Reading notes for 4-19-15

4-5-15

I’m going to start calling these “reading notes” instead of reviews. I’m reading Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book Great, which is a collection of her essays on science fiction books for tor.com, and she writes “You won’t find any reviews here. Reviews are naturally concerned with new books, and are first reactions. Here I’m mostly talking about older books, and these are my thoughts on reading them again.” That’s not quite applicable to this blog because I’m talking about both new comics and old comics I’m reading for the first time, and I’m certainly providing my first reactions. Still, I think I’m more interested in writing short essays in the spirit of Jo Walton’s blog posts than in writing reviews. The point of these essays is not to evaluate comics and suggest whether anyone else ought to buy them, but just to record my thoughts and reactions to each comic I read, thereby making it easier for me to remember what I’ve read. Therefore, I’m going to stop assigning letter grades and I’m going to pay less attention to evaluating these comics – that’s not the point.

NAUGHTY BITS #30 (Fantagraphics, 1999) – I read this because I was reading Mimi Pond’s Over Easy for class, and something about its depiction of the ‘70s reminded me of “Bitchy’s College Days” in particular, and then I remembered I had these other unread issues of Naughty Bits and I felt an urge to read them. I love Roberta’s work and I’m curious as to what she’s doing now; I haven’t heard from her in a while. This issue begins with a fairly humorous autobiographical story in which Roberta and a friend go to a Republican picnic, where they unsurprisingly don’t feel especially welcome. The rest of the issue is a long Bitchy Bitch story, “Bitchy Bitch Gets Good and Ready!” This story has perhaps not aged well because it’s all about Y2K preparedness, but like many Bitchy stories (I guess I must be enjoying having an excuse to use that word), it’s really about how Midge gets all worked up over nothing. I remember I reacted exactly the same way when I first heard about Y2K, back when I was in summer camp, and I still have a habit of overreacting about nothing. Anyway, there’s also an interesting B plot here featuring Midge’s horrible Evangelical Christian coworker.

LUMBERJANES #12 (Boom!, 2015) – I thought this story was going to continue for at least one more issue, but this is a satisfying conclusion. It significantly develops I our understanding of the character of all the Lumberjanes except Jo – I’m sorry to harp on this again, but I still think Jo hasn’t gotten enough exposure as a character, and I have trouble seeing what distinguishes her from the other four. Anyway, both the plots in this issue are resolved in a satisfying way, though it’s disappointing that Jo and April never get any badges. I think the writers have forgotten that Bubbles is supposed to be Molly’s hat, because s/he seems to hang out with Ripley all the time now.

THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #3 (Marvel, 2015) – I didn’t love this issue as much as the last two, but I still loved it. Without looking back at it again, I think my favorite thing about this story is Chipmunk Hunk, who (unlike some other imaginary characters mentioned earlier in this series) is going to appear on at least the cover of a later issue. But yeah, I love practically everything about this comic, and maybe my favorite thing about it is that despite all her silliness, Squirrel Girl is a genuine hero. The way she inspires her roommate to behave heroically is pretty impressive.

MIND MGMT #31 (Image, 2015) – So begins the next to last storyline. This issue oddly doesn’t contain any MIND MGMT Field Guide entries along the margins; I suppose maybe this means Meru has already internalized the whole field guide, or something. I’ll have to go back to earlier issues and see if I can figure this out, or check the Multiversity Comics annotations. I had to flip through this issue to remind myself what it’s about, but it’s basically about the redemption of Harry Lime, and Matt Kindt accomplishes this in a satisfying way.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #8 (DC, 2015) – Juliet Kahn from Comics Alliance said that “Wonder World” is one of the greatest Wonder Woman stories ever, and I agree. In some ways it’s a bit too obvious and preachy, but it’s well-written and well-drawn and it shows Diana doing what she ought to do: serving as an inspiration to (young) women. But it’s also clearly the story of a young Diana who hasn’t learned restraint and is still unfamiliar with Patriarch’s World. Noelle Stevenson is the perfect artist for this story. She draws in a style that appeals to younger readers, she doesn’t depict characters in a sexualized way, and she’s capable of drawing a wide range of female body types. Of course the thing I remember most about this story is the running gag with the Amazons’ obsession with ice cream. This comic is proof of the sort of things that can be done with DC’s characters when they’re not being crippled by obsessive continuity or bad editorial policy, and I wish DC’s regular Wonder Woman title was anywhere near this good.

4-18-15

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #28 (IDW, 2015) – Another effective effort by the masters of pony comics, and a satisfying conclusion to the environmentalism story. I like that Fluttershy gets the chance to save the day. Now that we’ve seen societies of deer and bison, I wonder what other races of sentient quadrupeds exist in Equestria – I assume there must be societies of yaks, llamas and alpacas somewhere.

INVINCIBLE #118 (Image, 2015) – On the cover, the word “superhero” in “the best superhero comic in the universe” is crossed out. I suppose this is because this series is shifting its focus from superheroism to Mark and Eve’s family life, but a probably unintended alternative reading is is that Invincible is not a superhero comic anymore, because it’s stopped providing the pleasures associated with superhero comics. To paraphrase what I’ve written before about this series, the point of superhero comics is that the good guys win, and over the past year of Invincible stories, Mark has suffered one crushing defeat after another. As a reader, my confidence in Mark has been completely eroded. I no longer have faith in his ability to achieve great deeds. So maybe it’s best if Invincible no longer represents itself as a superhero title. As for the actual comic, this issue was okay but not fantastic. The amount of gross-out humor was excessive. I do appreciate that Mark is finally confronting the trauma of his rape, because that event had been so completely ignored in recent issues that I forgot it had happened at all.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #2 (Image, 2015) – In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The issue is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the issue begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every issue of Groo ever. This issue is better than #1 because it at least has an original plot that’s not a (possibly accidental) rehash of a previous Groo story, but it’s not that original. It’s another in a long line of stories where Granny Groo tries to exploit her grandson.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #6 (Dark Horse, 2015) – I still don’t completely understand the storyline of this series – I think it would read better in TPB form. Still, this was a very satisfying conclusion to the opening story arc. Olive’s relationship with Killer Croc is very cute, the pizza/mystery club is an exciting idea, and I look forward to Damian being a regular character in the series.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #8 (Image, 2015) – This is the one where Bacchus throws a dance party. This story is very reminiscent of Phonogram in its emphasis on music and dancing, and it does some weird things with narrative structure – there are a number of pages where the panels are deliberately not in chronological order.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #9 (Image, 2015) – This is the one where we learn that Ananke is not one of the gods; she’s an immortal who is responsible for finding and mentoring each generation of gods, and she always outlives them. Actually maybe we knew this already and I forgot it. Even then, Ananke’s story is deeply moving. And in this issue we also meet the twelfth god. I’m still not enjoying this series as much as I enjoyed some of Kieron Gillen’s other recent works, but it’s clearly a comic of very high quality.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #1 (IDW, 2015) – I never watched this TV show when I was a kid because I was not the target audience, so I’m only interested in this series because of the artwork of Sophie (formerly Ross) Campbell. Ever since I was introduced to her work with Glory, I’ve been fascinated with Campbell’s ability to draw women realistically and with varying body types, and that makes him the perfect artist for this series. At this point, though, I’m not in love with the story, though I’m a fan of Kelly Thompson’s critical writing.

ABIGAIL AND THE SNOWMAN #4 (Boom!, 2015) – This is a satisfying conclusion to the series – actually, too satisfying. You can tell that this comic is intended for young children, because the ending is implausible. How is Claude supposed to live with Abigail and her dad when he (Claude) has no marketable skills and no one knows he exists, and Abigail’s dad can barely put food on his family, to quote our former president? Overall, I enjoyed this series but I never thought it was anywhere near as good as Snarked.

PRINCESS UGG #8 (Oni, 2015) – Surprisingly this appears to be the last issue for now. This is the second consecutive Ted Naifeh comic that’s ended unexpectedly, although it says on the last page that “Ülga Will Return.” As a conclusion to what I assume is the first Princess Ugg story arc, this issue is extremely satisfying. I’m a bit surprised that Julifer has finally made a heel-face turn, because I thought she was unredeemable, but I guess it makes sense that she finally softened toward Ülga and/or gave in to peer pressure from the other princesses. This issue also presents a very satisfying resolution to the conflict between Ülga’s people and their traditional enemies. Ülga decides to negotiate with them rather than killing them, showing that she’s learned something from the civilized people as well as vice versa. This issue includes one of the best pieces of dialogue in any comic this year:

“We dinnae fear death! We’ll fight to teh last man!”
“And then your wives and children would be defenseless.”
“Yeh dinnae know our wives.”

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #6 (Image, 2015) – I allowed myself to fall behind on this series, because I’m not all that interested in reading Coach Boss’s origin story. I want to see more about Earl Tubbs’s daughter, who I thought was going to be the protagonist of the series. This flashback storyline seems like an interruption that’s preventing us from getting to more interesting material. I will admit that it’s a well-written and well-drawn story. Coach Boss’s determination and grit are impressive, and this story enables us to feel some sympathy for him, which is useful considering that the previous storyline depicted him as a horrible monster.

NAUGHTY BITS #29 (Fantagraphics, 1999) – The Bitchy Bitch story in this issue is just a seven-pager and it’s mostly setup for issue 30, reviewed above. The bulk of this issue is occupied by an autobiographical story in which Roberta visits her parents. At this point her father – Bob Gregory, a former Disney comics artist – had severe Alzheimer’s and her mother was having a terrible time dealing with him. (He died in 2003, four years after this issue was published.) This story is so text-heavy that it’s almost more of an illustrated text piece than a comic, but Roberta’s skill with facial expressions helps brings out the pathos of the situation. It’s clear that she hates to see her father suffer this way, and that there’s not much she can do to help. I haven’t read Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant yet, but it would be interesting to compare that comic with this one. This issue also includes a two-page backup story by Joyce Farmer, whose work I’d like to get around to reading sometime.

ROCKET SALVAGE #4 (Boom!, 2015) – This is a very fun and lighthearted story and I’m enjoying it a lot. The plot of this issue is rather predictable – it’s hardly a surprise that Evy and Primo fall in love and that Zeta learns to control her powers – but Mercado and Bachan tell this story in an effective way. I hope there will be a sequel to this miniseries.

BATGIRL #40 (DC, 2015) – This is probably the best issue yet. It ties together the confusing and scattered plot threads of the series in a logical and plausible way, and it raises interesting questions about technology and surveillance. And I like how the last scene takes us back to the beginning of issue 35, with Babs waking up at 2:36 I PM. My feelings about this series have been rather mixed, but I think at this point I’m convinced that Brenden, Cameron and Babs (Tarr, not Gordon) have good intentions, and I want to see them succeed.

LITTLE NEMO: RETURN TO SLUMBERLAND #4 (IDW, 2015) – I hadn’t realized this was the final issue for now. As usual, this issue is full of gorgeous artwork and brilliant ideas, and there’s even a moral to this story – Nemo originally didn’t want to be the princess’s playmate because he thought she would “be whiny and force me to play with dolls or something,” but as a result of their adventures together, he realizes he was wrong. Overall, this miniseries was very well-written and was one of the best-drawn comics of the year, and I look forward to the sequel. I do hope that now that this series is done, Eric will have some time to work on Age of Bronze, which has been on hiatus since 2013.

ELFQUEST: THE HIDDEN YEARS #9½ (WaRP, 1993) – I may have been uncharitable when I wrote that I was more ashamed of reading Elfquest than reading My Little Pony. Elfquest is not the most intelligently written comic, and it hasn’t evolved a whole lot since the ‘70s, but it’s not terrible, and I shouldn’t feel embarrassed about liking it. This particular issue is a big long fight scene in which Cutter and Rayek beat the crap out of each other, and it turns out that Rayek is losing on purpose in order to give Cutter some catharsis. This ends up being a fairly effective exercise in characterization. Rayek, in particular, is maybe the deepest and most complex character in Elfquest, and this story shows us that he has a generous and self-sacrificing side, beyond all the jealousy and unrequited love. Cutter’s portrayal in this issue is also interesting. He’s a warrior and an alpha male, but this story reminds us that his primary motivation is his love for his family, including Skywise.

DETECTIVE COMICS #761 (DC, 2001) – The main story in this issue vanished from my memory after I read it. Reading it again, I recall that it has something to do with an Internal Affairs investigation of the GCPD. And it also guest-stars Sasha Bordeaux, but I don’t know who that is. The backup story is much much better – it’s a story by Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke in which Slam Bradley searches for Catwoman. Darwyn’s artwork here is as gorgeous as ever.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #13 (Marvel, 2015) – I’m just not all that excited about this Haffensye storyline. One of my favorite things about this series is Carol’s Earth-based supporting cast, and we’ve hardly seen them at all lately. This has been a hit-or-miss series for me, and this issue is one of the misses.

INVINCIBLE #32 (Image, 2006) – This issue is mostly about the love triangle between Mark, Amber and Eve, although there is some plot here. Over the course of this issue, it becomes painfully obvious that Mark would be better off with Eve than Amber, although this may be easier to tell in retrospect. There’s a somewhat annoying scene in this issue where Mark saves some African people from a buffalo stampede. First, you have to wonder why these people would build their village in an area vulnerable to buffalo stampedes. Second, I don’t think we’re ever told where in Africa this story is taking place. These people are just generic Africans of no particular nation of ethnicity. This is a cliché we would be better off without.

SPIDER-MAN 2099 #4 (DC, 2015) – I’ve been buying this series but not reading it. I really need to get caught up on it, because this comic is actually good, and it has some nostalgia value for a longtime PAD fan like myself. For example, this issue takes place in Trans-Sabal, which was the setting for many of PAD’s ‘90s Marvel comics, although I think Fabian Nicieza used it too. Will Sliney’s artwork in this issue is quite good.

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #3 (Dark Horse, 2014) – I kept buying this series but stopped reading it, mostly due to embarrassment. I started reading it again because I finally decided to read this one Elfquest prose anthology that I’ve had for many years, and it gave me an appetite for more Elfquest. This particular issue continues the story of Ember’s tribe’s struggle with Angrif Djun. Angrif is not a particularly interesting villain because he’s a complete monster with no redeeming qualities – unlike, say, Winnowill, who is a far more complex character and is all the more horrible because we can sort of sympathize with her.

MS. TREE #33 (Renegade, 1986) – I read the previous installment of “Runaway II” a while ago, but never got around to this issue. Mostly this is because I have a ton of unread issues of Ms. Tree and I can’t decide which one to start with. This comic is as good as any issue of Ms. Tree. However, the main thing I remember about it is the relationship between Dan and Tracey Lynn, which is rather disturbing because a major plot point in the story is that the latter character is barely legal. There’s also a curious scene in this issue where a policeman asks Ms. Tree to meet him at the video store just so he can complain about how awful the porn industry has gotten lately. This scene has no purpose in the story other than to allow this character to serve as a mouthpiece for Max Collins. One of the other characters in the issue is a thinly disguised version of Larry Flynt.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #2 (Image, 2015) – Based on their stories in this issue, I think I like Gabriel Bá more than Fábio Moon. But they’re both incredible artists, and like the Hernandez brothers, their styles are both different and similar in interesting ways. As for the stories in this issue, I sort of understood them when I was reading them, but I would have difficulty summarizing them now. I do remember thinking that Casanova reminds me of Jerry Cornelius – or at least of my idea of what Jerry Cornelius might be like, since I still haven’t read those books.

ROCKET RACCOON #9 (Marvel, 2015) – In this issue, an elderly Rocket Raccoon uses a Voltron suit to battle Groot, who’s turned into a giant kaiju. Then we discover that this isn’t real, it’s just an imaginary future scenario. It’s a cute and funny story, but I still think this series has declined since Skottie Young stopped drawing it.

JUSTICE LEAGUE EUROPE #13 (DC, 1990) – This is one of the best issues of the series. In this story, a bunch of children are given a tour of the JLE embassy, but Power Girl’s cat teleports in and causes all sorts of mischief. The impressive feat of plotting here is that everything that happens in the issue is the cat’s fault, yet no one realizes the cat is there until the very end. The best scene in the issue is one where Wally West is taking a nap and dreams that he’s sinking into a pool of quicksand, and then he wakes up to discover that he’s choking because the cat is sleeping on his face.

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #4 (Dark Horse, 2014) – More of the same as last issue. This issue reintroduces Ardan Djarum, who apparently is not a new character but a preexisting villain. I have nothing else to say about it.

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #5 (Dark Horse, 2015) – In this issue Ember finally escapes from Angrif Djun, although he’s still alive and will presumably be back. Also, the big revelation in this story is that Teir is the son of Kahvi and Windkin, which is really kind of bizarre because Windkin himself wasn’t even conceived yet when Elfquest began. That’s the strange thing about a series that takes place across hundreds of years and multiple generations.

REVIVAL #23 (Image, 2014) – I missed this issue when I was trying to get caught up on this series. I previously didn’t understand what was going on with the elongated yellow ghost things, but this issue reveals that they’re created by loneliness, or something. It also resolves the plotline with the people in New York who were eating reviver flesh. The exciting thing I learned about Revival this month is that UW Marathon County is a real school and that Tim Seeley was a student there.

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #6 (Dark Horse, 2014) – Unfortunately this issue has almost no plot. It seems like once Elf-Mom and Elf-Dad were done with the Angrif Djun story, they didn’t know what to do next. (Incidentally, when I wrote Elf-Mom and Elf-Dad, I was inspired to go and do a Sporcle quiz on comic book creators’ nicknames. There are a lot of them.) Most of the issue is taken up with a flashback to Kahvi’s death. On the last page on the issue, there’s a panel where Ember and Teir are having sex, and then the very next panel depicts Ember’s parents having sex. I didn’t notice this at the time, but it’s a little bit creepy in retrospect.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #3 (Dark Horse, 2015) – In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The issue is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the issue begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every issue of Groo ever. This is easily the best issue of the series yet, but I feel that Sergio and Mark tried to do a bit too much here, and that they could have done more to exploit the potential of this premise. This issue includes a scene where Groo fights a giant clone of himself, and then a scene where Groo encounters an army of (normal-sized) clones of himself. Either of these ideas would have been enough for an entire issue on its own, and it’s important to save some ideas for later, especially in a series which is notorious for having the same joke every issue.

USAGI YOJIMBO #12 (Mirage, 1995) – This is an issue of the short-lived color Usagi series from Mirage. The coloring job here is not nearly as good as in the Usagi Color Special reviewed below, mostly because the paper stock is lower-quality. This issue is a fairly unmemorable story in which Usagi, Gen and Stray Dog defeat some criminals, whose boss has stolen Usagi’s sword. The surprising thing here is the revelation, at the end of the issue, that Stray Dog has been using the proceeds from his bounty hunting to support an orphanage. I know this fact was mentioned in later issues, but I assume this issue was the first time it was revealed (because otherwise the ending wouldn’t have been a surprise).

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #7 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Nothing really happens in this issue, except that Shenshen (I initially spelled that as Shenzhen) decides to become human so she can work as a midwife. This series continues to suffer from a lack of direction.

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #8 (Dark Horse, 2015) – And in this issue, Sunstream uses his powers to bring all the scattered elf tribes together. Given that this is the point that the entire series has been leading up to, it’s a surprisingly anticlimactic moment.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #29 (IDW, 2015) – Like many of Ted Anderson’s MLP stories, this is not incredible but it’s cute. The joke in this issue is that Cheerilee’s sister is a professional wrestler, and Cheerilee has to fill in for her after she gets injured. And the surprising revelation is that Cheerilee and her sister are not so different after all, even though one is an elementary school teacher and the other is a professional wrestler.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #15 (IDW, 2015) – The team-up in this issue is between Applejack and Mayor Mare, which appears to be her actual name. The plot is that Applejack goes to City Hall to contest a fine she received because her barn is too tall, and she encounters all kinds of bureaucratic red tape. This story is an effective insight into a character we know very little about, but it leaves me with the impression that Mayor Mare’s administration is horribly inefficient and that she’s running the city into the ground. Apparently it’s okay that no one at City Hall knows how to do their job, because “I could demand that everything be done how I want it, but I learned the hard way that that’s not always the best way to do things.” Not exactly a satisfying resolution.

STRANGE SPORTS STORIES #1 (DC, 2015) – This is the first Vertigo comic I’ve read in a long time. It’s an example of the sort of thing that Vertigo used to be capable of producing, before DC’s heavy-handed editorial policy and ungenerous intellectual property arrangements caused Vertigo to lose all its talent to other companies. The highlight of this issue is the Gilbert Hernandez story, which is a fairly light-hearted wish fulfillment fantasy about bullying. The Amy Chu/Tana Ford story is cute because it tricks us into making a mistaken assumption about what ESN stands for… wait, actually, that’s not true. In the second panel of the story, we’re told that ESN stands for Extraterrestrial Sports Network. Now that I notice that, it lowers my opinion of the story, because it turns out that ESN actually stands for something else, which makes me feel that the writer is lying to the reader. The third story is co-written by the brilliant SF author Lauren Beukes, but it’s just gross for no real reason. The final story, by Ivan Brandon and Amei Zhao, is touching, but a bit condescending toward the people of Cuba.

LADY KILLER #3 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Another fun and well-written issue. This story directly addresses the main theme of the series, which is sexism. Josie’s boss decides to have her killed because “the very qualities that make women an asset eventually make them liabilities.” Of course it’s not quite that easy. I don’t know why I haven’t read issue 4 yet.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: ENDGAME #1 (DC, 2015) – I somehow failed to order this, but I picked it up at Mega Comics in Gainesville, Florida. This issue is a collection of ghost stories by various artists, most notably including Vera Brosgol. It’s fun, but rather insubstantial. It’s not essential to the plot of Gotham Academy, and can be read without knowledge of whatever crossover it’s a part of.

YOUNG JUSTICE #38 (DC, 2001) – Another thing I found at Mega Comics. (Let me add, though, that that store’s back issue prices are way too high. Everything is overpriced by at least a couple dollars. I think that store makes its money from tabletop gaming and Magic, and the back issues are just there to look nice. I spent much more money there than I should have, just because it was the first time I’d been in a comic book store since January.) This issue is nominally a Joker’s Last Laugh crossover, although the only evidence of this is a guest appearance by Match, who’s dressed like the Joker. The joke is that the other YJ members think that he’s Superboy playing a prank. This leads to some amazing moments, particularly Cassie telling Match “My God, I can’t believe I ever loved you!” And then Match leaves and the real Superboy comes in and has no idea what’s been going on. There is all kinds of other fantastic stuff here. At one point, Cassie is complaining about how she hates online services, “especially Amer—”, and then Cissie comes in and reminds Cassie that she loves all online services, especially the biggest one, and she whispers something illegible to Cassie. The joke here, as I realized on rereading this scene, is that this issue was published just after AOL merged with Time Warner. As I read this issue, I thought that YJ might actually be PAD’s greatest work, although it’s been a long long time since I read any PAD Hulks.

SAVAGE DRAGON #41 (Image, 1997) – I bought this and a bunch of other comics at All-Star Comics, which was my regular store when I lived in Gainesville. It’s a much better store than Mega Comics – their back issues are fairly priced, the staff is friendly, and it feels like a comic book store rather than a game store. It’s just too bad that their new location is annoying to get to by bus. This issue depicts the wedding of Barbaric and Ricochet, which is attended by a large number of characters from other comics – Cerebus, Madman, the DNAgents, E-Man and Nova Kane, etc. And then of course the wedding is invaded by villains from other comics, including a rat creature who says “It will be quiche for dinner tonight” in the font from Bone. Overall this is one of the funnier issues of Savage Dragon and it’s a hilarious sendup of the clichéd superhero wedding plot, although it’s not at the same level as Incredible Hulk #118. The weird thing is that Barbaric and Ricochet both vanished from this series after this issue. They got married because Ricochet was pregnant, but I don’t think the baby ever appeared on panel, though there’s a much later issue where Barbaric and Ricochet’s three children make a cameo appearance. Bill Clinton appears on page one of this issue, making him one of at least two presidents to have been shown in this comic.

GROO THE WANDERER #53 (Marvel, 1989) – In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and causes a series of horrible disasters, despite having good intentions. The issue is brilliantly drawn by Sergio Aragonés and is enlivened by Mark Evanier’s witty dialogue. Also, the issue begins with a poem and ends with a moral, and includes a cleverly hidden message. Oh wait, I just described every issue of Groo ever. So much stuff happens in this issue that it’s hard to summarize, but I’ll try: Groo teams up with Chakaal against Pal and Drumm, who are running a scam where they breed dragons and sell them as protection. In the course of battling them, Groo almost drowns, but obviously he doesn’t actually drown. There’s a lot of fun stuff here, but the story does not hold together especially well.

Before I got the chance to read any of the other comics I had bought in Gainesville, I returned home to Oxford, where my biweekly shipment of comics was waiting for me:

SAGA #27 (Image, 2015) – By the time I read this issue, I had already flipped through it at the store as well as reading a preview of it, and this colored my opinion a little. The main theme of this issue is Marko’s attempts to deal with his history of violence. We finally start to understand why Marko was a pacifist at the very beginning of the story, and Marko starts to deal with his guilt over having thrown the bag of groceries at Alana in issue 22. I kind of complained about this scene in my review of that issue, but I’m starting to see how it fits into Marko’s character arc. And I think that BKV is aware of the moral significance of this action and that he’s prepared to treat it with an appropriate level of seriousness – unlike another writer I can name, who begins with Robert and ends with Kirkman.

RAT QUEENS #10 (Image, 2015) – I was going to say that it’s been such a long time since the previous issue, I’d forgotten what was going on. But it turns out that Rat Queens #9 came out last month and I missed it! I guess it must have been solicited before I started ordering comics from DCBS, or something. That explains why the plot of this issue didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I look forward to reading this comic again after I’ve read issue 9.

ODY-C #4 (Image, 2015) – This may be my least favorite issue yet, because it’s just a rather straightforward retelling of the Cyclops episode. But the splash page where the Cyclops shouts the name “All-Men” is pretty impressive. I do take exception to something in this issue. In the Odyssey, the Cyclops learns Odysseus’s name because Odysseus tells him. As Odysseus is sailing away after having blinded Polyphemus, he identifies himself as Odysseus, Laertes’s son, of Ithaca, and then Polyphemus prays to Poseidon to curse Odysseus. As an undergrad, I wrote a paper arguing that this means Odysseus brought his subsequent troubles upon himself, because if he hadn’t been foolish enough to identify himself, Poseidon wouldn’t have known whom to curse. But in ODY-C, Poseidon watches the whole thing going on and is aware of who Odysseus is. I suppose that interpretation makes sense (after all, Poseidon must have been familiar with Odysseus from the Trojan War), it just doesn’t agree with my own reading of the Odyssey.

SPIDER-GWEN #3 (Marvel, 2015) – Just after reading this issue, I wrote on Facebook that Spider-Gwen is the best Spider-Man comic since Kurt Busiek’s Untold Tales. Some of my Facebook friends violently disagreed with this, but I stand behind that opinion. Unlike most recent Spider-Man comics, this is not a rehash, it’s an original work that rethinks the character in new and (both politically and artistically) progressive ways, and it’s well-written and well-drawn. And besides that, the franchise has been in fairly dire straits since the ‘80s. This issue is perhaps my least favorite yet, but it still offers some powerful insight into the characters of Gwen and Captain Stacy.

ASTRO CITY #22 (DC, 2015) – It’s probably my imagination, but the main character of this issue reminds me of Sam Glanzman – mostly because of the mustache, I think. (As I was writing this, I asked Kurt about this on his Facebook page, and he said I was imagining it, but it would have been cool.) This issue is a change of pace from the Quarrel/Crackerjack storyline because it doesn’t have much of a plot; it’s more of a character study, about an aging superhero who realizes it’s time to retire. Which, come to think of it, is the same basic plot as the previous storyline, except that this issue has a completely different vibe. Starfighter is fine with the idea of ending his career and letting younger people take over, while Crackerjack and Quarrel see retirement as something to be feared, because it means the end of their usefulness. I guess the difference is that unlike Crackerjack or Quarrel, Starfighter has things to live for other than his job – i.e. his family and his writing career. The fact that it’s even possible to engage in this sort of discussion of Astro City is evidence of what a subtle and sophisticated piece of work it is. Kurt is writing about superheroes at a far more advanced level than anyone else in the industry.

HELP US! GREAT WARRIOR #3 (Boom!, 2015) – This series continues to be an extremely quick and insubstantial read. It’s cute and it has an appealing style of humor, but I wish there was more weight to it. Maybe it reads better as a webcomic than a print comic.

HOWARD THE DUCK #2 (Marvel, 2015) – Another good issue. Rocket Raccoon is turning into the new version of Wolverine, in that he appears in seemingly every Marvel comic just to boost sales, but his scenes in this issue are funny and well-written. Zdarsky’s version of Howard is clearly closer to Gerber’s version than the movie version, and I still think Gerber would be proud of this comic. The last page of this issue is puzzling to me because I feel like it should be the Kidney Lady holding a gun on Howard, not Aunt May.

KAIJUMAX #1 (Image, 2015) – I somehow got the idea that Ulises Farinas was the artist for this comic, because he’s been promoting it heavily on Facebook. I was wrong; it’s a solo production by Zander Cannon. I have not read any of Zander’s solo work before. This comic is well-executed and has a hilarious premise, about a prison for kaiju. I do think that Zander could be getting even more humor value from this premise than he is.

NO MERCY #1 (Image, 2015) – This comic is a serious departure from the sort of thing I associate with Carla Speed McNeil, although it’s not the first realistic work she’s done. This comic is about a bunch of overprivileged Ivy League students (redundant?) who go to Mexico on a school-building trip, and end up getting stranded in the wilderness after a bus accident. I’m not familiar with Alex de Campi’s writing, but he and Carla do a fantastic job of characterizing the students and distinguishing them from each other. And this series has the potential to be an incisive critique of class privilege and voluntourism. It reminds me of Pippa Biddle’s article “The Problem with Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism.”

SOUTHERN CROSS #1 (Image, 2015) – Over the past week I’ve repeatedly listened to the song with the same name as this comic, and I think the song is better written. Becky Cloonan’s artwork is gorgeous; she does fantastic stuff with panel structure. But the plot of this comic is almost devoid of interest. There’s nothing in this issue that makes me want to read issue 2, even though I already have it.

CHEW #28 (Image, 2012) – This is identified as part 3 of “Space Cakes,” but it’s realy a standalone story, in which Tony, Colby and Poyo defeat a plot to create explosive cows. It’s neither better nor worse than any other issue of Chew.

MY LITTLE PONY: FIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #1 (IDW, 2015) – I’ve read nearly every MLP comic and seen nearly every TV episode, and I think this is the grimmest MLP story yet. It’s the origin of King Sombra, and it tells how he discovers himself to be a shadow pony, and subsequently kills Princess Amore and rejects his best friend, Radiant Hope. (The story leaves open the possibility that Princess Amore could be revived someday, but she’s more or less dead.) The impression I get from this story is that Sombra honestly tried to do good, but was overwhelmed by his inherently evil nature, and this message is rather inconsistent with the values of the franchise.

THE AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH & CLAW #4 (Image, 2015) – I’m still not enjoying this series nearly as much as Astro City, or even as much as I liked Arrowsmith, but this issue is well-written and well-drawn and it advances the story effectively. I wish the Great Champion would stop swearing so much, although gratuitous swearing is probably in character for him. The flashback where he remembers his wife and family is adorable.

TEEN DOG #5 (Boom!, 2015) – I wonder if this issue’s cover was consciously based on that of Love & Rockets #24 (i.e. the red cover with Terry Downe playing guitar). This issue has the same jokes as every other issue of the series, but they’re good jokes. Teen Dog has the same sensibility as Help Us! Great Warrior, but I think it’s just better executed.

<a name="tec843"DETECTIVE COMICS #843 (DC, 2008) – This is drawn by Dustin Nguyen, but not in the style I usually associate with them – it looks line-drawn rather than painted. And he draws Zatanna, who guest-stars in this issue, in a somewhat exploitative way. The story, in which Batman and Zatanna battle the new Ventriloquist, is reasonably good. I like Paul Dini’s writing, but his obsession with Zatanna is annoying.

THE AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH & CLAW #5 (Image, 2015) – I think I liked this issue better than the last one, though I’m not sure why. At least the plot is finally going somewhere, with the tensions between Gharta and Sandorst coming to a head. I like the relationship between the Great Champion and the narrator, whose name I can’t remember.

MY LITTLE PONY: FIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #2 (IDW, 2015) – The origin of Lord Tirek is much less grim and depressing than that of King Sombra. It’s clear that Tirek’s descent into villainy is the result of his own bad choices. He had every opportunity to take a different path, and he chose not to. This makes him much less of a victim or a tragic figure. I was a little confused as to why Tirek is a centaur but his brother is a manticore, but the story answers that question by showing that their parents are a mixed-species couple.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #23 (DC, 1991) – If I were still assigning grades, then I would give this comic a very poor one. The “Quiet Darkness” chapter in this issue is both boring and confusing. Al Gordon is just not a competent writer. The backup story, which is less a story than a series of vignettes showing what else is going on, is a bit better.

SNARF #7 (Kitchen Sink, 1977) – This late example of underground comics includes a wide variety of material. The cover is by Art Spiegelman, but I’m not sure who the two characters are supposed to be – I thought they were Abbott and Costello, but they look like Theodore Roosevelt. I’m not sure what’s going on here. The issue itself includes some brilliant work by Kim Deitch and Howard Cruse, as well as a three-pager by Justin Green which is a bit disappointing because it’s not autobiographical. The surprising revelation here is “Gypsy Ginger” by George Metzger, about a country-dwelling hippie who visits the city and promptly gets robbed of his money and possessions. It’s an interesting depiction of the waning years of the hippie movement. This issue also includes stories by Sharon Rudahl and Joel Beck.

SILK #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I haven’t been reading this comic because I’m not familiar with the talent, but it’s become so popular that I feel obliged to start reading it. This issue is pretty good. The artwork and writing are effective, and Silk is an intriguing character. I like that this comic is accessible even if you haven’t been reading Spider-Verse; all you need to know is that Silk’s been trapped in a bunker for ten years, and that she’s been having some sort of romance with Spider-Man.

BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #3 (DC, 2013) – This is easily my favorite recent Batman comic. This issue begins with the Valentine’s Day story, in which Joker spills a love potion on himself, causing every woman in Gotham to fall in love with him. This could easily have been horrifying if it were drawn in a different style, but Dustin Nguyen makes it funny. The backup story is somewhat disturbing because of the Orientalism involved. Damian goes to a Chinese neighborhood for martial arts training, but his teacher is Katana, who is obviously Japanese, not Chinese.

HERO CATS #2 (Action Lab, 2014) – This is nothing especially great, but it’s a fun, lighthearted romp. I think my favorite thing about this series is the way Marcus Williams draws cats; he makes all the cats in the series look different and unique.

HAWKEYE #1 (Marvel, 2013) – My copy of this issue is a fifth printing. Hawkeye #1 is a thrilling introduction to probably the best Marvel comic in recent years. It introduces the Tracksuits and Pizza Dog, thereby making it somewhat easier for me to understand the plot of subsequent issues. The story is out of chronological order, but rather than causing confusion, this increases the level of dramatic tension.

SUPERBOY #13 (DC, 1995) – In part one of “Watery Grave,” Superboy joins a Suicide Squad mission along with King Shark and many characters from the classic Suicide Squad series. Karl Kesel does a good job of capturing the personalities of Amanda Waller, Captain Boomerang and Deadshot, and there’s a lot of other fun stuff in this issue, but it’s mostly setup.

RADIOACTIVE MAN #1 (Bongo, 1993) – This is a brilliant superhero parody. I think this comic as a whole is the best thing to come out of Bongo Comics’s Simpsons imprint. The Radioactive Man origin story is funny, but the clear highlight of the issue is the second story, which is a parody of Wertham’s anti-comics campaign. The creators subscribe to the view that the Comics Code was an attempt by Archie and other publishers to run EC out of business, and I assume that the villain of the story, J.J. Bellwether, is based on John Goldwater. This story is a sophisticated piece of satire which gets better the more you know about ‘50s comics.

USAGI YOJIMBO COLOR SPECIAL #2 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – This issue features a brilliant coloring job by Tom Luth, which takes advantage of the glossy paper stock that the issue is printed on. The story in this issue, about a painter who uses paints that allow him to draw monsters into existence, is eerie and unsettling. However, suffers by comparison with issues 66 to 68 of the Dark Horse series, which are a more extended version of the same idea. At the end of Color Special #2, the paint set vanishes, so I actually assumed that it was the same one that reappears in issue 66. But I checked my copy of issue 66, and it doesn’t mention Color Special #2 at all, nor does Usagi ever acknowledge the fact that he’s encountered this sort of menace before. I wonder if Stan just forgot about Color Special #2 when he was writing #66.

ZORRO #12 (Dell, 1960) – This issue is missing the centerfold. I wish I had known that before I paid $7 (in Canadian money, at that) for it. The artwork and storytelling in this issue are brilliant, but I would probably be better off just ordering the Complete Alex Toth Zorro books.

GREEN LANTERN #175 (DC, 1984) – The Wein/Gibbons Green Lantern was not nearly as much of a classic as the subsequent Englehart/Staton run, but it does have some incredible artwork. In this issue, Gibbons does things with panel structure and composition that most American cartoonists of that era would have been unable to even imagine. The annoying thing about this issue is the plot. Every scene is introduced with a panel showing a newspaper, plus the caption “To most it is merely a newspaper, but to one/some, it is…” and this gets annoying really quickly.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: HULK #8 (Marvel, 2008) – This issue introduces the Marvel Adventures version of the Defenders. It’s funny and entertaining, like most Marvel Adventures comics, although Paul Benjamin is a less talented writer than Paul Tobin. I think my favorite thing about this issue is the villain, a two-headed monster called The Nameless One. Its bottom head talks in standard supervillain dialogue (“Come, my minions! Soon this new world shall be our own!”) but its top head talks like a normal person (“Last one through the stargate’s a rotten larvae!”) And there is never any explanation of why this is, which makes it funnier. I do wonder why this character wasn’t just called the Bi-Beast, because that’s pretty much who he is.

BATMAN #451 (DC, 1990) – The issue before this one was one of the first comics I ever read, probably shortly after it was published. In that issue, an emotionally shattered Joker tries to recover his confidence, while Curtis Base, a yuppie businessman, becomes the new Joker. I have fond memories of issue 450, but my memories may have been playing me false, because issue 451 is not particularly good. It’s full of annoying Marv Wolfmanisms, the plot happens too fast, and it’s not Jim Aparo’s best art job. Possibly the problem is that issue 450 was probably the first Marv Wolfman comic I’ve ever read, and I’ve read hundreds of others since, and I’ve gotten kind of sick of Marv’s writing. As I read this issue, I even thought that maybe Marv was never that great a writer to begin with – maybe he just had the good luck to be paired with Gene Colan and then George Perez. Though that’s probably an overly extreme opinion.

DETECTIVE COMICS #863 (DC, 2010) – I think I bought this when it came out, but I never read it because I was disappointed that the artwork is by Jock instead of JH Williams III. Despite that, this issue was surprisingly good. The lead story includes two simultaneous plot threads, one that involves Batman and is colored in blue, and another that involves Batwoman and is colored in red. This is a fun narrative device, although it took me a while to figure out that these plots were separate from each other, and I’m still not sure how they’re connected. The backup story, starring the Question and Huntress, is worse than the main story.

INVINCIBLE #56 (Image, 2008) – This issue includes a number of cute scenes. Mark and Eve discover that it’s kind of awkward for them to sleep together in Mark’s parents’ house, and Oliver has his first solo adventure as Kid Omni-Man. Disturbingly, this issue also includes a scene where Mark discovers that Amber’s new boyfriend Gary has been beating her. After Mark threatens to kill Gary if he does it again, Amber decides to take Gary back. There are subtle hints that Mark is unhappy with this resolution, but as far as I know, Amber and Gary never appeared again after this point, so it looks like Kirkman may have just forgotten to explore this plot thread any further.

ACTION COMICS #340 (DC, 1966) – This is the first appearance of the Parasite. His debut story, written by Jim Shooter, is much better than a typical Superman story from this period. The Parasite is represented as a serious threat to Superman, and Shooter even creates suspense as to how Superman is going to survive their encounter. This story is more like a Marvel comic than a typical Superman comic of the period. In the end, the Parasite ultimately defeats himself because his body is too frail to contain the energy he absorbs from Superman. This is a cliché, but it was probably less of a cliché in 1966 than it is now. Unfortunately this issue alslo includes a Supergirl backup story by Dorfman and Mooney, which is a typical piece of insulting Silver Age nonsense.

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #12 (DC, 2007) – The last page of this issue introduces Bzzd, the insect Green Lantern who’s the partner of the planet Green Lantern Mogo. I love the idea of an insect and a planet being partners, and I love Bzzd’s observation that the human-sized GL’s are smaller relative to Mogo than Bzzd is relative to them. Sadly the rest of the issue is not nearly as good, and Dave Gibbons gets Kilowog’s speech pattern completely wrong.

TEEN DOG #6 (Boom!, 2015) – In this issue, Teen Dog and Mari each get a job, and shenanigans ensue. This issue is funny, but I don’t have anything to say about it that I haven’t already said about earlier issues.

USAGI YOJIMBO #51 (Dark Horse, 2001) – I read part 1 of “The Shrouded Moon” so long ago that I don’t remember it, but Sakai provides enough background information that part 2 can be understood on its own. The only problem is that when Usagi claims that the villain of the story is one of the most evil people he’s ever met, the reader can’t tell why without having read issue 50. The title of the story translates as “oborozukiyo,” which is also the name of a chapter from the Tale of Genji. In this story, Usagi falls into a vat of dye and his fur turns green, which leads to a hilarious inside joke when Gen tells him to stop being such a joker. Usagi goes on to pursue the aforementioned villain, and with his green fur and his fearsome expression, he looks so frightening that the villain dies of a heart attack without Usagi having to lay a finger on him. Usagi has rarely been scarier than in this story. I suppose the other way this issue is reminiscent of Batman is that the villain of the issue is clearly a superstitious and cowardly lot. At the end of the issue, the plot is resolved in a satisfying and surprising way, and when I finished this issue, I thought it was one of the best Usagi stories I’d read recently.

THE BLACK DRAGON #1 (Marvel, 1985) – This is a work of medieval historical fiction by Claremont and John Bolton. It’s notorious for its (at least attempted) historical accuracy – the queen in the story is clearly supposed to be Eleanor of Aquitaine, for example – but the real highlight is John Bolton’s artwork. Bolton is an incredible artist, but his body of work is rather small and hard to find, so it’s nice to see some more of it. I look forward to reading the rest of this series, and I also want to check out Marada the She-Wolf by the same creative team.

PEEP SHOW #2 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1992) – I think the joke in this series is that Joe Matt depicts himself as being worse than he actually is. If Joe Matt is really as much of a thoughtless, insensitive, rude, self-absorbed ass as he depicts himself in this story, then I can’t imagine how Seth or Chester Brown can tolerate him, let alone his girlfriend Trish (who becomes his ex-girlfriend in this story). This is an extremely well-crafted comic – Joe Matt’s artwork and even his lettering are excellent – but it’s distasteful to read because of the horribleness of its protagonist.

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