the therapist and the gynecologist, and I especially love the scene where Robert Rainbow invites all the interns to look at Suzie’s cervix.
LUMBERJANES #7 (Boom!, 2014) – A/A-. This issue is a slight letdown. Too much stuff happens too quickly, and the explanation about Zeus and Apollo and Athena is difficult to accept, even with all the other weird stuff in this comic. I have trouble buying that the Greek gods would intervene in the fates of some kids at summer camp. There’s a lot of fun stuff in this issue, though. The opening scene is hilarious, though I already saw some previews of it, and I’m falling in love with Jen and I love the running joke where Rosie always gets Jen’s name wrong. And this issue ends on a heartwrenching cliffhanger. I have a feeling that Jo is going to be fine, but her sacrifice is worthy of Ferro Lad.
RAT QUEENS #8 (Image, 2014) – B/B-. It’s disappointing that this is the first new issue of Rat Queens in three months and it’s a flashback. So it’ll be another month before we get to see Betty, Hannah and Dee again. As a standalone story, this issue is actually fine – it’s funny and well-drawn and provides interesting insights into dwarf society, and I love that Wiebe and Upchurch are willing to embrace the idea that female dwarves have beards. I just want some resolution to the story that’s been left hanging since July.
MS. MARVEL #9 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. I’ve ordered the first collection of this series for my spring ENG 112 class, and I can’t wait to teach it. I just love Kamala so much, and I think this series is a radical rethinking of the superhero myth. This issue is effectively a second dose of everything I loved about the previous issue, and I don’t really have anything new to say about it, except that I love the line “Embiggened fists of rage!” My only complaint is that I like the cover art better than the interior art. It would be nice if Jamie McKelvie got to draw an issue of this series at some point.
SILVER SURFER #6 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. This is another excellent Marvel comic. The most fun part here is the Surfer and Dawn’s quest for nourishment at the start of the issue. I wonder what Skwiggian squash tastes like. Planet Prime is a hilarious idea, but Slott effectively develops its disturbing implications. This may be the series Mike Allred was born to draw; he understands the ‘60s sensibility better than perhaps any other current artist.
MANIFEST DESTINY #11 (Image, 2014) – A-. This is a satisfying conclusion to the current storyline. Hardy’s loss of his leg made me feel quite happy, and Lewis beating the crap out of the Ranidea was a cathartic moment. Not enough Sacagawea, though. I can’t wait for next issue when we get to see some other Native Americans.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #2 (Image, 2014) – A. I let myself get four issues behind on this series because of a general lack of interest in the subject matter, but Gillen and McKelvie are one of the preeminent creative teams in the industry right now, and this series is exciting. I had trouble caring about anything that happened in Phonogram, but this series makes me feel genuinely interested in what happens to Laura and Lucifer. This is one of the better debuts of the year.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #3 (Image, 2014) – A. See above.
THE FLASH #1 (DC, 1987) – B-. Mike Baron’s Flash is fundamentally different from any other version of the character. He wrote Wally as a selfish, egotistical jerk, a deeply unheroic character. This version of Wally is also extremely weak. In this issue it takes him three hours to run from the Midwest to Seattle because his top speed is 705 mph, and even then he has to eat constantly to keep his metabolism up. That last part is especially bizarre; I almost of want to go through this issue again and list all the things that Wally eats. Overall this does not feel like a Flash comic to me, and I’m kind of glad that this characterization of Wally was discarded, but I do give Baron credit for trying something different.
KA-ZAR THE SAVAGE #16 (Marvel, 1982) – B/B-. I like this Ka-Zar series a lot, or at least I used to. But reading this issue, I felt like Bruce Jones tried to write a serious adult relationship and failed, and ended up writing Ka-Zar and Shanna as petulant children. Sometimes his Ka-Zar acts like such a jerk to Shanna that I want to slap him (Ka-Zar, not Bruce). This issue also includes some stereotypical depictions of indigenous people, and an unmemorable plot that centers around a shapeshifting alien in the form of a rodent. The “Tales of Zabu” backup might actually be better than the main story.
CREEPY #94 (Warren, 1977) – B+. This is billed as a “Weird Children’s Issue,” which creates ambiguity as to whether it’s the issue that’s weird, or the children. Easily the best story here is “Backwaters and Timing Circles” by Budd Lewis and Alex Niño. Alex’s artwork really shines in this large format; it gives him the opportunity to create some mind-warping full-page compositions. Nothing else in this issue is at the same level, though “Bad Tommy” (Roger McKenzie & Nicola Cuti/Martín Salvador) and “Bessie” (Gerry Boudreau/Leo Duranona) are interesting pieces of psychological horror.
MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #20 (Marvel, 1976) – B/B+. I don’t understand Roy Thomas’s obsession with the Golden Age. I know it’s what he grew up on, but I feel like most Golden Age superhero comics just weren’t all that good, and Roy’s Golden Age pastiches aren’t much better. For a Golden Age pastiche, though, this comic is reasonably enjoyable.
SUPERGIRL: COSMIC ADVENTURES IN THE 8TH GRADE #3 (DC, 2009) – A-. This is probably DC’s best kid-oriented comic in recent memory. It’s funny and well-drawn and not hypersexualized in any way. (Eric Jones’s Supergirl looks more goofy than cute, which is appropriate given her age.) The plot of this comic is extremely complicated and bizarre, but Landry Walker’s writing is clear enough that the reader never gets confused. Unfortunately, in a recent article by Janelle Asselin, Jann Jones, who edited this series, said that DC’s executives never supported projects like this, and that their apathy was the reason why she left the company. Which is a real shame. This comic is better than almost anything published by DC subsequently, and DC’s lack of understanding of this sort of comic is the reason why they’ve fallen so far behind the rest of the industry.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #7 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. I bought this issue solely because it guest-stars Kamala. The one-page sequence where she’s fangirling over Spider-Man is worth the price of the issue all on its own – and that’s almost literally true, because the rest of this comic is much less exciting. I like this Anna Maria character, but otherwise, the part of this comic that deals with Spider-Man is of little interest to me.
WEST COAST AVENGERS #19 (Marvel, 1987) – C+/B-. This series is one of Englehart’s lesser works, and I’m only reading it because I’m almost out of better Englehart comics to read. This issue is an installment in a time-travel story which was hopelessly confusing and implausible. The art’s not great either, and the Phantom Rider’s mental rape of Mockingbird is disturbing; it’s good to know that he eventually pays for this crime with his life. At least this issue has Hawkeye and Tigra in it.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #95 (Marvel, 1971) – A+. This was a Lee/Romita Spider-Man comic that I hadn’t already read, which is extremely rare. Jazzy Johnny is perhaps my favorite Silver Age artist who doesn’t have a huge body of work. His reputation as a superhero artist rests on about thirty issues of Spider-Man and ten issues of Captain America and not much else. It’s too bad that his responsibilities as Marvel’s art director prevented him from doing more monthly comics. In this issue, Peter goes to London to look for Gwen but doesn’t get a chance to see her, so it’s just full of delicious angst and heartbreak. And as usual, Jazzy Johnny’s artwork is fantastic; he combines the emotional subtlety of a romance cartoonist with the exciting action sequences of a superhero artist.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #4 (Image, 2014) – A-. More good stuff. It’s nice finally seeing all the other gods – or most of them, I think there are a couple we haven’t seen yet. Not much else to say about this issue.
SUPERGIRL #39 (DC, 1999) – B+/A-. I really need to read more of this series. It’s one of PAD’s better works from the ‘80s. The story in this issue is not entirely clear, but it does include some very effective flashback scenes involving a woman who is violently rejected by her parents after coming out to them. I want to get issue 38 so I know what’s going on here.
DARK HORSE PRESENTS #28 (Dark Horse, 1989) – A-. This issue’s Concrete story is quite short and plotless, but it’s a touching and sensitively written piece in which Concrete and Maureen talk about environmental issues. As I mentioned on Facebook the other day, someone really ought to write a dissertation or monograph on comics and environmental/ecological issues, and Concrete, Swamp Thing and Tales of the Beanworld would be obvious choices of texts that such a book could discuss. It’s just too bad this story is in black and white; there are some stunning full-page compositions here that would have worked much better in color. This issue also includes a Mr. Monster story which is a funny and respectful tribute to Graham Ingels. The other material in this issue is best left unmentioned.
SHE-HULK #9 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. This is a fun issue, but my primary reaction to it is anger that such a promising title is going to have such a short run. I do wonder if the ineffective guest artwork by Ron Wimberly may have killed the momentum this series was building. The other primary emotion this issue arouses is annoyance at Captain America, whose obsession with fair play and honesty is so great as to cause him to reject perfectly good advice from his lawyer. And for some reason this is harder to tolerate when Cap looks like an old man, because of the stereotype that old men are inflexible and cantankerous. Anyway, I’m looking forward to the next issue. I just wish it wasn’t also the antepenultimate issue.
SUPERMAN ADVENTURES #25 (DC, 1998) – B/B-. This issue is written by Mark Millar, whose work I usually wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. He’s less awful when he’s writing kids’ comics. Still, this issue was not quite what I expected from a Superman/Batgirl team-up. It was mostly about the difference between Superman and Batman and why Superman’s methods don’t work in Gotham. The story involves a significant dose of plot-induced stupidity. The villain is the Mad Hatter, and he’s wearing a hat that allows him to control the mind of anyone else who’s wearing one of his hats, and it takes until the end of the issue for the heroes to realize that they can defeat him by just knocking his hat off. Batgirl has some cool action sequences in this issue, but it doesn’t focus on her enough.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #5 (Image, 2014) – A. This is a strong conclusion to the first story arc of this series. Lucifer’s death is a real shock because I liked her a lot. Looking forward to the next issue.
THE REVIVAL #20 (Image, 2014) – B+. I have fallen significantly behind on this series; I also have issues 22 through 24 and I haven’t read any of them yet. I liked this issue, though I don’t remember much about it now.
IMPULSE #2 (DC, 1995) – A+. Reading this comic was like a throwback to the beginning of my comic collecting career. I read most of this run on Impulse when I was even younger than Bart, and it was one of the first comics I ever truly loved. I cared more about Bart and Carol and even Max than about most of the actual kids I knew. Humberto Ramos’s artwork was like a breath of fresh air, so dynamic and emotionally expressive – it’s too bad he descended into irrelevance so quickly. This issue is a very simple story in which Bart stops an experimental tank from being sabotaged and tries to fit in at school, but it’s adorable for the same reason as Ms. Marvel is adorable. I miss this kind of DC comic.
YOUNG JUSTICE #42 (DC, 2002) – B+/A-. Another example of the same kind of DC comic as Impulse. However, this is one of the darker and grimmer issues of YJ because it deals with Empress’s reaction to the tragic death of her father. So it’s not a lot of fun to read, although PAD and Todd Nauck do a good job of depicting her emotional state.
BANANA SUNDAY #1 (Oni, 2005) – A-. This is a very obscure series and it seems like a minor work compared to Tobin and Coover’s more recent stuff, especially Bandette. But like everything by this creative team, it’s a lot of fun. This issue introduces high school student Kirby Steinberg, her three superintelligent ape friends (or two, really; the third one is pretty stupid), and Nickels, a school reporter who is determined to find out the truth about Kirby. These characters remind me a lot of Bandette and her supporting cast because they always seem happy no matter what they’re doing. And in general, this series has the same degree of lightness and fun that’s characteristic of all of Colleen’s work.
VAMPIRELLA #42 (Warren, 1975) – A+. This is the first complete issue of Warren’s Vampirella that I’ve ever actually read. It is a very tough series to collect, and when I do manage to find old Warren comics, I have this tendency to just let them sit unread. This issue includes one story that’s worth an A+ all by itself: “Around the Corner… Just Beyond Eternity!” by Victor Mora (uncredited) and Luis García. This is one of seven short stories later collected as “Las crónicas del sin nombre.” I’ve wanted to read this material for a long time, since I read David Roach’s glowing reviews of Mora and García’s work, and this story lived up to the hype. In terms of plot it’s a rather formulaic ghost story, but the artwork is stupendous. It’s not so much drawn as scratched or etched, and the level of detail and the contrasts between light and dark are unbelieveable. The influence of Alberto Breccia is clear, yet Garcia has a style all his own. David Roach says these pages are “amongst the most beautiful comic book pages ever drawn” (http://theartofluisgarciamozos.blogspot.com) and it’s hard to disagree. The other stories in this issue pale in comparison, and some of them are a bit embarrassing. For example, the Vampirella story includes a lesbian kiss which is clearly included just for fanservice. There is some good writing in the other stories, particularly in the Pantha story by Budd Lewis. Overall, this issue makes me realize that I need to buy more Vampirella comics and actually read them. Vampirella #43, which includes an allegedly even better Mora/Garcia story, is now at the top of my want list; sadly mycomicshop.com wants almost $30 for it.
XENOZOIC TALES #6 (Kitchen Sink, 1988) – A/A+. Two impressive stories here by the greatest living draftsman in American comics. Both these stories might be seen as homages to great comics of the past: “Foundling” is about a boy raised by aliens, reminding me of Tarzan, and “Green Air” is an aviation story that reminds me of George Evans. In both these stories Mark Schultz’s artwork is absolutely spectacular, worthy of his masters Frazetta and Raymond and Williamson. (Which reminds me, I’ve hardly read anything by Alex Raymond and I need to correct that. The problem is that his work is only available in expensive hardcovers.) I also like Schultz’s characterization. Jack Tenrec, for example, is a genuine antihero, well-intentioned but dangerous and untrustworthy.
UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #22 (Gladstone, 1993) – A+. “The Prize of Pizarro” is a much better duck story than “Lost Beneath the Sea,” reviewed above. Maybe the best thing about this story is the artwork. Since this story is taking place in the Andes, there are some beautiful mountain landscapes. There are also some panel layouts that are radical by the standards of the time, or even by today’s standards. To depict the nephews falling off a cliff face, Barks uses a panel with jagged diagonal borders, which interrupts the 2×4 grid in a shocking way. It seems like the perfect way to draw this sort of sequence, and yet hardly anyone else would have thought of it. Also, the running gag where Scrooge reads the letter one line at a time is hilarious. Once the ducks actually get to the lost Inca city, this weird thing happens where the ducks and the Incas never actually see each other. I guess this has the effect of absolving Scrooge of guilt for stealing treasure from indigenous people, since he didn’t know they were there at all. The Incas in this story are depicted in a somewhat stereotypical way, but not nearly as much so as the native people in other Barks stories. In general this is a fascinating piece of work, although I think that the person who wrote the analytical essay on the inside covers is reading things into it that aren’t there.
USAGI YOJIMBO #23 (Dark Horse, 1998) – A/A+. “My Father’s Swords” is an impressive done-in-one story. The new character Usagi meets in this issue, Donbori Chiaki, is an admirable young man who exemplifies the samurai ethic almost as well as Usagi himself does. The twist about Chiaki’s father is not exactly unexpected, but it’s executed well. The one problem with this story is that it establishes that Chiaki’s father was a significant figure in Usagi’s life, and yet we’ve never heard of him before.
HEROBEAR AND THE KID ANNUAL #1 (Boom!, 2013) – C-. As lovely as Mike Kunkel’s artwork is, I feel that this comic has passed its sell-by date. This is the sort of kids’ comic that’s only worth reading if you’re an actual kid, and a very young one at that. Mike Kunkel’s portrayal of childhood is sanitized, whitewashed (literally, there are no people of color here that I can see) and nostalgic. It’s a depiction of an idealized ‘50s small-town America that never really existed. I would much rather be reading Raina Telgemeier or Kazu Kibuishi or Mike Maihack.
CATWOMAN #5 (DC, 2002) – B-/C+. This is just an average crime comic. The artwork is by Brad Rader, who is far worse than Darwyn Cooke or Cameron Stewart – though I do like his use of an 8-panel grid, and there’s one lovely panel in which a criminal is framed inside Catwoman’s hand. The centerpiece of the story is Brendan Skinner, who is introduced to us as a promising 12-year-old boy, and then gets put into a permanent vegetative state due to drugs. This part is very touching, but other than that, Brubaker’s story is very formulaic.
SPECIAL FORCES #3 (Image, 2008) – B-. This is a very, very strange comic and I really don’t think it’s one of Kyle Baker’s better works. I read the first two issues of this a long time ago, and I don’t remember much about them except that they’re about the war in Iraq. Kyle is clearly trying to make a political statement here, but it’s hard to tell what it is. What significantly decreases the quality of this issue for me is the artwork. This is not the first series where Kyle has experimented with multiple artistic media – he did this quite effectively in Plastic Man – but here he goes too far. This issue is full of photographic and digital imagery that clashes with the style of Kyle’s artwork. I am not in a hurry to read issue 4.
WONDER WOMAN #38 (DC, 1990) – B+. This is a fun and thought-provoking issue, but it’s hampered by Mindy Newell’s dialogue writing. She’s an okay writer but her dialogue has some weird quirks. Also, Chris Marrinan’s artwork is a big step down from that of Gentleman George or Jill Thompson. This story is mostly about a visit by a human delegation to Paradise Island, and it includes a lot of interesting vignettes, including one where it’s basically confirmed that Themyscira is a lesbian society. There’s also a plot involving Ares, but whatever.
FEARLESS DEFENDERS #1 (Marvel, 2013) – B+/A-. Like She-Hulk, this is another quality Marvel NOW! series that failed to find an audience and got canceled. Which is a shame because I love the idea of an all-female Defenders team. This issue is full of exuberant fun and excitement, though it does also include a lot of T&A and some gratuitous girl-on-girl action. Misty Knight and Val are frequently shown in improbable back-breaking poses. I feel, though, that unlike in most superhero comics that use this sort of anatomy, Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney are aware of what they’re doing here. There is a certain tone of deliberate campiness to this comic, reminding me of blaxploitation films (or at least my ideas of what blaxploitation films must be like).
THE SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #11 (Marvel, 2013) – B-. I guess this is what Christos Gage is doing now that Avengers Academy is gone. I love the idea of Doc Ock as Spider-Man, but Doc Ock’s internal monologue was just about the only thing I liked about this comic; other than that it was mostly a generic superhero story.
HAWKEYE #17 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. I’m sorry I missed reading “Winter Friends” when it came out, because it’s a hilarious and surprisingly powerful story. It initially seemed like complete nonsense, but as I continued to read, its parallels to Hawkeye’s life became clear. Writing that sentence, it occurred to me that this story is Matt Fraction’s version of “Kitty’s Fairy Tale.” I normally hate Chris Eliopoulous’s art – his style is a blatant ripoff of that of Bill Watterson – but for this particular story he was a perfect choice.
THE DEFENDERS #9 (Marvel, 2001) – B+/A-. This issue of Kurt Busiek and Erik Larsen’s short-lived Defenders revival is extremely fun – at least until the end, when Orrgo the Unconquerable conquers the entire world in an implausibly quick and easy way. Perhaps the highlight of this issue is a one-page scene where we meet a new character named Irwin, who seems to have no relevance to anything else in the issue, and then he answers the door and an unseen person shoots him. This made no sense to me initially until I realized, wait, that’s the Elf with a Gun, and I laughed my ass off. (It turns out that in a later issue, it was revealed that Irwin was in fact shot by an AIM agent, but clearly the reader is supposed to think it’s the Elf with a Gun.) This issue also includes some enjoyable scenes involving Hellcat, Nighthawk and Valkyrie.
CAPTAIN MARVEL #4 (Marvel, 2003) – B-. This was a fairly well-written comic but it left me clueless as to what was going on. Genis-Vell is depicted in this issue as a sleazy, deceptive, immoral jerk, and then at the end he kills himself. I have no idea how this fits in with any other version of the character.
DAREDEVIL #5 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. Most of that grade is because of Chris Samnee’s artwork. He continues to be one of the top artists in commercial comics. However, I think I may have reached a point of diminishing returns with Mark Waid’s writing. His stylistic quirks are starting to grate on me, and I’m having trouble distinguishing his Daredevil from any of his other heroes. Also, I have a real problem with the idea that Ant-Man is helping cure Foggy’s cancer. Why does Foggy deserve this special treatment any more than anyone else who has cancer and doesn’t happen to have superpowered friends? Garth Ennis directly confronts this exact question in Hellblazer #46, but Mark completely ignores it.
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #100 (DC, 1972) – A-. “Warrior in a Wheel-Chair” is a genuine epic, as tense and gripping as any of Haney and Aparo’s B&B stories. This story presents Batman in a rather nontraditional role. Bruce is paralyzed by a gunshot wound just before a massive drug shipment is about to arrive in town, he has to call in Hal, Ollie, Dinah and Dick for help, and he directs their anti-drug operation from a wheelchair. It’s fascinating seeing Batman as a general instead of a foot soldier. The weak link in this story is that Batman’s strategic planning ends up accomplishing nothing; every time one of the guest-stars tracks down the drug shipment, it turns out to be fake, and Batman eventually has to defeat the plot almost on his own. Also, this story includes a scene where Black Canary attends a feminist rally, and the feminists are depicted in a highly stereotypical and unflattering way. This scene could have been modified to get rid of the sexism without doing any damage to the plot. Other than that, though, this issue is a ton of fun.
CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA #1 (Archie, 2014) – A-. I don’t know if we really need another Archie horror title – I feel like we may be reaching a point where this joke is no longer funny. But this is a well-written and beautifully drawn story – Robert Hack is an extremely talented new artist. And I like how Archie is reviving the memory of the Red Circle line, which really was pretty cool.
MANIFEST DESTINY #3 (Image, 2014) – B+. This issue would have been better if I’d read it when it came out, but at this point it mostly just feels like setup for more interesting stories to come. Sacagawea’s initial cameo appearance on the last page is awesome, but other than that, there’s not much new information in this issue that I didn’t already know.
STUMPTOWN #1 (Oni, 2014) – B/B+. This issue is a lesson in how not to market a comic to new readers. There is no indication anywhere in this issue that it’s not the first Stumptown story, except that the indicia says it’s volume 3. A reader might easily pick up this comic book and have no idea that these characters had appeared before. Moreover, this issue makes no attempt to explain anything to the reader. Greg Rucka does not tell the reader who these characters are or why we should be interested in them. I don’t even know what’s up with the protagonist’s brother – I guess he has Down syndrome or something, but it would have been nice if Greg hadn’t assumed the reader already knew this. Despite all that, I did enjoy this comic; I’m especially fascinated by the depiction of the Portland Timbers game, and after reading this issue, I kind of want to go and see an MLS game for myself. And I will be picking up future issues of this comic. I just would have enjoyed it more if it had been more new-reader-friendly.
MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #10 (IDW, 2014) – B+. I started reading election news while I was in the middle of reading this comic, which greatly decreased my enjoyment of it. Because of that, this comic may always have negative associations for me, which is a shame because it’s actually quite good. Fluttershy and Iron Will are a hilarious combination. I especially love Iron Will’s reactions to the customers at Pinkie Pie’s shop. Reading this issue, though, I do wonder how Fluttershy makes a living if she spends all her time feeding animals for free.