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, mycomicshop.com 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.