HALO JONES #4 (Fleetway/Quality, 1987) – A. Three more Halo Jones stories this issue. The first and most memorable one focuses on Halo’s dog Toby. The second story is about a person of indeterminate gender who is so lacking in personality that no one can remember her. The ending to this story is predictable (Halo hears the person’s story, then immediately forgets about hir), but funny. I suppose it would be funny if I claimed I forgot this story as soon as I was done reading it, but that joke wouldn’t make sense out of context. The third story is a setup for future events. Again, this is all excellent but I wish the entire issue had consisted of Halo Jones material; it seems obvious that the filler material was added in order to stretch this series to 12 issues. As with the previous issue, the filler stories have some good art – by Barry Kitson and Ian Gibson – but they’re not at the level of Halo Jones.
THE INCREDIBLES #13 (Boom!, 2010) – B-. I followed this series when it came out, but somehow I missed this issue; maybe I stopped buying it when Landry Walker replaced Mark Waid as the writer. Turning The Incredibles into a comic book seems almost redundant; as a movie, it was unique in that it blended the superhero genre with Pixar animation, but as a comic book, it’s no different from any other comic book on the stands. Still, this comic had a Silver Age and all-ages sensibility that is quite rare in current superhero comics, and I love the characters so much that I jumped at the chance to read new stories about them. This specific issue, though, is not the best; it’s an intermediate chapter of a longer story and it doesn’t do much to advance the plot. And there are too many distracting references to the Rise of the Underminer video game. Easily the best part of the issue is where Dash comes home and finds a note from Bob saying that his mother and sister have been abducted by giant evil plants, and he has to babysit Jack-Jack. And Dash’s reaction is “I gotta babysit? No way!”
DAREDEVIL #3 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. At this point my favorite thing about this series is Chris Samnee’s art. I’m not enjoying the writing as much as I had been, because something about it is starting to annoy me. Maybe the problem is that the dialogue and plots are sometimes histrionic and overwritten. In particular, I loved the scene at the beginning where the Owl meets his informant in the woods, but I would have liked it better if the Owl hadn’t killed the informant for no real reason, just to demonstrate how evil he is; this is a serious cliché.
BACCHUS #41 (Eddie Campbell Comics, 1999) – A-. Despite its title, this was an anthology series that contained a wide range of Eddie Campbell material. The most interesting thing in this issue is a short story about Alan Moore’s new house. There are also a few other one-pagers, plus a long chapter of the Hermes vs. the Eyeball Kid saga, which I have never especially liked; it seems like little more than Eddie’s homage to Kirby. Still, any material by Eddie is worth reading. It’s too bad this issue also contains some non-Campbell stories which are pretty much unreadable.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #349 (Marvel, 1991) – B+. This was one of the first comic books I ever read. I bought it again because my existing copy, which came from a library, is falling apart. This issue is the first part of a two-parter involving the Black Fox and Dr. Doom, and it’s not one of David Michelinie’s best Spider-Man stories, but at least it is a quality Spider-Man story, unlike most of the next 100 or so issues of this series. The artwork is by Erik Larsen, and is fairly effective, though he was clearly imitating McFarlane.
TEEN TITANS #33 (DC, 2006) – D-. I hated this issue. Almost the entire issue is a conversation between Nightwing and Superboy, and all they talk about is how Superboy has no confidence, and how he thinks his Titans team sucks in comparison to Nightwing’s New Teen Titans. This would be fine if they didn’t spend the entire issue talking in circles about this same topic. Ultimately the result is that the reader becomes sick of Superboy’s whining. Also, to the extent that this issue has any kind of plot, it doesn’t make sense unless the reader has also been reading Infinite Crisis. I’m not going to buy any more back issues of Geoff Johns’s Titans; I thought I would like it better now that I’ve read PAD’s Young Justice, but I was wrong.
CAPTAIN MARVEL #3 (Marvel, 2000) – B+. This, on the other hand, was a fun comic, and it benefits from familiarity with PAD’s Hulk, since Marlo is a guest-star. The story is mostly just a long fight scene involving Genis, the Hulk and Wendigo, but it’s entertaining because of PAD’s dialogue and the interactions between Genis, Rick and Marlo.
WILDC.A.T.S #34 (Image, 1997) – A+. This is the best Alan Moore WildC.A.T.s that I‘ve read; it’s a brilliantly plotted single-issue story which makes effective use of surprise and misdirection. The story begins with a funeral, where an unidentified member of the WildC.A.T.s team is being buried; then there’s a flashback to the events leading up to the funeral, and then we cut back to the funeral again, and so on for the rest of the issue. At the end of each flashback scene, we think we know who’s being buried, but in the next funeral scene we find out we’re wrong. For example, one flashback ends with Maul appearing to have drowned, and then on the next page he arrives at the funeral late. And this pattern goes on throughout the issue, until we discover that the dead character is Tao, the villain of the current ongoing storyline. The way that Tao ends up getting killed is also very clever. Few writers other than Alan could have created such a virtuoso display of narrative trickery. The artwork, by Mat Broome, is just okay, but at least it’s not actively bad, unlike some of the other artwork on this series.
NEW MUTANTS #34 (Marvel, 2012) – B+. This is a fairly forgettable series but I actually enjoyed this issue. Abnett and Lanning show a good understanding of the New Mutants characters, especially Warlock, who is as wacky as ever. I’d buy more issues of this series if I found them for less than a dollar.
WEREWOLF BY NIGHT #42 (Marvel, 1977) – B+. Another mediocre-looking comic book that turned out to be surprisingly good. This issue is a team-up between Werwolf by Night and Iron Man, which is a stupid premise, but the story doesn’t take itself too seriously. Along with Master of Kung Fu, Werewolf by Night was one of the few series where Doug Moench’s trademark overwrought, wordy style of writing actually worked.
SEX #4 (Image, 2013) – C-. On its merits this is not that bad of a comic; Piotr Kowalski’s art is actually interesting. The main reason it annoys me is because of Joe Casey’s smug, arrogant essays at the end. His public persona annoys me enough to drive me away from his comics.
MISTER MIRACLE #3 (DC, 1971) – A+. This is a very basic and elemental Mr. Miracle story, but that’s what makes it fun. In this issue, Dr. Bedlam challenges Scott Free to a duel, and Scott accepts (oddly, since he’s putting his life at stake, it’s not clear what he has to gain if he wins). The challenge requires Scott to escape from the top floor of a building, but the catch is that all the people in the building have been driven nuts by Bedlam’s paranoia vapor. So basically half the issue involves Scott escaping from a mob of paranoid lunatics. It’s a lot of fun and it reminds me of the Zot! story “Getting to 99.” I just wish the issue didn’t end on a cliffhanger.
STORMWATCH #49 (Image, 1997) – A-. This is a type of comic I don’t usually like – an ultraviolent grim-and-gritty deconstructionist superhero story – but it’s a fairly good example of that genre. Like Squadron Supreme, this is a story in which superheroes take over the world, but they do it in a much more brutal and violent fashion and they themselves are much less sympathetic. I think the reason this works better than similar efforts, such as The Ultimates, is because number one, Warren Ellis is a quality writer who understands hwo to use violence as a storytelling device rather than for shock value. And number two, I don’t have any emotional attachments to the characters, so I’m okay with the cruel things that Ellis does to them.
SUB-MARINER #8 (Marvel, 1969) – B-. This is only an average issue, but it’s fun in the way that Silver Age Marvel comics typically are, and it includes some fairly good artwork by Marie Severin. I think this issue is the first appearance of the Serpent Crown, under that name rather than as the Helmet of Power. Lady Dorma, who is generally a damsel-in-distress, has a surprisingly prominent role in this issue.
SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT #1 (Eclipse, 1985) – C-. This series reprinted old pre-Code stories from Standard Comics. Most of the stories in this issue are very pedestrian, with thoroughly predictable endings, though one of them, “Doom in the Depths,” is notable because of the sheer amount of narrative content it includes. It’s only six or seven pages but it crams in enough plot for an entire novel, albeit at the expense of narrative logic or characterization. The quality of the artwork varies widely. There is one story with excellent art by Alex Toth, and another with interesting art by Jack Katz, who I only know from The First Kingdom. Overall, reading this issue makes me realize how much better EC comics were in comparison to other horror comics of the time.
SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT #3 (Eclipse, 1985) – A+. I award this comic an A+ on the basis of just one story: “The Crushed Gardenia,” which is one of Alex Toth’s greatest works. This story is a bravura display of minimalist artwork and effective storytelling, and even the lettering is gorgeous. The plot is exactly the sort of thing that Wertham hated; it involves a criminal who has a serious anger management problem and kills people for no good reason, and though he comes to a bad end, the reader still ultimately sympathizes with him more than with his victims. The other four stories in the issue are not nearly as exciting, though one of them has some nice art by Mort Meskin.
ADVENTURE COMICS #440 (DC, 1975) – A+. This is the last of Fleischer and Aparo’s classic Spectre stories. It begins with a classic example of what TVTropes calls Retirony: Jim Corrigan has changed back into a normal human being and is about to marry Gwen, but on the eve of his wedding, he is shot dead by criminals, and comes back to life as the Spectre. Of course he takes a horrible vengeance on his killers, but his dreams of a normal life are over. Like most of this run of Spectre stories, this story is grim and horrific to the point where it occasionally crosses the line into campiness; a particular example of this is the scene where Gwen opens her door and finds Jim’s corpse. This issue also includes a backup story which is drawn by Mike Grell from an unpublished script by Joe Samachson; sadly, this story is really dumb.
WEIRD SCIENCE #2 (Russ Cochran, 1992) – B-. None of the four stories in this EC reprint are classics, although most of them are at least interesting. The two best are the time travel story by Kurtzman, and the Wally Wood story about a mind-controlling alien. The opening story, “The Flying Saucer Invasion” by Al Feldstein, is unusual because of its very obvious satire of the U.S. government.
MANHUNTER #38 (DC, 2009) – B+. This is a fairly satisfying final issue of a series that was always interesting, though never great. This volume of Manhunter was a product of a brief period in the late ‘00s when DC actually made significant efforts to increase the diversity of their roster of superheroes. Kate Spencer is a rare example of a superhero who’s also a single mother working full-time. This issue is set in the future and takes place at her son’s graduation. It would make more sense if I was more familiar with the characters, but it’s still a very sweet story.
MARVEL KNIGHTS 4 #11 (Marvel, 2004) – D+/C-. This is a completely generic Fantastic Four story. There is little or nothing to distinguish it from any other recent FF comic. This series was an inauspicious start to Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa’s career.
JSA: THE LIBERTY FILE #1 (DC, 2000) – B-/C+ and most of that is for the artwork. I am a fan of Tony Harris, but I just don’t feel that this story (an Elseworlds set during World War II) is suited to his talents. My favorite thing about his art is his depictions of architecture, and there is almost none of that here. Besides that, this story is not interesting or well-written. The plot is confusing and I had no interest in the characters. Probably the trouble is that Tony Harris co-wrote this himself and he’s not a very good writer.
DEMON KNIGHTS #0 (DC, 2012) – A-. Despite being set in the New 52 universe, this Demon origin story would actually work in just about any version of the DCU. It plausibly explains how Etrigan ended up trapped in Jason Blood’s body, and Paul Cornell’s witty dialogue makes it fun to read. I especially liked how different types of demons are distinguished based on the kind of prose and/or poetry they speak, though this idea may not be original to Cornell.
JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #626 (Marvel, 2013) – A. This was the last issue of this run that I hadn’t read. Like every issue of Kieron Gillen’s JIM, this comic is extremely well-plotted and well-dialogued; I think Kieron may be the best prose stylist in commercial comics at the moment. Dougie Braithwaite draws some excellent facial expressions although I don’t like the painted style of his artwork.
IMAGE FIRSTS: ZERO #1 (Image, 2014) – B+. This comic belongs to a genre, spy fiction, that I usually don’t like, and includes a lot of graphic violence, which I also don’t like. What makes it worthy of a B+ is Michael Walsh’s artwork. I had never heard of this artist before, but his art has a very European clear-line sensibility, much like the art of Michael Lark or Chris Samnee. His storytelling is clear and uncomplicated, and his page layouts are effective, making excellent use of white space. I’d be willing to read more of this comic just for the sake of the art.