Last reviews of 2014

TEEN DOG #3 (Boom!, 2014) – B+. This is one of those comics where every issue is effectively the same as every other, making it kind of pointless to review issues individually. This issue has a heavy focus on sports, but it ends with kind of a cute (in fact overly saccharine) meditationon how “I’ll always remember that day we played ball in the empty lot.” I like that one of the main characters in this comic is a female football player, even though I generally disapprove of the sport of American football.

(THE AUTUMNLANDS:) TOOTH AND CLAW #1 (Image, 2014) – A-. This issue was printed under the title “Tooth and Claw,” but with issue 2 the title changed to “The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw” for copyright reasons, and future reprints of issue 1 will carry that title. I’d gotten used to thinking of it as Tooth and Claw, but I may have to start thinking of it as Autumnlands. That title sounds stupid to me, but Kurt seems to have adopted it. Anyway. I hesitated to read this when it came out because early reviews, as well as Kurt’s own posts about it, emphasized its grim, gritty, violent nature. There is a lot of that, but what sticks out to me most about this comic is the depth of its worldbuilding and the brilliance of its character design. Benjamin Dewey, whose work I have not seen before, is as much the star of this show as Kurt is. Of all Kurt’s previous works (besides The Wizard’s Tale, which I haven’t read), this reminds me most of Arrowsmith, both because of the milieu and because of the quality of the artwork and the worldbuilding. This is a very promising series.

100TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL: THE AVENGERS 1 (Marvel, 2014) – A-. The story here is only mildly intriguing. It’s interesting more for its glimpses of the future of the Marvel universe than for its actual content. That’s not the point of this comic, though – the point of this comic is James Stokoe’s artwork. He may be the best draftsman currently working in American comic books, though as I have noted before, his style is not really suited for monthly comics, and this is just a one-shot. I think the most memorable single image here is the skyscraper version of Iron Man, but this issue is full of gorgeous designs. I have his graphic novel Orc Stain, but have been reluctant to read it because it’s going to take me forever.

WONDER WOMAN #17 (DC, 2013) – D+/C-. The only thing that makes this comic interesting to me is Cliff Chiang’s artwork, and he’s absent this issue. I really have little interest in the story of this series. My primary objection to Azzarello’s Wonder Woman is that it’s false advertising – it claims to be Wonder Woman but has nothing to do with any other version of the character. But even on its own merits, Azzarello’s story is less interesting to me than other revivals of Greek mythology (e.g. Perez’s Wonder Woman or Age of Bronze). This material has been rehashed so many times already and Azzarello adds little to it that’s original.

SEX CRIMINALS #9 (Image, 2014) – A+. This is such an important comic, and I’m heavily tempted to teach it next semester instead of Saga, although I’m kind of worried about the awkwardness it would create – it would either work brilliantly or not at all. The main purpose of this issue is to introduce a new character, Jasmine St. Cocaine/Ana Kincaid, a stripper turned Ivy League professor. The notion of a positive portrayal of a stripper is not new in comics – it was the entire premise of Omaha the Cat Dancer, a personal favorite of mine. Whereas in Omaha the sex industry tended to be portrayed in a positive light, this issue is closer to standard stereotypes about sex work. But I think this is consistent with Sex Criminals’s generalized critique of our society’s hang-ups about sex. The point is not to criticize strippers or strip clubs, but to criticize a society in which strip clubs are the only permitted outlet for certain types of desires. There is lots of other fantastic stuff here, including the obvious parody of The Wicked + The Divine. The only thing that rang false is that Ana Kincaid is a professor of horology, which, in real life, is not an academic field; the term “horology” means the craft of clock design. Also, I notice how professors in popular culture are always tenured professors at Ivy League schools, when in real life, such people are the 1% of the academic profession.

BITCH PLANET #1 (Image, 2014) – A. This comic made a lot more sense to me after I read the included essay by Danielle Henderson. KSDC’s lack of clarity may be her primary fault as a writer; it was certainly what ruined Pretty Deadly for me. Thanks to Henderson’s explanation, though, this story makes perfect sense and it’s a powerful critique of misogyny in American society, making it exactly the kind of comic we need right now. It makes a simple but focused and passionate argument that our society’s gender norms are a tool of oppression. There has also been some discussion of this issue’s alleged protagonist shift. I don’t know that KSDC ever explicitly claimed that Marian Collins was the protagonist, but she certainly knew readers would make the automatic assumption that the white woman was the main character. By focusing primarily on Marian and how she got to Bitch Planet, she encourages that assumption only to subsequently frustrate it. And by doing that, she makes this story about race as well as gender – she forces us to realize why we (or at least I) automatically misjudged who the protagonist was. It’s a nice trick. This is going to be a very important comic, perhaps as much so as Sex Criminals.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #3 (DC, 2014) – A-. I think the lustre of this series may be wearing off a bit, but it remains the best DC comic of the New 52 era. So far, the plot involving Millie Jane Cobblepot has been less interesting than the characterization, but the plot is actually getting kind of exciting. It’s a standard haunted-house mystery but it’s executed effectively. Maps Mizoguchi, of course, continues to steal the show. I’d kind of like to see a Gotham Academy/Lumberjanes crossover.

ROCKET RACCOON #6 (Marvel, 2014) – B+. This is a B+ because I had trouble remembering anything about it two weeks later, unlike the previous issue of this series, which was unforgettable. It’s too bad that Jake Parker has replaced Skottie Young as the artist, but it’s not that big of a shift; Parker has the same sort of sensibility, and his work has the same combination of cuteness and bizarreness that I love about Skottie’s art. The main appeal of this issue is that it guest-stars Cosmo, the forgotten third member of the Rocket-Groot partnership. Cosmo is sort of a one-joke character and I don’t think he would be able to sustain more than one story. But it was nice seeing him again, and the twist ending to this issue is hilarious, reminding us that despite his great intelligence, Cosmo is still a dog. The actual plot, with the giant Transformer-esque robots, is also cute, but it’s no coincidence that Brute rhymes with Groot because they’re effectively the same character.

ASTRO CITY #18 (DC, 2014) – A. This is the best Green Arrow/Black Canary story in the last 20 years. Seriously, that’s exactly what it is. Just as the Starbright story was an expansion of an unpublished Superboy story, this issue could have been published as an Elseworlds story about Ollie and Dinah with minor changes to the plot. The only difference, although it is a big one, is that Quarrel is the daughter of a villain rather than a heroine. However, this issue does give us something that DC comics, by their very nature, never can: it depicts superheroes getting old. The whole point here is that Crackerjack and Quarrel are pushing fifty, their bodies are starting to break down from all the punishment they’ve taken, and Quarrel is wondering what’s next. Kurt has done one previous Astro City story about a superhero approaching retirement, in issues 11 and 12 of the first ongoing series, but in that story, Jack-in-the-Box was a man in his physical prime who retired due to impending fatherhood. The circumstances in this story are completely different, and I wonder if the difference here reflects Kurt’s age at the time of each story. Either way, it’ll be fascinating to see where he goes with this. Also, I may have been overemphasizing Quarrel’s similarity to Black Canary above, because she’s a distincive and intriguing character in her own right. She’s one of Kurt’s favorite Astro City characters if I recall correctly, and it’s nice to finally get to see inside her head.

PRINCESS UGG #6 (Oni, 2014) – A-. This is the most underrated comic book of 2014. No one seems to be reading it, and everyone should be. I expect it to do extremely well as a collected edition, though. In this issue, Ulga gets to be an awesome kick-ass action girl, but we also see that she’s starting to learn from her experiences. Her speech about civilization proves that she realizes the importance of trusting other people for a change. Meanwhile, Julifer continues to be a truly execrable character. I had been expecting that she would be redeemed somehow, but now I’m not sure that’s possible.

LITTLE NEMO: RETURN TO SLUMBERLAND #2 (IDW, 2014) – A+. I hesitated to read this because the art is just too good – I was afraid it would take me forever to read it because I would feel obliged to scrutinize every little detail in each of Gabriel Rodriguez’s panels. And that did happen, sort of, but it was worth reading anyway. This issue is not only beautifully drawn but also brilliantly written. Eric Shanower strikes a perfect balance between comedy and deadpan-ness, if that’s a word. The bizarre stuff that happens in Slumberland is impossible to take seriously, and yet the characters do take it seriously. There is no suggestion that this is all a joke, and in that way, this comic is very faithful to the sensibility of the original strip. In terms of what actually happens this issue, we meet Flip, who is as much of a con man as ever, and we get to see the Slumberland gardens. Maybe the highlight of the issue is the panel where the Princess shows Nemo her prize specimen of a hiplunitatrim specrobulosis.

THE AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH AND CLAW #2 (Image, 2014) – A-. The big revelation this issue was not a surprise to me; it was pretty obvious that the Great Champion must be more than just another animal. His appearance does suggest that there is more going on in this world than we are privy to. On an unrelated point, it seems like we’re expected to sympathize with Gharta and the dog protagonist, since we’re seeing the story through their eyes. Conversely, the buffalo people are portrayed as violent, dangerous savages. And yet we know that the wizards are cruel tyrants who are oppressing the buffalo people, and our sympathies really ought to be with the latter. I assume Kurt is doing this for a reason, but it’s kind of weird.

ANGELA: ASGARD’S ASSASSIN #1 (Marvel, 2015) – C+. There was nothing here that really stuck out to me. I don’t think Angela is a particularly exciting character, and this issue did nothing to arouse my interest in her. I’m going to stay with this series because I have faith in Kieron Gillen’s writing, but I expected better.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #10 (Marvel, 2011) – B+. Like many issues of this series, this issue is heartbreaking. The primary focus here is on Hazmat and Veil, perhaps the most sympathetic characters in the series. (Somehow I always think of the characters in this series by their codenames – I don’t even know their real first names.) Thanks to a visit from Leech, Hazmat gets to take off her containment suit and visit her family, but they react with shock rather than happiness, and it’s easy to understand why. Meanwhile, Veil gets the idea that she needs to do something awesome in order to avoid being expelled, so she goes and tries to resurrect Janet van Dyne, with a predictable lack of succss. Perhaps the main theme in this issue is teenagers doing stupid things despite good intentions – in fact, that might be the main theme of this entire series.

DONALD DUCK #274 (Gladstone, 1989) – B+. The first story in this issue is a Barks ten-pager unimaginatively titled “The Swimming Pool.” This story confirms something that’s implied by a number of other Barks stories: that the ordinary citizens of Duckburg are a bunch of selfish, entitled jerks. When Donald buys a beautiful new swimming pool, he never gets to use it because his neighbors monopolize it. And then when some kids get injured while using it, their parents demand that Donald shut the pool down unless he hires a lifeguard. Seriously, what chutzpah. This issue also includes a Gutenberghaus story about water skiing, which is surprisingly good, and a series of daily strips by Bob Karp and Al Taliaferro. The latter is formatted to look like a continuing story, but it’s really just a series of gags.

HAWKEYE #20 (Marvel, 2014) – A+. Somehow I forgot to read this when it came out. In this issue Kate gets her ass kicked repeatedly, which is not really anything new, but at least she manages to accomplish something – she figures out what her dad’s been up to, and decides to do something about him. I can’t wait to see what happens to her next. Matt Fraction’s dialogue in this issue is as fantastic as usual.

SAVAGE DRAGON #200 (Image, 2014) – A. With this issue, Erik reaches a milestone previously only achieved by Cerebus, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this series ultimately reaches a higher issue number than Cerebus did. Erik has managed to retain his interest in this series for over twenty years, largely by constantly changing things and experimenting with new ideas, and I expect this process will continue. With regard to the issue itself, this issue features perhaps the single most shocking scene in the entire run of this series, and that’s saying a lot. Malcolm’s threesome with Angel and Maxine is rather disturbing given that he and Angel were raised as siblings, and it’s also an unabashed male power fantasy. Then again, that’s nothing new considering that this entire series is an unabashed male power fantasy, and the scene is handled in a funny and reasonably tasteful way. Besides all that, there’s a ton of other good stuff in this issue. I don’t always approve of Erik’s tendency to include backup material by lesser artists, but he had a hand in most of the stories here, and collectively, they do an effective job of arousing nostalgia for earlier periods of this series. It was surprisingly touching to see the alternate Angel and the child version of Malcolm again. The only weak link here is the Vanguard story, which is typical crap.

ALL-STAR COMICS #67 (DC, 1977) – B+. I’ve generally been disappointed in this series because it’s worse than Paul Levitz’s Huntress backups in Wonder Woman, but it’s still better than most DC comics from this period. Power Girl is appropriately named; she was DC’s most physically powerful and energetic superhero at the time, and in this issue she gets the opportunity to kick some ass. I don’t care as much about the other characters, but there is a somewhat interesting plot here, in which the JSA are targeted by police commissioner Bruce Wayne.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #11 (Marvel, 2011) – C+/B-. This is mostly setup for the Korvac story arc that concludes (or continues, I forget which) in the next issue. There’s too much Michael and Carina here, and not enough Avengers Academy. I still think these characters should have been laid to rest after the original Korvac Saga. The idea of the kid Avengers getting put into adult bodies is not that exciting either –this series sometimes put too much emphasis on the future of these characters at the expense of their present.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2012) – A-. I’m upgrading this from a B+ now that I know a little bit more about the history that this story is based on. It took me a few pages to figure out what was going on here, but eventually it became clear that this story takes place while Carol is traveling back in time to the ‘50s or ‘60s, and involves Helen Cobb, the fictional jet pilot from earlier issues. It turns out Helen Cobb is based on (among others) Jerrie Cobb, a real aspiring astronaut who was denied entry to the Apollo program due to institutionalized sexism. Kelly’s use of this piece of history is very appropriate to the themes of this series. This story is generally quite effective, with some nice Emma Rios artwork, and the moment where Helen learns of the cancellation of her space program is even more effective now that I know it’s based on something that really happened.

DETECTIVE COMICS #852 (DC, 2009) – B/B+. This issue almost makes me care about Hush, who I consider perhaps the worst Batman villain ever. In this issue, Hush attempts suicide but is saved by people who mistake him for Bruce Wayne, and he realizes that his resemblance to Bruce can be exploited. But of course this scheme only works for a little while, until he meets people who actually know Bruce. It’s a well-plotted story and, as mentioned, it shows that this awful creation of an awful writer is not totally devoid of potential. This issue also leads in to Batman #685, which I reviewed on this blog last year.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #22 (IDW, 2014) – B-. This is not a spectacular pony story, but it presents a satisfying and logical conclusion to the jewel theft mystery. And of course there’s a moral here about how people deserve the chance for redemption – which explains why this story guest-stars Babs Seed as well as Trixie. I’m glad to see that the claims about Ted Anderson’s firing appear to have been false; he’s certainly not the best MLP writer, but he didn’t deserve to get fired over absolutely nothing.

LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND #3 (IDW, 2014) – A+. This is one of the most visually impressive single issues of 2014 because of the range of visual influences it integrates. In this issue, Nemo and Flip explore the Tesselated Tower, which starts out as an obvious homage to M.C. Escher. But then they enter an oddly symmetrical room, and the next six pages are an extended variation on Gustave Verbeek’s Upside Downs. In each of these three two-page spreads, the right-hand page is the same as the left-hand page but upside down, and as with Verbeek’s comics, the story is designed to make sense when read in either direction. After that, Nemo and Flip pass through a room where the rules of perspective stop applying, and then they go through a mousehole into a mushroom patch full of creatures obviously inspired by Dr. Seuss. So Gabriel Rodriguez draws upon four of the great popular artists of the 20th century, the fourth being McCay himself, in the space of one issue. It’s an impressive tour de force, and Eric deserves equal credit for creating a narrative framework in which this sort of thing makes sense (to the extent that anything in Slumberland makes sense).

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #12 (IDW, 2014) – C+. I was looking forward to this issue because Pinkie Pie is my favorite pony, but for me, this story crossed the line between cute and horrifying. The Phenomnomenons sellers are perhaps even creepier than Willy Wonka. And I’m fascinated by Pinkie Pie’s ability to break the laws of physics and the boundaries of genre, but in this issue, she does this to an excessive extent. This sort of thing is better in moderation – which I guess means this issue itself demonstrates its own message (since the story is all about Pinkie trying to eat in moderation), but I don’t know if this was necessarily intentional on Kesel and Hickey’s part.

SAVAGE DRAGON #92 (Image, 2001) – C-. This issue took about five minutes to read because it was just a series of fight scenes, with very little narrative content. This issue is from the “Savage World” period, when Erik was engaging in a very conscious homage to Kirby, but this particular issue is more like an early Image comic. There’s very little narrative content here.

IMAGE FIRSTS: SHUTTER #1 (Image, 2014) – B+. I ordered this on Tof Eklund’s recommendation. He said it was his third favorite comic right now after Saga and Lumberjanes, which are also my top two. I’m not prepared to rate it that highly, but it is an intriguing comic. It takes place in a fascinating alternate universe filled with all sorts of bizarre creatures and phenomena – I’m seeing some resemblance to Saga here, though the visual aesthetic is not the same. I want to read more of this series, and I’m glad that Joe Keatinge is continuing to fulfill the potential he demonstrated as the writer of Glory.

DETECTIVE COMICS #351 (DC, 1966) – B-. The Batman story in this issue is kind of dumb. It has a complicated plot in which Bruce and Dick conspire to hide their secret identities from Aunt Harriet after she discovers the Batcave entrance, while at the same time, the Cluemaster, who makes his debut in this issue, is also trying to unmask Batman and Robin. The Cluemaster is more interesting in his role as Spoiler’s father than in his own right, and this issue fails to effectively distinguish him from the Riddler. The Elongated Man backup story is much better. Both these stories are drawn by Carmine Infantino, but in the Batman story, I could hardly detect his style at all, while the Elongated Man story is full of his trademark bizarre page compositions.

INVINCIBLE #31 (Image, 2006) – A-. This is a rather low-key issue, but that in itself is nice compared to current issues of the series, which have proceeded at such a breakneck pace that the reader never gets a chance to pause for breath. As indicated by the cover, the main focus in this issue is on the love triangle between Mark, Eve and Amber. But there’s also some other cool stuff here, including a cute scene with baby Oliver and Mark’s mom, and a battle in which Mark defeats a mind-controlling villain by dropping a giant rock on him from above.

WHAT IF? #17 (Marvel, 1979) – F. Marvel should not have allowed this issue out the door. It consists of three separate stories on the theme of “What If Ghost Rider, Spider-Woman and Captain Marvel Were Villains?” However, each of these stories is very closely based on a specific old story (respectively, Marvel Spotlight #5, Marvel Spotlight #32, and Marvel Super-Heroes #12 and #13). None of the stories makes any sense at all unless the reader is intimately familiar with the story it’s based on. I have not read any of these previous stories, so I had no idea what was going on in any of the three stories in this issue, and the writer, Steven Grant, failed to provide enough background information to make any of them understandable. For example, in the Spider-Woman story, Jessica Drew is referred to as “Arachne” and she doesn’t seem to know that her name is Jessica Drew. I have no idea why not. So this issue is a flagrant violation of the “every comic is someone’s first comic” principle. And even if I had understood any of these stories, I wouldn’t have enjoyed them because they’re neither well-written nor well-drawn.

MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #15 (Marvel, 1968) – B+. I bought this at Dragon*Con in 2012, but never got around to reading it because my copy is in bad condition, and because it contains some reprints that looked pretty bad to me. This issue starts off with a new Goodwin/Colan story starring Medusa. This story is quite effective; it displays both Medusa’s power and her emotional depth. Of the reprints, the best are a Black Knight story by the forgotten genius Joe Maneely, and a Bill Everett story about Namor’s childhood. At this point, however, the issue takes a downturn with a Black Marvel reprint which is not only very poorly crafted, but also full of racist depictions of Native Americans. Finally, there’s a ‘50s Captain America reprint which includes some nice John Romita artwork, but also has a very disturbing tone of anti-Communist propaganda. Like, there’s a scene where a mind-controlled Cap says, among other things, that the Russians aren’t so bad, and the implication is that he would never say such a thing if he was in his right mind.

THOR #144 (Marvel, 1967) – A+. This is a rare case where the Thor story is better than the Tales of Asgard story. In the former, Thor and Odin battle the three Enchanters, Forsung, Brona, and Magnir. These are not particularly effective or exciting villains, but the action scenes in this issue are so powerful and impressive that I don’t care about the intrinsic boringness of the villains. I need to start collecting Kirby’s Thor more heavily.

USAGI YOJIMBO: SENSO #4 (Dark Horse, 2014) – B+/A-. I didn’t read this immediately because I honestly felt like the series was getting boring; it was just one fight with Martians after another. And this issue kind of follows that pattern, though not quite – half of it is devoted to a very touching conversation between Usagi and Tomoe. But I’m still kind of looking forward to the end of this series, because I’d rather be reading more issues of the regular Usagi title.

USAGI YOJIMBO: SENSO #5 (Dark Horse, 2014) – A-. This issue is memorable mostly because of the last page, which came as a complete shock to me, but which makes perfect sense in context. In a way, this whole series is an homage to one type of Japanese popular culture, the kaiju film. So it makes sense that the series is going to conclude with an homage to a different Japanese popular culture trope, the giant robotic battlesuit. I am a little confused by the phrase “Usagi Gundam” because I thought that Gundam was a specific franchise, not a generic term for mobile battlesuits.

POWER COMPANY #15 (DC, 2003) – B+/A-. This was the only issue of this series that I hadn’t read, but it’s a major departure from the rest of the series. This issue is a dePaul solo story which guest-stars Batman. We’re initially led to think that Batman is trying to stop dePaul from assassinating an African politician, but it turns out that he’s really trying to trick Batman into helping him save the politician’s kidnapped granddaughter. The obvious question arises as to why dePaul didn’t just tell Batman what was going on, but Kurt provides a sort of adequate explanation for this. The real attraction of this issue, though, is the artwork. It’s a significant departure from Tom Grummett’s usual style, and it may be one of the strongest artistic performances of his career. This issue is a deliberate homage to Goodwin and Simonson’s Manhunter, both because of the character involved and because of the manga-influenced, dark, gritty visual style. The names Goodwin and Simonson even appear on a building at the start of the issue. Grummett turns out to be surprisingly good at drawing in this style.

HELLBOY AND THE B.P.R.D.: 1952 #1 (Dark Horse, 2014) – C+/B-. I was interested in this because it seems like a good jumping-on point for Hellboy, but I didn’t like it that much. Hellboy himself is a fascinating character, but I have little interest in this miniseries’ plot, and the art is obviously not as good as if Mignola were drawing it himself. These Hellboyverse stories have never lived up to my expectations. I don’t know if I want to bother with the next issue of this miniseries.

GIVE ME LIBERTY #3 (Dark Horse, 1990) – A-. This is the first Frank Miller comic I’ve read in years. I obviously have no patience for his recent work and would not want to give him any of my disposable income, but the early 1990s were perhaps the last period when he was still capable of producing original and readable work (with the caveat that I’ve never read Sin City and I don’t really want to). This comic is difficult to evaluate without having read the previous two issues, but it seems quite powerful. It has a deeply grim, dystopian atmosphere which is somehow even creepier thanks to Dave Gibbons’s bright, colorful art. Martha herself spends most of the issue in a mind-controlled state, but she seems like a deeply intriguing protagonist, of a type that was very uncommon at the time. I’m not exactly looking forward to reading the rest of this series, given its grim tone, but I suspect it is going to get a bit more upbeat – it seems like this is a comic about reviving the American dream, much like Judge Dredd: America, which will be reviewed below.

SUPERBOY #50 (DC, 1998) – B+. The main effect this comic had on me was to make me want to read more Kamandi. It’s a very faithful and literal adaptation of Kirby’s original, only with Superboy plus a less bizarre prose style.But Kesel and Grummett are perhaps the best creators in the industry at imitating Kirby’s late style.

ADVENTURE COMICS #323 (DC, 1964) – B. This is “The Eight Impossible Missions,” an early Legion story that I’ve heard of but have never read. As with most early Legion stories, this story is bizarre, random, and silly, but I wouldn’t rank it alongside the better pre-Shooter Legion stories like “The Legionnaire Who Killed” or “The Super-Sacrifice of the Legionnaires.” Those stories have an emotional resonance that is absent from this one.

SHUTTER #7 (Image, 2014) – B+. The most impressive thing here is Leila del Duca’s art. In this issue, the protagonist battles a giant skull-headed dragon that’s just shockingly huge and bizarre. However, the story is a bit difficult to follow without having read the previous issues. This is certainly not the third best current ongoing series in my opinion, though it’s not bad.

LUMBERJANES #9 (Boom!, 2014) – B+/A-. This series was originally supposed to end with issue 8, and I assume this issue was thrown together pretty quickly while they were working on the next ongoing story. It’s quite insubstantial in comparison with each of the last few issues – it’s just a series of little vignettes that don’t amount to much. Easily the best moment in this series is Riley’s story, which reveals that despite her confidence and fearlessness, there is one thing that worries her: being alone. Maybe my biggest issue with this series, though, is that besides Riley, the characters tend to blur together. Jo and Molly, in particular, are hard to tell apart.

MS. MARVEL #10 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. Besides Hawkeye, this is easily the best current title from either of the Big Two. This issue is powerful and inspiring, and it makes me proud of Kamala Khan in the same way I used to be proud of the Legion. She is just such an amazing heroine, not just because of her courage but also because of her positive outlook. Her speech at the beginning of the issue is a passionate defense of her generation, and I think it’s also an effective response to a popular narrative that characterizes today’s teenagers as apathetic brats (of course, this is hardly a new narrative). And this issue even has Lockjaw in it too. I think it’s the best comic book of the current two-week period.

MANIFEST DESTINY #12 (Image, 2014) – A-. I was a bit disappointed in this issue because I was hoping for a more sustained depiction of the Native Americans of this alternate reality. The scenes with the Otoe people only takes up about half the issue, though there’s nothing particularly wrong with the other half. However, these scenes are pretty interesting, and it seems like Dingess and Roberts made a genuine effort to depict Otoe people in a historically sensitive way. The other fascinating thing here is the flashback to Lewis’s past. I suppose I should be a little disturbed that Lewis’s bisexuality is treated as a bit of a joke, but he has seemed like kind of a queer character, in a broad sense, throughout this series. And the revelation that he’s a bisexual swinger just intensifies this aspect of his character. Apparently there is some historical basis for this scene; Lewis is often thought to have been gay because he never married.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #26 (IDW, 2014) – A-. This is still not my favorite Cook/Price MLP story, and I’m much more excited about next issue’s Everfree Forest story. And while this issue is a satisfying conclusion to the Western two-parter, I feel like the Mane Six’s actions in this story are a bit too deceptive and underhanded. But the level of craftsmanship is still very high, and Katie and Andy remain the top creative team in all-ages comics.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #10 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. This is perhaps the best issue of this series yet. It focuses on Carol’s supporting cast rather than Carol herself, but reveals how Carol’s influence has made her friends stronger. Carol’s friends save the day without her help, but they couldn’t have done it if Carol hadn’t inspired them. My favorite scene here was the one with Lieutenant Trouble, but the whole issue was fun. The other especially awesome thing here is the scene where the rats escape the panel borders. David Lopez draws some adorable rats.

MULTIVERSITY: THUNDERWORLD #1 (Marvel, 2015) – A+. This is the best Grant Morrison comic I’ve read in years. His career has gone into a steep decline, but this comic shows that he’s still got it. He understands the appeal of the original Binder-Beck Captain Marvel stories – their wholesome, positive humor – and he recaptures their aesthetic beautifully. Cameron Stewart’s artwork is perfect for this story; it has the same bright, primary-colored sensibility of C.C. Beck’s art. I wish they would fire Grant from all his other assignments and make him write Captain Marvel exclusively.

CAPTURE CREATURES #2 (Boom!, 2014) – B+. Boom! is currently producing the best original all-ages comics in the industry, not that they have much competition (I said “original” to exclude IDW). This series is not on the same level as Lumberjanes, and it has a certain lack of density; it took me just a few minutes to read this issue. But the writing and artwork are adorable and endearing, and Becky Dreistadt’s visual creativity is impressive. The various capture creatures in this issue all look intriguingly different. I certainly plan to continue reading this series.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #6 (Image, 2014) – A. This may be the fourth best monthly comic right now after Saga, Lumberjanes and Sex Criminals. This issue gives us a deeper insight into Laura’s character than we’ve had before – in earlier issues, she was overshadowed by Lucifer and other flashier characters. I actually care about her now, especially after the imaginary scene with her mother. I’m getting exhausted and I can’t think of anything else intelligent to say, so let’s just move on.

SHE-HULK #11 (Marvel, 2015) – B+. There’s not enough plot here. I’m concerned about whether Charles Soule can resolve all the outstanding plot threads in just one more issue. At this point, we still have no idea why people who investigate the Blue File are being targeted, and the revelation that “it was Nightwatch all along” doesn’t clarify anything. This issue is mostly a long fight scene, though that fight scene is very well-executed. I do wish that Jen had done a better job of responding to Titania’s criticisms of the legal profession. She could have said, well, no, lawyers aren’t just takers, they also defend people’s rights, and civil society couldn’t function without them.

Q2: THE RETURN OF QUANTUM AND WOODY #1 (Valiant, 2014) – C+/B-. This issue is confusing on several levels. Number one, the plot is seriously lacking in clarity. it takes place many years after the original Q&W series, and it’s clear that since the end of that series, a lot of stuff has happened that the reader doesn’t know about. There are all kinds of new characters who aren’t given a proper introduction. Number two, this issue seems radically different in tone from the original series – it’s rather dark and grim and hardly funny at all. I don’t know what Christopher Priest is up to here.

Q2: THE RETURN OF QUANTUM AND WOODY #2 (Valiant, 2014) – C+. This issue clarifies things a little bit, but not enough. Also, the business with the intersexed kid is really weird and I think it could have been handled more tastefully. I suspect Priest is rather rusty after having been out of the industry for about ten years.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #3 (DC, 1990) – B/B+. I was just saying on Facebook that I don’t think I’ll ever be as passionate a fan of anything else as I was of the Legion. For a big chunk of my adolescence and my adult life, the Legion was my favorite comic by far; it was the first comic I’d read every week and I’d feel like a trip to the comic store was incomplete without it. I cared more about the Legionnaires The Legion even informed my general worldview, making me seek out large and diverse groups of friends and colleagues. So imagine my frustration when DC unceremoniously cancelled my favorite comic, not once but twice. Not only that, they’ve made no attempt to exploit its incredible potential for transmedia storytelling or for attracting non-traditional audiences. It seemed like kids were enjoying the Legion cartoon, and yet they cancelled it after two seasons and never did anything with it. For the sort of things I love about the Legion – large and diverse casts, friendship, excitement, optimism – I have to look to other franchises, like Avatar: The Last Airbender and My Little Pony.

The point of all this is to help explain my reaction to this comic. Back when the Legion was still regularly published, I hated v4 because it seemed like a betrayal of the Legion’s optimistic, utopian outlook. It’s the grimmest Legion comic ever, by far. As an example of that, in this issue Blok, the kindest, most well-intentioned Legionnaire of all, is murdered by Roxxas, and his corpse is mailed to Garth Ranzz along with a mocking letter. But there’s still an element of optimism to this story – the overarching story arc here is that the reformed Legion is trying to restore hope to a devastated galaxy. And at this point, even a grim, depressing Legion comic is better than none at all. The co-writers of this comic, Tom and Mary Bierbaum, certainly have their faults – they’re fans at heart and this series is really just an extended work of fan fiction. But at least they understand and sympathize with the basic idea of the franchise (though I don’t know if this is true of their other co-writer, Keith Giffen), and this cannot be said of anyone at DC today.

KING-SIZE SPIDER-MAN SUMMER SPECIAL #1 (Marvel, 2008) – A-. I bought this because it includes two stories by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. The first of these is not a Spider-Man story at all; it stars five Marvel heroines along with Mary Jane and Millie the Model. This is an incredibly fun piece of work which could easily have appeared in the Girl Comics miniseries, but is probably better than anything in that series. Like all of Paul and Colleen’s work, it has a deeply fun, silly, happy sensibility, and while none of the characters get much screen time, they’re all clearly distinguished from each other. And of course this story is just full of hilarious dialogue and adorable art. Colleen is widely recognized as an incredible talent, but I think Paul might be the most underrated writer in the industry. The other material in this issue is much worse. The other Tobin/Coover story is a silly two-pager. Then there’s a Spider-Man/Falcon team-up by Giffen and Rick Burchett, which probably originated as an inventory story, and the last story is by Chris Giarrusso, who I can’t stand.

ROCKET SALVAGE #1 (Archaia, 2014) – A-. Boom is publishing so many fascinating comics that I really can’t keep up with them all, but this comic is worth continuing with. The story (about a former racing driver who is now raising two clone children) is original and compelling, but the real attraction here is Bachan’s artwork. This artist is from Mexico but now works in the U.S. market due to the collapse of the Mexican domestic industry. I wish he were better at drawing aliens, but his color work is amazing (I should also credit Jeremy Lawson for that) and his crowd scenes and compositions are impressive. I’m looking forward to more of this.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #13 (DC, 1991) – B+. This issue has a much more upbeat tone than #3, reviewed above. At this point, the galaxy is still in an absolute shambles, but “the Legion is officially back,” and there’s a sense that things are getting better. (As the rest of this volume demonstrated, there was little reason for such optimism, but oh well.) There are also some fantastic individual scenes here, including the interactions between Kent Shakespeare and little Ivy, and Rokk’s reconciliation with Vi.

SAVAGE DRAGON #5 (Image, 1993) – C. At this very early point, Erik was more influenced by McFarlane than by Kirby, and he was still finding his voice. This issue is mostly just plot and fight scenes; the only truly exciting thing here is the introduction of the members of Freak Force.

TEEN DOG #4 (Boom, 2014) – B+. This is the Halloween issue. Otherwise, it’s much like every other issue. I previously compared this series to Scott Pilgrim, and another reason this comparison is valid is because of its somewhat nostalgic tone. For example, in this issue Teen Dog and Mariella go to a video arcade and play ‘80s games. This series is very much influenced by the Internet aesthetic, but it seems to be taking place in a pre-Internet age.

THEY’RE NOT LIKE US #1 (Image, 2014) – B/B-. I love Simon Gane’s artwork in this issue. He uses a Clear Line style of coloring, but his linework is very shaky and constantly interrupted. The artist he reminds me of the most is Gabrielle Bell, who is an unusual influence for a superhero cartoonist. Sadly, the story is not up to the level of the artwork. I feel like I’ve read this story before, when it was called X-Men. The only twist here is that the character who we think is Professor X turns out to actually be Magneto. I might give this comic a couple more issues to see if it gets any more exciting.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #124 (DC, 2000) – B-. “Widening Rifts, Part One” is pretty depressing. It’s a series of vignettes in which the Legion attempt to help Earth recover from the Blight, while Earth is ungrateful for their help and blames them for causing the Blight in the first place. This is not the sort of mood that I look for in a Legion comic. Abnett and Lanning are widely acclaimed for their work on the Legion, but I never felt like they really understood the franchise – they wrote it as if it were just another superhero comic.

WHITE COMANCHE #1 (Last Gasp, 1977) – A+. This is a captivating work by Jaxon, the great historian of underground comics. It’s a somewhat fictionalized account of the life of Cynthia Ann Parker, the mother of the great Comanche chief Quanah. Jaxon seems to have done a lot of research, and his visual and textual depictions of the Comanche people are striking – he especially emphasizes the warriors’ buffalo horn headdresses, which seem to have been unique to the Comanche. But this isn’t just a dry historical account. Jaxon makes the Comanches relatable to the reader by having them speak modern idiomatic English, just like Kage Baker does with the Chumash people in Sky Coyote. The other thing he emphasizes is the brutality of the frontier wars. The thing that sticks out to me the most about Jaxon’s work is his horrific depictions of violence, and there is a lot of that sort of thing here. I want to read more of his historical works if I can find them, and I’m also excited to see how his account of Comanche history compares to S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon, which I own but have not read yet.

AVENGERS #32 (Marvel, 1966) – A-. As with most Avengers stories, the main source of excitement here is the characterization. Prior to this issue, Hank has gotten permanently stuck in giant-size form, and this makes him predictably angsty and bitter, causing Cap to provoke a fight with him to cheer him up. This issue also introduces Bill Foster, later known as Black Goliath and Giant-Man. When he first appears on panel, the fact that he’s black is not even mentioned, and this initially seemed like a positive development – at the time, it would have been very unusual to introduce a black character without making a big deal out of his racial identity. So I was a little disappointed when his blackness turned out to be mandated by the plot, because it leads to his kidnapping by the Sons of the Serpent.

SWAMP THING #85 (DC, 1989) – B-. Having just received my copy of Jon B. Cooke’s Swampmen book, I wanted to read some Swamp Thing comics. But this is not really a Swamp Thing comic, despite the title. It’s part of Rick Veitch’s unfinished time travel storyline, and it takes place in the Wild West and guest-stars seemingly all of DC’s Western heroes. Swampy himself is imprisoned for most of the issue and only plays a limited role. There are some funny moments here involving Bat Lash, but other than that, this story is excessively convoluted and difficult.

JUDGE DREDD: AMERICA #1 (Fleetway/Quality, 1993) – A. “America” is considered one of the best Judge Dredd stories and an effective introduction to the character. This makes it appealing to me since I’m not familiar with Dredd at all. This first half of the story didn’t absolutely overwhelm me, but America Jara is an amazing character – the only problem with her is that her role as the living embodiment of the American Dream tends to overshadow her individual personality. And the story and artwork clearly demonstrate the oppressive, fascist nature of Mega-City One. Apparently this was a departure from the usual tone of the series; typically Judge Dredd stories were told from Dredd’s perspective, but this story presents him and the other Judges as the villains.

JUDGE DREDD: AMERICA #2 (Fleetway/Quality, 1993) – A+. This concluding chapter of “America” is maybe one of the best comics I’ve read this year. America’s death scene, in which she struggles toward the Statue of Liberty while holding an American flag, is a spectacular coup de theatre. It’s as powerful as any panel I’ve seen in a comic recently. As expected, the conclusion of the story is horribly depressing – America Jara dies and her democracy movement is brutally stamped out. But the story ends on a surprisingly positive note, as America’s creepy stalker friend Benny Beeny has his mind transplanted into her body (this sort of disturbing thing is standard in Dredd comics) and realizes that “you’ve got to keep fighting. You’ve got to keep looking for America.”

SWAMP THING #24 (DC, 1976) – This issue (along with the previous issue) is notable mostly for having the single ugliest logo in comic book history. It’s a horrendous eyesore with poor letter design and poor kerning, and it completely fails to suggest swamps or monsters. Surprisingly this logo was designed by John Workman, who should have known better. Anyway, the issue itself isn’t up to classic Swamp Thing standards, but it’s fun. The lack of Nestor Redondo artwork is disappointing, but Ernie Chua and Fred Carrillo are an unexpectedly effective combination. Gerry Conway’s plot is kind of silly, but he writes some cute dialogue between Alec and his new love interest Ruth. It turns out this was the last issue of the series, although this is not mentioned in the issue itself; perhaps it was cancelled because people were going blind from looking at the logo. (It was not cancelled due to the DC Implosion; that happened two years later.)

SUPERBOY #205 (DC, 1974) – B+. The Legion story in this issue is an early piece of work by Mike Grell. Its most memorable moment is when Superboy flies in through Lana’s window and says he’s here to give her a birthday present. It’s surprising that the Comics Code allowed that line to see print, though of course the birthday present turns out to be something benign. Other than that, this story is reasonably exciting and well-drawn, but a weird thing about it is the absence of Phantom Girl, even though Ultra Boy is one of the featured characters. Oh, also the plot involves a villain who wants to kidnap super-heroes for breeding purposes, which is a little disturbing. This issue also includes an old bad Superboy story from 1961, as well as reprints of Adventure Comics #350 and #351. (I already read Adventure Comics #350 a few days ago, but have not reviewed it here because after reading it, I discovered I already had a copy of it.) “The Outcast Super-Heroes” is a classic; it’s not written by Shooter and it lacks the teen angst and characterization that are typical of his work, but it’s laugh-out-loud funny. This is the one where Star Boy and Dream Girl rejoin the Legion under the cover identities of Sir Prize and Miss Terious. It might also be the only story that Ferro Lad appeared in between his introduction and his death.

JOURNEY: WARDRUMS #2 (Fantagraphics, 1990) – B+. Journey is a highly underrated work; it’s probably the best work of historical fiction in ‘80s comics, not that it has much competition. Bill Loebs depicted the American frontier with historical accuracy (or at least it seemed that way), excitement and humor. Much of Journey’s plot revolved around the War of 1812 and Tecumseh’s rebellion, and this issue takes place during Tecumseh’s siege of Fort Detroit. Tecumseh himself is a major character in the story. Wolverine MacAlistaire himself is largely absent; he spends the issue looking for some friends who turn out to have been either killed or displaced by the fighting. Unfortunately the cliffhanger at the end of this issue was never resolved; there were supposed to be six issues of this miniseries, but the other four were never published.


Reviews for 12-1-14

TRANSMETROPOLITAN #49 (DC, 2001) – B-. I read the first trade paperback of Transmet long ago, but never returned to it. Transmet is one of many Vertigo series from the 1990s and 2000s that I’m passively collecting – that is, I buy individual issues when I see them for less than a dollar. The trouble is that many of these series were not meant to be read on an issue-by-issue basis. This issue, for example, seems extremely lacking in narrative content, and doesn’t really make sense to a reader unfamiliar with the previous 48 issues. All I can tell for sure is that it has something to do with the aftermath of an election. The only thing that makes it interesting is the character of Spider Jerusalem, who, it now occurs to me, is effectively the same character as Uncle Duke from Doonesbury, since they were both based on the same man.

KEVIN KELLER #5 (Archie, 2012) – C+. I should not have paid full price for this. It’s an entertaining, but thoroughly pedestrian and forgettable, story in which Kevin Keller has car trouble and ends up using a bike instead. Kevin Keller bothers me because he seems to be a completely perfect character, without any distinguishing flaws.

WHAT IF? #41 (Marvel, 1983) – C-. “What If the Sub-Mariner Had Saved Atlantis from Its Destiny” is by the undistinguished creative team of Alan Zelenetz and Marc Silvestri. Marvel’s version of Atlantis is far less interesting than DC’s version: quality stories with Namor as the protagonist (rather than the guest-star or villain) are very rare, and most of them take place on the surface. So as the reader I didn’t have any reason to care about any of the characters or settings in this story, other than Namor himself. And to make things worse, the conclusion of the story reveals that the people of Atlantis are a bunch of jerks who don’t deserve a ruler like Namor, so I have even less reason to care what happens to them.

SUB-MARINER #36 (Marvel, 1971) – B+. This is a much better Namor story. Written by Roy Thomas, it depicts Namor’s wedding to Dorma, and ends with the revelation that the bride is not Dorma but Namor’s old enemy Llyra. The art is by Sal Buscema and Bernie Wrightson, whose styles did not really suit each other; the draftsmanship looks more like the latter than the former. Dorma was never a very exciting character and it’s hard to imagine that she and Namor would have been happy together, but the issue does create an effective mood of pomp and circumstance, and the inevitable complications and plot twists that happen to delay the wedding are fairly exciting.

L.E.G.I.O.N. ’89 #8 (DC, 1989) – B+/A-. This was one of the better non-Vertigo DCU comics at the time and was far better than the regular Legion title. It deserves more credit for its intelligent writing and its diverse cast of interesting characters. The star of this issue is Lydda Mallor – the distant ancestor of one of my favorite Legionnaires, Shadow Lass – and it ends with the revelation that in order to join the L.E.G.I.O.N., she had to abandon her newborn daughter. But there’s lots of other neat stuff here, particularly the scene where Strata explains that she’s just experienced gendering, the process in which Dryadians’ adolescent skin falls off and they learn what gender they are. This leads to the memorable line “Congratulations, I’m a girl!” Some cute gender politics here.

METAMORPHO #11 (DC, 1967) – A+. Besides maybe Metal Men, which I’m not too familiar with, this was the most Marvelesque DC comic of the silver age. Metamorpho was like the Thing or the Hulk in that he was a hideous freak and was constantly worried that his girlfriend didn’t love him. However, Metamorpho also never took itself as seriously as any Marvel comics did – the fact that one of the major characters was an unfrozen caveman is evidence of that. As another example, this issue has a rather silly plot involving some scientific terrorists who disguise themselves as aliens. It may not make sense but it’s fun, which is all that really matters. It’s too bad that this series was drawn by a boring artist, Sal Trapani; imagine what Ditko or Wood could have done with this material.

POWER PACK #1 (Marvel, 2000) – C+/B-. This is the first issue of the 2000 Power Pack miniseries, the only series featuring these characters that I haven’t read. It has some reasonably cute writing and artwork, and the creators, Shon Bury and Colleen Doran, are clearly familiar with the original series, since the plot revolves around the Snarks and Kymellians. But as I read this issue, I just kept thinking that this wasn’t my Power Pack. Also, I have never much liked Colleen Doran’s art. Her characters are so cute that they cross the line between cute and horrible.

FLASH GORDON #1 (Marvel, 1995) – A+. The A+ is entirely for the artwork – the story doesn’t really matter. This was the last major work of Al Williamson, one of the greatest draftsmen in the history of the comics medium. His mastery of anatomy and visual storytelling and his graphic creativity are evident in every panel. My only minor quibble is that all his cities look pretty similar. Reading this issue, I realized that the American comic book industry is really not designed to produce work of this level of visual richness. Probably the reason Al Williamson spent most of his late career as an inker was because he couldn’t make a living doing pencil work that satisfied his own standards. It’s not possible to draw with this level of craftsmanship and still maintain a monthly schedule. And this is partly because American cartoonists have to produce something like 264 pages a year (12 times 22) — whereas European cartoonists might only do a single 48-page album a year, which allows them to really pull out all the stops on each individual page. I do think, though, that this might be changing, as I suggested in my review of James Stokoe’s Godzilla.

UNCANNY X-MEN #111 (Marvel, 1978) – B+/A-. As with all the Claremont/Byrne X-Men issues I’ve reviewed for this blog, I know this issue quite well but it’s nice to revisit it. This is the one where Mesmero mind-controls the X-Men and forces them to work in a circus. Notable points about this issue are that 1) Claremont didn’t use Hank McCoy very often, so it’s nice to see an entire issue with him as the star, and 2) this issue provides some disturbing hints as to what Mesmero was doing with Jean while he had her under mind control.

TARZAN #242 (DC,1975) – A-. I don’t know why I haven’t been reading more of these Kubert Tarzans, because they’re awesome. This issue has Joe Kubert layouts with finishes by Franc Reyes. This is an effective combination because you get Joe’s masterful storytelling sensibility plus very tight and detailed pencils. On Rima the Jungle Girl, Joe collaborated with Nestor Redondo in a similar way, and the result was one of the best-drawn comic books of the ’70s. The possible weak link in this issue is the story, in which Tarzan rescues a Maya girl who’s about to be sacrificed. The issue is full of suggestions that the Maya are some sort of ancient and forgotten culture, and I kept thinking, well, that’s not true, there are millions of Mayas living in Mexico and Central America today. However, it turns out that these particular Mayas are a society that developed in isolation after their ancestors were shipwrecked. And the story at least gestures toward cultural relativism, because it turns out that the girl’s own father was responsible for sacrificing her, and that she feels guilty for not having performed her religious duty.

CRITTERS #11 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – B+. The Usagi story in this issue, “Homecoming, Part 2,” is drawn in a rather crude style but already shows evidence of Stan’s command of storytelling and pathos. In this story, Usagi and Kenichi save Jotaro from some crooks, then Usagi and Mariko have an emotional reunion. The reader isn’t supposed to know yet that Usagi is Jotaro’s father, but Usagi and Mariko’s obvious suppressed feelings for each other are poignant — especially in the silent sequence that ends the story, where they stare at their souvenirs of each other. The rest of the material in this issue is pretty bad, although there’s one story which is drawn by Ron Wilber in a somewhat unusual Moebius-influenced style.

INCREDIBLE HULK #112 (Marvel, 1968) – B-. The story here is not memorable. The premise is that the Hulk leads a rebellion against a villain called the Galaxy Master, and there’s also a female character who reminds me a bit of Jarella — in fact, this whole story seems like a prototype for Jarella’s first appearance. What makes this issue exciting is Herb Trimpe’s artwork. Herb was forced to spend most of his career working in a boring house style, but early on, he used an innovative style of page layout that was reminiscent of Neal Adams or BWS, but different from either. And he could draw pretty well — there’s one panel in this issue where the Galaxy Master turns himself into a really cool-looking creature with gray skin, hammers for hands, and a single giant eye.

THE FOX #1 (Archie, 2013) – C+. This was a deliberate throwback to earlier styles of superhero comics, so I might have expected to like it, but I didn’t. The main problem here is that the reader is already assumed to be familiar with the Fox and his supporting cast, and I’m not — I’ve read some of the ’80s issues of Blue Ribbon Comics that revived this character, but they were not particularly well written and I don’t remember them. The story begins in media res with no explanation of what’s going on or who the villain is, and even the recap page at the end of the comic doesn’t really help. As a result, nothing about this issue’s story really stuck in my memory. I had to flip through it to remind myself what it was about (photography, I think).

THE BOOKS OF MAGIC #3 (DC, 1994) – B+. I don’t remember much about this one either, and I’ve always found this series rather difficult — it’s full of weird plots that don’t make a whole lot of sense. I feel like I would need to reread it from the beginning to make sense of it. But I really like John Ney Rieber’s dialogue and characterization, and in this issue he makes the reader seriously afraid for Tim, who is being pursued by a manticore through some sort of magical school. Tim is a truly adorable kid — he’s like Harry Potter, but quieter.

HITMAN #48 – A-. This issue is very late in the run, so there’s a lot of continuity I’ve missed out on, but it still more or less makes sense (unlike Transmet #49, reviewed above). The focus this issue is on Noonan’s pub, which, here as elsewhere in Ennis’s work, is depicted as a welcoming center of community and friendship. Offhand I can’t think of any writer who loves British pub culture as much as Garth does. In this story, Noonan’s is under siege by a bunch of mobsters, and there’s a very inspiring moment where the bartender, who is Tommy Monaghan’s surrogate father, chooses to stand and fight rather than surrender Tommy. Also, it’s kind of cool that the bartender is Baytor, a horrible-looking demon thing (he previously appeared in The Demon and his name is a double entendre). Again, I don’t know why I’m not reading more of this series because it was really good.

MS. TREE #19 (Renegade, 1985) – B+. I’ve only read a couple issues of Ms. Tree in the period that I’ve been doing this blog, which is odd because I really like it, even though I typically have no interest in the hard-boiled detective genre. Ms. Tree might be the best example of how I’m willing to read anything as long as it’s in comics form. In this particular issue, Dan Green tries to kill Dominic Muerta in a fit of rage, and then Dominic Muerta does get killed, but Dan swears he didn’t do it. It’s a terrific setup and it makes me want to reread my copy of issue 20, since I don’t remember that issue at all.

YUMMY FUR #23 (Vortex, 1990) – A. I think I’ve read “The Playboy” before, but it was so long ago that I’d completely forgotten about it. Chester Brown’s autobiographical work is similar to that of his friend Joe Matt, but somehow he manages to make the reader feel sorry with him, whereas Joe Matt’s work has the exact opposite effect. This story suggests that Chester has a deeply unhealthy attitude toward sex, but that this is because of his repressive upbringing and his undiagnosed psychological issues, and that he’s not just an asshole. As a footnote, this issue suggests an explanation for the woods porn phenomenon described in the Sex Criminals letter column.

INCREDIBLE HULK #118 (Marvel, 1969) – A-. This is a better Hulk comic than the one reviewed above. It’s just your average Hulk/Namor fight — I can’t remember much of anything about the plot, i.e. the excuse for why they’re fighting — but Herb Trimpe’s art is spectacular. Most of the Marvel artists at this time tended to use horizontal page layouts, but Herb takes advantage of the vertical dimension of the page, using panels that span the entire height of each page. He does other neat tricks with page layout too, and his style of draftsmanship reminds me of early BWS. If Herb hadn’t been forced to waste his talent, he could have been one of the greats of the industry.

THE FLASH #66 (DC, 1992) – B-. This must have been one of Mark Waid’s crummier single issues of the Flash. It’s a team-up with Aquaman, except for almost the whole issue Aquaman is controlled by the Marine Marauder, a thoroughly boring villain. The only thing I like about this issue is that it contributes slightly to the development of Wally and Linda’s relationship.

REVIVAL #21 (Image, 2014) – A-. Another good issue. Part of this story takes place in Manhattan, and the thing I remember best about the issue is Dana’s shock at the sheer size of New York. This scene emphasizes the cultural difference between rural and urban America. There’s other good stuff here as well; in particular, the old Native American character is really cool.

STRANGE TALES #131 (Marvel, 1965) – B+. The Thing/Torch story in this issue is stupid in a fun way, or vice versa. The villain is the Mad Thinker, who is one of my favorite minor Marvel villains, but his plan in this issue is pretty ridiculous: he tries to kill the Thing and Torch with a giant robotized bouncing ball. Obviously it doesn’t work. In the Dr. Strange story, the artwork is far from Ditko’s best. The story takes place entirely in Hong Kong, where Dr. Strange is trying to escape from Baron Mordo, so there are few opportunities for Steve to draw bizarre otherworldly stuff. Also, this story seems a little bit Orientalist somehow.

OCCULT FILES OF DR. SPEKTOR #15 – A. This is one of the better issues of this series. “The Brain of Xorkon” is very similar to the Doctor Sun saga in Tomb of Dracula — Xorkon’s plans for Baron Tibor, the Dracula-esque vampire who guest-stars in this issue, are very similar to Doctor Sun’s plans for Dracula. Still, this story is more than just a rip-off because the characters of Dr. Spektor, Lakota and Baron Tibor are distinctive and interesting. Unlike Marv and Gene’s Dracula, Baron Tibor is a fully sympathetic character, and his death at the end of the issue feels tragic.

MS. TREE #32 (Renegade, 1986) – B+. This is the first part of a story called “Runaway II” — I guess there was a previous “Runaway” story in issues 16 and 17, which I don’t have. It’s about the murder of a woman who moved to Hollywood in hopes of stardom, and it doesn’t have quite the same level of dramatic tension as the Dominic Muerta story reviewed above, although it’s not actively bad. The letter column includes some angry responses to a homophobic letter by David Malcolm Porta.

DEMON KNIGHTS #2 (DC, 2011) – B+. This was one of the only good New 52 comics, but it’s only good, not great. The characters are all highly distinctive and interesting, and there are some funny scenes where they interact with villagers. The villagers appear to be Goths living in post-Roman Britain, which is kind of weird and unique. Still, there’s not a lot in this issue that really sticks out in my mind.

HOWTOONS: REIGNITION #2 (Image, 2014) – B. The plot of this comic isn’t all that exciting, but I like the two child protagonists, and I love the effective integration of DIY instructions into the narrative. The page design and typography are also impressive. Unlike Fred Van Lente’s collaborations with Ryan Dunlavey, Howtoons feels like a comic, not a heavily illustrated prose text. I feel like this comic might be relevant to people with an interest in critical making, and I feel kind of guilty for reading this comic without trying to make any of the projects it describes.

SUGAR & SPIKE #64 (DC, 1966) – A. This one is actually similar to Howtoons in a way, because while it can most easily be read as a silly nonsensical romp, it can also be read as a story about Sugar and Spike’s attempts to scientifically explore their world and learn more about it. In this story, Sugar and Spike win a trip on a cruise ship for themselves and their parents, but they think that the ocean is a giant front lawn and that it’s been flooded by a leaky faucet. And in the process of trying to find the leaking faucet and turn it off, they accidentally break up an international spy ring. The cool part is that they never realize that their theory about the ocean is wrong, and their naïveté enables them to successfully defeat the spy ring, while the adults in the story are completely ignorant of its existence.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #5 (Image, 2014) – B-. This issue is a letdown because Earl Tubb’s daughter, introduced at the end of issue 4, does not appear. Instead, the issue focuses entirely on Coach Boss; we start with a flashback to his high school days, then we watch him attend Earl Tubb’s funeral. This issue is a well-crafted piece of work, but Earl’s daughter is clearly going to be the protagonist of this series, and I want to know more about her already.

CATWOMAN #14 (DC, 2003) – A+. Truly impressive work. Just prior to this issue, Catwoman’s community center in the East End was burned down. In this issue she seeks to punish the parties who destroyed it, while also working through her grief over its loss. Brubaker and Stewart do a fantastic job of conveying Catwoman’s devastation over the ruin of a project she felt deeply passionate about. The artwork in this issue is incredible — Cameron Stewart is one of the best visual storytellers of his generation, as proved by his layouts over Babs Tarr’s pencils in the current Batgirl series. And his minimalistic style of draftsmanship reminds me a bit of Alex Toth.

SIX-GUN GORILLA #2 (Boom!, 2013) – A-. This issue has a nice blend of hilarity and horror. The science-fiction milieu of this series is not meant to be taken entirely seriously, what with the tumblesquids and the giant troop-transporting turtles. But this comic is also deeply dystopian. The people of this future Earth are so jaded that their only entertainment is vicariously experiencing the deaths of suicidal soldiers, while the people who are caught up in the war are forced to turn to prostitution to support themselves. So this story is bleak but in a hilarious way. Also, the eponymous six-gun gorilla is just an incredible character.

EDGE OF SPIDER-VERSE #2 (Marvel, 2014) – A. This was one of the most critically acclaimed comic books of 2014, but I missed it when it came out, and by the time I realized I needed to read it, was sold out of it. I couldn’t get my hands on a copy until I visited the Comic Book College in Minneapolis last week. I don’t know if it completely lived up to the hype, but Robbi Rodriguez’s artwork is fantastic and Spider-Gwen is a terrific character. She’s really not all that dissimilar from Peter — her origin is essentially the same, except that it’s Peter who dies instead of Uncle Ben, and she has the same style of dialogue. But somehow just the simple act of changing Spider-Man’s gender has revolutionary implications; we’re really not used to seeing a female character exhibit the sort of behavior we expect from Spider-Man. Overall I enjoyed this and I can’t wait for the Spider-Gwen ongoing series.

SEA BEAR AND GRIZZLY SHARK #1 (Image, 2010) – B+. I saw this in the store when it came out, but declined to buy it, and I have regretted that decision ever since because this comic is impossible to find. I was shocked to discover that the Comic Book College actually had a copy. Given that I’ve been waiting to read this comic for four years, it’s perhaps inevitable that it was a bit disappointing — the best thing about it is the title (with the tagline “They Got Mixed Up!”). This comic is a one-shot including two separate stories, one each by Kirkman collaborators Ryan Ottley and Jason Howard. The unifying premise is that both stories take place in a world where all the land and sea animals switched places except for a bear and a shark, but this is never mentioned in the stories themselves. The Sea Bear story is a series of massive exaggerated fight scenes involving a robot, a dude with swords for arms, and the title sea bear. The Grizzly Shark story takes itself even less seriously, and is mostly an excuse for gratuitous blood and gore. While this comic was less fun than it could have been, it was still a lot of fun, and I’m glad to finally have it in my collection.

JLA/HITMAN #1 (DC, 2007) – B+/A-. I had no idea this comic existed until I found it in a 50-cent box at (again) the Comic Book College. This was published in 2007, six years after the Hitman ongoing series ended. At this point Tommy Monaghan seems to have been dead, and the story is told as a flashback. As expected, it’s a hilarious piece of work, with lots of jokes at the expense of Kyle Rayner and the other Bloodlines characters. It also has a strangely nostalgic feel, though, as if it’s looking back to a bygone period when DC was able to publish comics as fun and irreverent as the original Hitman series. The only weak link in this issue is Garth’s somewhat sexist portrayal of Wonder Woman. (Though there’s a hilarious scene where Tommy realizes his X-ray vision powers have stopped working, and he’s looking at Wonder Woman as he says this.)

COPPERHEAD #3 (Image, 2014) – B+. I initially declined to buy this due to a lack of confidence in Jay Faerber’s writing, but I love the idea of an outer-space Western whose protagonist is a single mom. And this issue did not disappoint. Clara Bronson is an exciting charcter, and the artwork and writing are not half bad either. This series does show some heavy Saga influence, what with all the weird-looking aliens with animal heads.

SAUCER COUNTRY #1 (DC, 2012) – B/B+. This is one of the few recent Vertigo series that’s of any interest to me. Although the plot is a bit difficult to follow, it seems to be about a Latina presidential candidate who thinks that Earth is being invaded by aliens. While the artwork and writing are both high-quality, somehow this story, like most of Paul Cornell’s writing, failed to really grab me, and I’m not in a huge hurry to read the other unread issues of Saucer Country that I have. Also, I have problems with the scene where the Harvard folklore professor gets fired because of a publication where he expresses belief in aliens. This scene reads like a poorly informed caricature of academic politics.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #71 (DC, 1984) – B+. This is only the second regular issue of DCCP that I’ve reviewed for this blog. This Superman/Bizarro team-up was published in 1984, which was probably the last time that DC could publish this sort of story without ironic intent. It’s written in an unapologetically Silver Age-influenced style and has a plot that could have appeared in a Superman comic from twenty years before. Bizarro #1 creates a Bizarro-Amazo robot that gives ordinary people superpowers (whereas the real Amazo steals powers from superpowered people), and Bizarro-Amazo travels to Earth-1, where he starts handing out powers to Perry, Jimmy, etc. There’s nothing particualrly deep or thought-provoking here, but it’s incredibly fun. This story was written by E. Nelson Bridwell, who died three years later. Perhaps it’s just as well that he didn’t live to see a time when DC felt ashamed of publishing comics like this.

LUMBERJANES #8 (Image, 2014) – A+. This is the best conclusion to a story arc in recent memory. It wraps up everything from the first eight issues in a deeply satisfying way, and is full of amazing moments:

    Mal kissing Molly
    Riley giving everyone a kitten
    Bubbles getting a funny hat (which is odd since Bubbles isa funny hat
    The camp director finally remembering Jen’s name
    Zeus manifesting as a cow, in a reference to the myth of Europa

Overall, this is just such a satisfying resolution to the first eight issues of the series. In fact it’s so satisfying that it’s hard to see where this comic is going to go next, although I’m sure that the creative team will think of something.

As sort of a sidenote, I feel kind of guilty for writing this review when all my friends are posting on Facebook about the horrible miscarriage of justice in the Eric Garner case. But I think that stories like this really do have the potential to promote positive change, at least in some small degree. Comics like Lumberjanes fill a gaping hole in an industry that has historically been the exclusive preserve of straight white men, and they help to promote a more positive vision of race, gender and sexuality than we usually get from children’s media. I’m glad that the sort of progressive worldview we see in comics like Lumberjanes is becoming more common in the comics industry. I just wish that such worldviews were more prevalent in American society as a whole.

ODY-C #1 (Image, 2014) – A+. I tend to think of Grant Morrison as the modern heir to Kirby, but with this comic, Matt Fraction (and Christian Ward) may have usurped that mantle. This comic has the epic scope and explosive creativity of Kirby’s Fourth World, while also having a distinctive sense of humor and a progressive take on gender politics. I love the worldbuilding in this comic — it takes place in an outer space empire full of bizarre and unexplained technology, where almost everyone is female. It’s almost as creative as the setting of Prophet. The level of craftsmanship in this comic is also extremely impressive. The comic begins with an eight-page splash, something I have never seen before, although Bryan Hitch previously did it in Ultimates. Matt Fraction’s prose style in this comic is very different from his usual style; it’s almost like poetry, though I don’t think it scans. And Christian Ward’s artwork is unlike anything I’ve seen recently — it’s like a hybrid between pencils and painting. In summary, this is going to be an amazing series.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #25 (IDW, 2014) – A-. I can’t believe this series is already up to issue 25. A new Cook-Price issue is always cause for celebration, although this one is about Applejack, my least favorite of the Mane Six. (Primarily this is because Applejack seems to have no significant flaws, although “Somepony to Watch Over Me” changes that a little bit.) In a recent CBR interview, Katie said: “If we treated the “My Little Pony” books like Fluttershy’s fluffy bunny tea-party, they would sell abysmally. Yes, it would be a comic that you could give to any little girl, but you can’t give it to boys because they’re not going to enjoy it as much. We treat the Pony books as comedies, epic adventures, and things like that. And that’s what keeps the kids reading it. And keeps adults reading it.” That was essentially the same philosophy Carl Barks had — he wrote for kids, but he didn’t write down to them, he wrote intelligent stories that adults wouldn’t be completely ashamed to read either. That’s why Katie and Andy’s pony stories are so successful among both audiences. Anyway, this issue. I’m not a particular fan of either Applejack or the Western genre, but as usual, this story is hilarious and is full of brilliant characterization and inside jokes. I’ll be looking forward to the next issue, though I’m more excited about their upcoming story set in the Everfree Forest.

ODDLY NORMAL #3 (Image, 2014) – B-. I missed issue 2 somehow. With this issue, this series is starting to live up to its potential. Otis Frampton is showing some impressive visual creativity. However, I feel that this comic overly derivative of Ghibli — the schoolbug is really cool, but it’s the same basic idea as a catbus. And I still think the story ends too quickly; most of the pages seem to have four panels or fewer.

PRINCESS UGG #5 (Oni, 2014) – A+. Sex has been mostly absent from Ted Naifeh’s earlier work, given the ages of his protagonists, but in this issue it takes center stage. And as a result, Julifer is revealed as a thoroughly awful character — I was starting to feel some sympathy for her, but now I kind of can’t stand her. Also, in this story Ted continues to resist easy solutions; it’s clear that Ulga is not going to have an easy time resolving her identity crisis. I suspect that people are likely to see this series as a complete joke, but it’s one of the best comics on the market right now, and it deserves a wider audience.

CAPTURE CREATURES #1 (Boom!, 2014) – B/B+. This Pokémon parody is drawn in a somewhat similar style to Teen Dog or Bee & Puppycat, but the writing is marginally more serious — unlike in either of those series, there’s a continuing plot here. While I did not grow up with Pokémon, Frank Gibson’s writing and Becky Dreistadt’s artwork are so endearing that I want to keep on reading this series. It’s not going to be an award contender, but it’s fun.

ASTRO CITY #17 (DC, 2014) – A-. This is maybe the simplest story yet in this run of Astro City. The plot is kind of convoluted, but at heart it’s a very basic story about tragic mistakes and forgiveness, and it has a lot of concentrated emotional power. Krigari is an innovative take on Thanos or Darkseid because he comes from a microverse, but keeps getting bigger and bigger. And I love the notion of Red Cake Day, although I think Kurt could have made this concept even funnier.

DONALD DUCK #268 (Gladstone, 1988) – B+. The centerpiece of this issue is a ten-pager by Barks in which Donald appears on a radio quiz show. This was an idea Barks used at least three times, most notably in “Voodoo Hoodoo,” which, in hindsight, is kind of a terrible story. Anyway, this story starts out hilariously with Donald cramming all sorts of obscure trivia, but it gradually becomes incoherent, as the quiz show hosts resort to asking him unanswerable questions so he doesn’t win. Surprisingly, the two Gutenberghaus stories in this issue are quite funny — I usually don’t like these European duck stories, but in this case they’re comparable in quality to the Barks story in the issue.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #49 (DC, 1997) – A. This was one of the best DC comics of the ’90s. It was an accurate and historically sensitive depiction of the ’30s, and it featured two fascinating and very different protagonists, Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont. The only reason I haven’t read more of it is because it followed a strict structure of four-issue story arcs, so it’s difficult to read in back issue format, because none of the issues stands alone. This particular issue is part one of “The Scarlet Ghost,” which has some significant metafictional elements; it’s about a gang war over control of the emerging comic book industry, which is just starting to replace the pulps. Another plot thread is that Dian is apparently pregnant and neither she nor Wes has any idea. This was a fun read, and I need to start collecting this series more actively.

LAZARUS #5 (Image, 2013) – C+. I am almost a year behind on this series. I was initially very enthusiastic about it, but I stopped reading it because it was so bleak and depressing — almost as much so as Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. I really don’t want to read a story that seems so disturbingly plausible. I mean, a few powerful families already control so much of the world as it is; it’s not that big of a leap to imagine a world where that control is enshrined in law. And this issue does not do anything to alleviate the relentlessly bleak tone of the series. The thing I like best about it is Michael Lark’s artwork — he might be the single best artist in the industry in terms of drawing hand-to-hand combat.

SUPERMAN #254 (DC, 1972) – B/B-. The lead story in this issue is pretty dumb. It seems to have been written to match the cover, which shows Superman bequeathing his powers to a boy named Billy Anders (apparently no relation to Kory Anders). This issue is only memorable because of the Private Life of Clark Kent backup, “The Baby Who Walked Through Walls,” which is one of the few Superman stories drawn by Neal Adams. This story is adorable and funny, if rather pointless. The baby in this story is based on Neal’s daughter, according to a comment on this blog post. I also wonder if this story is an unannounced tribute to Sugar & Spike, since it includes two babies, a blond-haired girl and a dark-haired boy, who speak in unintelligible strings of consonants.

AIR #1 (DC, 2008) – A-. This is an early work of G. Willow Wilson, and it already shows her vigorous style of storytelling and her interest in literature and Islamic culture. The issue begins with a scene where two characters are falling out of the sky and one of them says “Aren’t you glad this isn’t a Salman Rushdie novel?” There aren’t many comic book writers who would have thought of that joke. In fact, Willow might be the only writer in the contemporary comics industry whose work is influenced in any way by Indian and/or Islamic literature. (Recall how in Ms. Marvel #1 she quoted Amir Khusrow, a writer I had never previously heard of.) But that’s actually incidental to the story, which is a very fast-paced thriller involving air travel and competing terrorist organizations. Apparently some reviewers had trouble following this issue, and so did I initially, but it ultimately makes sense. I want to read more of this series and I’m kind of sad that it was cancelled after two years because of poor sales, although Willow has gone on to bigger and better things.

ACTION COMICS #840 (DC, 2006) – B+. This is a fairly effective conclusion to “Up, Up and Away.” In this issue, Superman decisively defeats Luthor (who subsequently escapes from prison, of course) and works on readjusting to his newly returned powers. It’s pretty entertaining, especially the concluding sequence where Superman defeats a mad scientist who’s created a giant single-celled “Kryptococcus,” then interacts with his adoring fans. The only annoying part is Superman’s speech to Luthor during the battle; it seems like he’s gloating, rubbing in the fact that Lex has lost and is always going to lose.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #4 (DC, 2015) – B+/A-. As I just said on Facebook, this issue is evidence of the tremendous potential of Wonder Woman, which is currently being squandered by David and Meredith Finch. They should cancel the main Wonder Woman title and just rename this series to Wonder Woman. The highlight of the issue is the second part of a two-part Wonder Woman team-up by Gilbert Hernandez. It’s weird reading a DC story written in Beto’s distinctive and somewhat artificial style of dialogue, but this is a very energetic and exciting piece of work. Beto does a great job of visually and verbally distinguishing between Diana, Kara, and Mary Marvel, who shows up at the end. And given his interest in drawing large and powerful women, he’s well suited to the task of drawing Wonder Woman. I was less excited about hte second story, “Attack of the 500-Foot Wonder Woman” by Rob Williams and Tom Lyle, but it turned out to be surprisingly good. It reads like a Silver Age Justice League story, except for the gender-bending moment at the end: Diana takes Byth to Paradise Island, and Byth says that he can’t set foot on the island because he’s not a female, and Diana says, “Yes, and I thought you were a changeling?” I just edited my DCBS order to add the latest issue of Batman ’66, which is also written by Williams. The third story, a WW/Deadman team-up by Neil Kleid and Dean Haspiel, is not as memorable, but I like how Diana doesn’t initially believe that Deadman is who he claims to be. Overall, this is an impressive package, and I wish DC was publishing more good comics like this and less of the other kind.

WONDER WOMAN #18 (DC, 2013) – C+/B-. Some of my Facebook friends were unhappy at the news that the upcoming Wonder Woman movie is going to use her New 52 origin, and I sympathize. The New 52 WW may be an interesting comic in its own right, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s not Wonder Woman, it’s an original intellectual property that happens to have the same title. And even when I look at it in that way, this issue is not all that great. The plot is difficult to understand, since none of the characters are clearly identified, and it’s a fill-in issue, so there’s no Cliff Chiang artwork until the last couple pages. Also, Brian Azzarello’s version of Orion is completely unfaithful to Kirby’s version. This series has its good points, but it also illustrates why the New 52 universe just doesn’t feel like the DC Universe to me.