Squirrel Girl paper from Wiscon

This is the paper about Squirrel Girl that I gave at Wiscon last weekend. It was a lot of fun to write and to present.

I Don’t Need Luck, I Eat Nuts: Squirrel Girl and Female Comics Fandom


Aaron Kashtan

Miami University (OH)


URL for slide show:


SLIDE 1 Let me begin by asking you, who is the most powerful superhero in the Marvel Universe? If you say the Hulk or Thor or the Silver Surfer, you are wrong. The answer is Squirrel Girl. SLIDE 2 She has defeated villains like Dr. Doom and Thanos with nothing but her bare hands. She has never lost a battle and she probably never will, because she’s awesome. SLIDE 3 Now this character probably sounds like a joke to you, and she is, but she also has serious things to tell us about superhero comics and their audiences. Previously, Squirrel Girl was a character intended as a satire on the superhero genre, and she was only funny to existing fans of superhero comic books, who were largely straight white men. But in her new series, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, she’s turned into more of an affectionate joke that can be shared both by existing fans and by new readers, and for that reason, she’s become a central part of Marvel’s recent efforts to expand the reach of the superhero genre.

So the context for this paper is that until very recently, superhero comics have been a primarily male-dominated genre. As I argued in a recent article on the Hooded Utilitarian blog, the comics industry, as a whole, has recently made major strides toward diversification, specifically in terms of appealing to women as well as younger readers and to readers of color. Right now six of the top ten books on the New York Times bestseller list for Paperback Graphic Books had at least one female creator, and last week it was nine out of ten. SLIDE 4 Graphic novels like Persepolis and Fun Home are staples on university syllabi. The one exception to this trend has been superhero comics. Marvel and DC comics still tend to be created mostly by and for men, and the comic book store continues to be a primarily male environment. SLIDE 5 However, at this situation is changing. Marvel, and increasingly also DC, have sought to reach out to new audiences, including female readers and people who got into comic books through the Internet, and those categories overlap. And Squirrel Girl is interesting as an example of these shifts in the target audience for the superhero genre.

To explain this, I need to describe Squirrel Girl’s past history. Squirrel Girl is Doreen Green, a teenage girl who has buck teeth and a bushy tail and the ability to speak to and command squirrels. She was created in 1991 by Will Murray, who is famous mostly this reason, and Steve Ditko, the co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. She first appeared in a 1991 story where she teams up with Iron Man and unsuccessfully asks to be his sidekick, and then she battles Dr. Doom and wins defeats him by summoning a horde of squirrels to attack him. SLIDE 6 And the title of this presentation comes from what Squirrel Girl says when Iron Man wishes her luck. SLIDE 7

If this story looks and sounds kind of stupid, then it is. And in 1991, it blatantly contradicted the dominant tone of Marvel comics. At the time, Marvel’s core audiences were teenage boys and older men who had been reading Marvel comics their entire lives. These audiences wanted superhero comics to be serious. Due to the influence of Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns in the ‘80s, superhero comics in the ‘90s tried to be grim, dark and violent. SLIDE 8 Marvel’s biggest-selling characters at the time were murderous vigilantes like Ghost Rider and Punisher. SLIDE 9 Also, Marvel’s creators as well as their readers were obsessed with internal consistency. When you bought a Marvel comics, there was an implicit warranty that it fit into the same universe as every other Marvel comic and that it didn’t violate continuity or misrepresent the characters. Marvel comics were supposed to be Serious Business. Therefore, the Squirrel Girl story stood out like a sore thumb because it was silly and because it contradicted the established character of Dr. Doom – he was supposed to be this terrible villain and yet he was defeated by a buck-toothed 14-year-old girl and a horde of rodents. It was an embarrassing scene that both Marvel creators and fans would prefer to forget – kind of like the story where the Thing and the Human Torch wear Beatles wigs, SLIDE 10 or the story with a villain who erases people. SLIDE 11 These stories were published in the ‘60s when Marvel took itself less seriously and had a broader target audience. By 1991, Marvel’s audience was defined in such a way as to exclude the sort of readers who would have thought Squirrel Girl was funny. And this is probably why she did not make another significant appearance for the next fourteen years. She was buried, like so many acorns.

But comic book writers have as good a memory for old characters as squirrels have for buried nuts, and so in 2005, Dan Slott revived Squirrel Girl for his miniseries Great Lakes Avengers. SLIDE 12 Now briefly, Great Lakes Avengers was a piece of self-parody on Marvel’s part. The Great Lakes Avengers were a group of joke characters who were created by John Byrne in 1989, and Dan Slott used them to make fun of the negative tendencies of post-‘80s superhero comics, including excessive violence and obsession with continuity. For a couple reasons, Squirrel Girl fit perfectly into this effort. First, her lighthearted, wholesome attitude allows her to make fun of the excessive violence and grimness of the comics of the period. And in this sense she acts as a mouthpiece for the author. This series breaks the fourth wall, so Squirrel Girl is aware she’s in a comic book. SLIDE 13 And she does things like complain about the unrealistic portrayal of women in superhero comics or the excessive level of violence. For example, in issue 3, Squirrel Girl looks at a comic book and says “Oh my, this poor lady! I think all her internal organs got squeezed up into her chest.” In the next issue, when her squirrel sidekick Monkey Joe is brutally killed, Squirrel Girl says “Don’t you get it? This is a comic book and comic books are supposed to be fun.” And she continues: “Who would do that and put it in a comic book? Who’d want to read about somebody dying like that?” SLIDE 14 Oh, and also it turns out Monkey Joe was killed by someone walking on his brain, which is a specific reference to a contemporary DC comic called Infinite Crisis where the Elongated Man’s wife is killed in the same way, and this is so subtle that even I didn’t get it. SLIDE 15 Now the humor here depends on the reader’s knowledge that excessive violence and sexist portrayals of women were endemic to superhero comics at the time. In other words, these jokes are only funny to you if you already read superhero comics and you are also annoyed at their graphic violence or their depictions of women with impossible proportions. The implied audience here is people who grew up reading superhero comics and who are annoyed at the direction the genre is taken.

Now Dan Slott also uses Squirrel Girl to tell another kind of joke that also appeals primarily to existing fans of superhero comics. Half the fun of superhero comics is their narrative consistency. The Marvel and DC Universes are giant shared universes where events in one title influence events in other titles, and that means maintaining consistency across the universe is important. Part of that is maintaining the relative power of characters. The other half of the fun of superhero comics is debating which character is the most powerful and which character could beat which other character up. So Dan Slott makes fun of that by exaggerating Squirrel Girl’s ability to defeat much more powerful villains, which was first demonstrated when she beat up Dr. Doom. In the GLXmas Holiday Special Squirrel Girl single-handedly defeats Thanos, off-panel, and Uatu the Watcher confirms that this is the real Thanos and not a clone or a Life Model Decoy. SLIDE 16 The joke here is that Thanos is one of the most powerful villains in the Marvel Universe, and not only did he just get beaten by a teenage girl and her pet rodents, but the fact that this happened is an official part of Marvel Universe continuity. So Dan Slott is using Squirrel Girl to make a mockery of the narrative logic of the Marvel Universe, and again, this joke is only funny to people who already understand that narrative logic.

So to summarize, when Squirrel Girl was created, she had no target audience at all. When she was reintroduced, her target audience was existing fans of Marvel comics. Now the current Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series marks a new direction for the character because its target audience is people who aren’t already fans of superhero comics, specifically including women and/or people who discovered comics through the Internet. Because of that, Squirrel Girl demonstrates how Marvel is transforming the superhero genre by broadening its appeal.

Now in the first place, Squirrel Girl is notable for its appeal to Internet fandom. All the previous Squirrel Girl comics were created by people who had worked primarily in superhero comics. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is written by Ryan North, who comes from a very different comics tradition; his other best-known works are his webcomic Dinosaur Comics and his Choose Your Own Adventure version of Hamlet. SLIDE 17 I don’t know as much about the artist, Erica Henderson, but her official biography states that she’s worked primarily in video game illustration and on non-superhero comics like Atomic Robo and Adventure Time. Now Unbeatable Squirrel Girl reflects the creators’ interests in digital and Internet culture. At the bottom of every page of every issue there’s a hidden message in barely readable text, which is essentially the same as the alt text in webcomics. The comic contains other references to Internet and video game culture. The cover of issue 4 is a deliberate homage to Marvel vs Capcom, SLIDE 18 and the actual issue begins with a fake Tumblr feed. The creators even manipulate the currently common practice of distributing preview pages from upcoming comic books over the Internet. In the preview of issue 4, there’s one page showing Squirrel Girl sitting on top of Galactus’s prone body and saying “Well, gosh, that wasn’t so hard after all!” SLIDE 19 And then the two pages after that are the letter column. Now when this issue was previewed on sites like, the preview included just these three pages. Customarily the letter column appears at the end of a comic book, so if you read the preview, you would think that this page here is the last page and the comic book ends with Squirrel Girl beating Galactus. But actually the preview pages are the first three pages in the comic, so the comic begins with Squirrel Girl beating Galactus and the rest of the comic comes after the letters page. I’ll pass around the comic book so you can see what I mean. The point is, this joke is only funny if you first read the preview of the comic book on the Internet, and then read the actual comic book.

So in order to get all these jokes, you have to be familiar with video games and Internet culture and other digital phenomena, and you also have to be reading comic books digitally, whereas in the previous Squirrel Girl comics, the humor basically just assumed knowledge of other comic books. That means the implied reader of this comic is someone who’s very media-savvy. And the protagonists of the comic are highly media-savvy themselves. You may have noticed that when Squirrel Girl was sitting on top of Galactus, she was taking a selfie. The other major character in the series, Squirrel Girl’s roommate Nancy, is a fanfiction writer who writes stories where her cat becomes Cat-Thor, Cat-God of Cat-Thunder. SLIDE 20 So Squirrel Girl is one of several recent Marvel titles that have included extended references to digital culture. And this is significant because in the past, Marvel was completely out of touch with the Internet; a notorious example of this is the scene in Civil War: Frontline where an interviewer asks Captain America if he has a Myspace page. SLIDE 21 But with titles like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Marvel is reaching out to people who discovered comics not by visiting comic book stores but through Internet spaces like Scans_Daily and Tumblr, and this opens up the comic to new and diverse groups of fans. In this context it’s also relevant that in terms of the artwork, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl has much more in common with cartoons like Adventure Time than with typical superhero comics, and this means Squirrel Girl is more appealing to new readers than to people who are used to the typical Marvel house style. On, when the first issue was previewed, people complained about the artwork precisely because it didn’t look like a standard Marvel comic, but that’s the whole point. By using this style of artwork, Erica Henderson is able to attract fans of intellectual properties like Adventure Time that have much larger audiences than comic books.

But the other way that Unbeatable Squirrel Girl tries to attract a new audience is because it takes the character seriously, and again, this makes it a major departure from past Squirrel Girl comics. Under previous writers, Squirrel Girl’s unbeatability was a joke. Dan Slott decided to emphasize Squirrel Girl’s ability to defeat villains like Modok and Thanos because he wanted to make a mockery of the Marvel Universe – he was basically saying, look, fans, you think these villains are so powerful and awful, well, it turns out they can be beaten by a bucktoothed teenage girl with idiotic powers. And Squirrel Girl didn’t win these battles legitimately, she won because of authorial fiat, that is to say, she won because the writer said so. When Squirrel Girl defeats Thanos, it happens entirely off-panel and there’s no explanation of how she did it. By contrast, in Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl wins because she deserves to win. She may just be a squirrel, but as she reminds us repeatedly, squirrels are pretty savage creatures, especially in large numbers. SLIDE 22 But on top of that, even though Squirrel Girl could just beat people up, she thinks it’s more important to make peace with them. In issue 1, she gets rid of Kraven the Hunter by convincing him to go hunt undersea monsters instead of Spider-Man. In issue 4, she quote-unquote “defeats” Galactus, the most powerful entity in the Marvel Universe, by convincing him that instead of eating Earth, he should go eat another planet that’s covered with delicious nuts. So this version of Squirrel Girl is a truly formidable character and she’s unbeatable because she uses her brains and her emotional intelligence as well as her squirrel powers. And she’s also depicted as a committed and responsible and intellectually curious person. She decides to study computer science in college instead of squirrels, because she already knows everything about squirrels and she doesn’t just want to be Squirrel Girl, she also wants to be Ensuring Consistency Across Distributed Database Systems Girl. She’s also comfortable with her body, despite not having the sort of physique that’s become stereotypical in superhero comics. Maybe the most widely shared panel of issue 1 on social media was this one, in which Squirrel Girl disguises her secret identity by stuffing her tail into her pants, so she “appear[s] to have a conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt.” SLIDE 23 As Kelly Thompson writes, “Squirrel Girl is also not drawn to look “traditionally beautiful” … her body shape, height, and even her haircut are totally atypical for “pretty” and idealized comic book heroines. It’s actually kind of amazing that the book gets away with it and I love everyone involved all the more for just going for it.” So I would argue that in all these ways, Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is a subversively feminist superhero title in the sense that it takes what was previously a joke character and turns her into a genuine role model, an example of positive female representation that a broad range of readers can identify with.

But in a larger sense, the reason Unbeatable Squirrel Girl expands the scope of the superhero genre because it unabashedly accepts the silliness of the superhero genre. Because even though this comic takes Squirrel Girl seriously, this is still a humor title. It features things like a giant human-sized squirrel colony punching people. Now Great Lakes Avengers is also a humor title, but its humor is fundamentally negative. It emphasizes the embarrassing nature of the superhero genre and it makes the reader feel ashamed of reading it. This is a common theme in parodies of comic book fandom, although there are others, like Evan Dorkin’s Eltingville Club, that are far harsher. SLIDE 24 The difference with Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is that it accepts the fundamental silliness and implausibility of the superhero genre and suggests that this is a good thing and that reading superhero comics is not something anyone should be ashamed of. And this is important because it shatters the prejudice that superhero comics are only for basement-dwelling nerds. Ultimately the message of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is that a girl with squirrel powers is neither more nor less silly than a man who dresses up as a bat, and that the one is just as valid as the other.


Reviews of 105 comic books (give or take)


TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #32 (IDW, 2014) – I accidentally skipped this while I was trying to catch up on my backlog of issues of this series. The main attraction of this comic for me is James Roberts’s hilarious dialogue, but this issue is also a very creepy piece of horror writing. A bunch of Autobots find themselves on a planet full of unexplained corpses, and have to figure out what’s been going on. This creates an oppressive, threatening atmosphere. This comic is high on my list of “series that I’ve been buying but not reading and that I need to get caught up on.”

SUICIDE SQUAD #12 (DC, 1987) – In part two of “Blood & Snow,” the Squad goes on a mission against a Colombian drug lord. As usual there are some fantastic character moments here. When Captain Boomerang discovers a bundle of cocaine lying unattended, his first thought is that it’s worth millions of dollars and he’s rich, and he’s heartbroken when Black Orchid flies off with him before he can grab it. More seriously, Vixen kills someone who… actually I’m not sure what he did because I haven’t read issue 11, but he did something awful to her, and she kills him and is heartbroken about it. The issue ends with an epilogue in which some fat bald dude tells a woman that he takes cocaine because “it’s not really anybody’s business but my own. After all… who’s it going to hurt?” This is a prety powerful scene.

DNAGENTS #8 (Eclipse, 1984) – Neither of the two stories in this issue really did anything for me. The first story has an overcomplicated and forgettable plot involving some sort of stereotypical Latin American dictator. The second story is a solo story featuring Surge, who is easily my least favorite DNAgent; he has no positive qualities that I can detect.

LIFE WITH ARCHIE #37 (Archie, 2014) – This is an attractively presented comic and it offers a satisfying conclusion to the Life with Archie saga. My main problem with it is that I just don’t like this adult Archie storyline in general. I enjoyed Michael Uslan’s two Archie Marries… stories, but Paul Kupperberg’s Life with Archie just seems so whitebread and bland and unrealistic. It’s weird that the characters can be shot dead, but they can’t have sex or have children. Afterlife with Archie proves that it is possible to write Archie comics for an older audience, and I don’t think that Paul Kupperberg does that nearly as well as Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa.

LOVE AND CAPES #13 (Maerkle Press, 2010) – I love this series because of its endearing characters and its sophisticated, webcomics-influenced style of humor. Also, I see Thom Zahler at pretty much every convention I attend, and he seems like a very friendly man. My main problem with this series is that the characters are all rather privileged, and their problems are problems that I’d personally love to have – Zahler does not seem interested in exploring issues of poverty or racism or whatever. But that’s probably an unfair criticism. This issue, in which Mark and Abby return from their honeymoon, is a good example of the Love & Capes formula. It was released as an FCBD issue and would be appropriate for new readers.

WOMANTHOLOGY: SPACE #3 (IDW, 2012) – Unfortunately two of the three stories in this issue are completely forgettable. The exception is the second story by Rachel Edidin and Sophia Foster-Dimino, an adorable piece of work in which two little girls build a functioning spaceship. I’ve known Rachel for a while via the Internet and conventions, but this is the first actual comic I’ve seen from her. Sophia Foster-Dimino, who I’d never heard of before, has a very charming style of art which reminds me of children’s book illustration. It looks like she mostly works in illustration and fine art rather than comics.

On April 20, I got a shipment of comics from DCBS. It was too bad that I also had a bunch of grading to do that day, so I had limited reading time.

LUMBERJANES #13 (Boom!, 2015) – This is possibly the best issue of the entire series, and that is saying a lot – although as Mordechai Luchins points out, this issue wouldn’t have had nearly the same impact if it had been the first issue instead of the thirteenth. This issue reveals all kinds of fascinating new information about the five protagonists, but you get the impression that Noelle and Shannon aren’t just making this information up – they knew all along that Jo has two dads, for example, and they decided to wait to let us know. I wonder what else Noelle and Shannon know about the Lumberjanes that we don’t. Maybe the highlight of the issue was meeting Ripley’s huge biracial family. I notice that she has two siblings named Deckard and Leeloo, so I assume the others are also named after science fiction characters. On the other hand, it’s kind of sad that Mal arrives at camp in a taxi because her mother (?) is too busy or lazy to drop her off. The fourth panel on page 10, where Mal is wandering through a crowd of parents and kids bidding each other farewell, is pretty depressing. I can’t remember if we know anything about Mal’s family situation, but it seems like she and her parents or guardians are not on the best of terms. Though at the same time, it’s kind of cool how Mal is not sad at all that her parents aren’t there to see her off. I’m kind of sad that this issue is a one-shot because I want to learn more about the prehistory of the Lumberjanes.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #4 (Marvel, 2015) – The order of the pages in the preview is correct. The issue really does begin with a splash page of Squirrel Girl sitting on top of Galactus’s prone body and saying “that wasn’t so hard after all,” and then the next two pages are the letter column. Of course there’s more to the issue, but it comes after the letter column. This is a trick I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. The way Squirrel Girl deals with Galactus is very satisfying – she doesn’t just defeat him off-panel, like with Thanos. And the final scene with Doreen and Nancy is rather cute. I will have more to say about this comic in my Wiscon paper, which I need to write over the next two days.

SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #9 (DC, 2015) – “The Problem with Cats” is by Lauren Beukes and Mike Maihack, probably the most impressive creative team on any DC comic in recent memory (besides Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III). Mike is an absolute treasure; he’s kind of like Colleen Coover in that his artwork is a joy to look at, no matter what he’s drawing. DC should hire him to do an ongoing Supergirl-Batgirl series, except he’d probably make less money from that than from Cleopatra in Space. The writing in this story is also adorable, and I like the fact that it’s set in South Africa, but that you wouldn’t realize that unless you knew Lauren Beukes was from there. Unlike with last issue, the backup story in this issue does not completely pale in comparison with the lead story. “Girls’ Day Out” is intelligently written and the artwork is up to Chris Sprouse’s usual standards.

MIND MGMT #32 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This issue focuses on Duncan and Perrier (whose name I couldn’t remember and had to look up) as they try to obtain new recruits. It’s structured as a series of three barely related vignettes, and it doesn’t seem to impact the story very much. Overall it’s not the best recent issue.

MS. MARVEL #14 (Marvel, 2015) – I am shocked, shocked that the guy who seemed way too good to be true is in fact too good to be true. Kamran’s face-heel turn was the least surprising plot twist ever, but the way it happened was funny and unexpected, and I think this story will have lasting consequences for Kamala and Bruno’s relationship. I think the best bit in this issue was the “would you show me yours” line. One of my favorite things about Kamala’s character is that she’s goofy and awkward – I’ll return to this point when I discuss issue 15 below.

PRINCELESS: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #3 (Action Lab, 2015) – Pretty much more of the same as last issue. Adrienne and Raven team up and fight The Mad Morel. I don’t have anything to say about this comic that wasn’t covered in earlier reviews of this series.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #4 (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 issue is a rather formulaic story in which Arcadio breeds dragons so he can trick people into paying him for training in dragon defense. In my memory it blurred together with Groo the Wanderer #53, which is also about dragon breeding. I wonder if Mark and Sergio are having trouble coming up with new ways to tell the same old joke.

CHEW #48 (Image, 2015) – This is another series that’s getting kind of formulaic. The standard Chew formula is that every issue introduces yet another villain with a new weird food-related power, and this issue is no exception. The villains this time are a bunch of Jello assassins. I feel like this series is just marking time until issue 50.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #14 (Marvel, 2015) – A major problem with the previous volume of Captain Marvel was that several issues were part of a crossover and were not understandable if you weren’t following the crossover. That problem comes up again with this issue, which is chapter 11 of Black Vortex. Since I haven’t read any of the previous ten chapters, this issue makes no sense to me at all. On top of that, based on this issue I get the impression that Black Vortex is a pretty boring and stupid crossover, and I see no reason why I would even want to read chapters one through ten. So overall this is a complete waste of an issue and it reinforces my growing sense of frustration with KSDC.

KAPTARA #1 (Image, 2015) – I had no idea what to expect from this comic, and it’s completely different from anything I could have expected. This issue initially appears to be a realistic story about space travel, but then all the astronauts get killed except one who’s a gay black man. And the latter character ends up on a world which is based on ‘80s cartoons like He-Man and Thundercats. Having been an avid fan of He-Man as a child, I think this is a really cool premise and I’m excited to see what Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod do with it.

THOR #7 (Marvel, 2015) – This is essentially interchangeable with any other issue of this series. It has beautiful art by Russell Dauterman and it continues the mystery over Thor’s secret identity. At the end of this issue I was convinced that Thor was Roz Solomon, and of course that’s what Jason wanted me to think.

CONVERGENCE: SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1 (DC, 2015) – This is only an average Legion comic, which is infuriating because there are so many creators in the industry who could do an incredible Legion comic, and some of those creators are even working for DC already. Just imagine a Legion comic written by Noelle Stevenson and drawn by Mike Maihack, for example. I remain convinced that the Legion is the best intellectual property DC owns, and I still haven’t forgiven them for the way they’ve run the franchise into the ground. My major complaint about this issue is that it’s just a thoroughly average comic. My minor complaint has to do with the suggestion of romance between Superboy and Light Lass. There is no precedent for this in either character’s history – I can’t remember them ever even interacting before. And this is bad because it gives me the impression that Stuart Moore just chose a girl Legionnaire at random to be Superboy’s romantic partner. On top of all this, the entire Convergence project is fatally flawed because this whole dome battle business is stupid and there’s no reason anyone should care about it. I bought this comic because I want to read about my favorite characters from the old DCU, not because I want to read about a Hunger Games/Battle Royale-esque clash between cities. Only DC’s editorial staff would have thought this dome business was a good idea. Overall, I think the Legion deserves better than this comic.

YUMMY FUR #21 (Vortex, 1990) – “Disgust” is about the first time Chester Brown bought an issue of Playboy magazine, and I believe it was reprinted in the graphic novel The Playboy, which I read a long time ago. I just had an intense Facebook discussion about Paying For It, and I think The Playboy is better than that book, because Chester Brown is much better at writing about his own psychology than he is at writing about social problems.

MANIFEST DESTINY #14 (Image, 2015) – The giant bird thing in this issue is adorable and horrible, and I’m glad that the subplot involving Sacagawea’s pregnancy is finally going somewhere, but I do think the main plot in this series could be progressing at a quicker pace.

CHEW #47 (Image, 2015) – I accidentally forgot to read this until after I read issue 48. This one is similar to #48, but worse because I already knew the plot twist at the end.

INVISIBLE REPUBLIC #1 (Image, 2015) – Gabriel Hardman’s artwork in this issue is very impressive; it reminds me of Michael Lark. But in terms of the story, it seems like just a formulaic piece of science fiction. I don’t feel especially excited to read the next issue.

SUPREME #47 (Maximum, 1997) – This may have been the only issue of Alan Moore’s Supreme that I didn’t already have. It’s neither significantly better nor worse than other issues of this run. I think the highlight is the Silver-Age style flashback story starring Jack-a-Dandy, a brilliantly flamboyant villain. The female Robin character in this story is adorable.

SNARKED! #2 (Boom!, 2011) – Another quality issue of probably the best children’s comic book of the decade. I think this is the issue that introduces the Griffin, and there’s not much else about it that’s specifically notable.

EMPIRE: UPRISING #1 (IDW, 2015) – This is a collected edition of a story that was serialized on, so I ought to look at it again when/if I finally get around to writing about Thrillbent. It’s been over a decade since the previous Empire series was published, and I barely remember any of the characters except Golgoth. My other concern with this comic is that it’s extremely mean-spirited. The protagonists are a bunch of villains who have successfully taken over the world, so the reader is actively rooting against them, and there is no one to sympathize with. Though as I write this, I realize that maybe that’s the point. Maybe the idea is that we’re supposed to identify with the villains even though they’re a bunch of horrible bastards. Maybe this is why I’m looking forward to the next issue of this comic.

CAPTURE CREATURES #3 (Boom!, 2015) – Like several other current Boom titles (e.g. Teen Dog and Help Us! Great Warrior), this series is cute but not particularly substantial. Also, it’s been a while since the last issue and I’m having trouble remembering who the ancillary characters are.

TEEN DOG #7 (Boom!, 2015) – This is the inevitable prom issue. It’s cute but it’s basically the same thing as every other issue of this series, which is why I didn’t bother to read it immediately when it came out.

TEEN DOG #8 (Boom!, 2015) – The final issue. This was a really cute series which effectively created a sense of nostalgia for high school. I would not consider it a classic, but I’m glad I read it and I’m kind of sad that it’s over.

CONVERGENCE: HAWKMAN #1 (DC, 2015) – This was much better than the other Convergence issue reviewed above, even though it has the same problem of being part of a stupid crossover that no one cares about. Jeff Parker is probably the most underrated comic book writer of recent years, and although this issue is not quite as good as another one I’ll be discussing below, it’s still a quality superhero comic. The “greatest museum exhibit ever” line is probably the highlight of the issue in terms of the writing. Tim Truman’s artwork looks a little crude compared to his earlier work, but it’s unquestionably him, and it reminds me powerfully of Hawkworld. If the point of Convergence is to remind us of great comics of the past, then this issue succeeded at that.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #42 (DC, 1993) – This is the one where Luornu Durgo gets back the body that was killed by the Time Trapper. As with many issues of the v4 Legion, this issue contains a lot of interesting material but is also fatally flawed. I don’t even know if I can explain this coherently, but… in issue 50 of the v3 Legion, four Legionnaires fought the Time Trapper, and one of Luornu’s bodies was killed. In v4 of the Legion, the events of v3 #50 were retconned such that it was Glorith who fought the four Legionnaires and killed Luornu’s second body, not the Time Trapper. And this retcon is the basis of the events in the issue I’m reviewing now. This is the sort of retcon I just can’t accept, because it blatantly contradicts what was shown on-panel in the actual comic books I have v3 #50, it’s right there in my boxes, and I can clearly see that the villain in that issue was the Time Trapper, and you’re expecting me to reread that issue and mentally insert Glorith wherever I see the Time Trapper? Screw that. Anyway, besides all that, this issue isn’t so bad. The best part is the diary entry which depicts Luornu’s feelings after the loss of each of her first two bodies. The idea that Luornu’s three bodies each had different personalities is also a retcon, but it’s acceptable because it’s not impossible to reconcile with earlier stories.

AVENGERS: THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #9 (Marvel, 2012) – A disappointing and depressing conclusion to the series. At the end of this issue, the team disbands and there’s no indication of any further narrative possibilities for them. Also, in this issue Allan Heinberg has Wanda say “I’ve only ever been Pietro’s twin, Magneto’s daughter, the Vision’s wife. It’s time for me to take responsibility for myself,” which is an insult to the past writers, especially Steve Englehart and Kurt Busiek, who’ve worked to develop Wanda’s character.

DOOM PATROL #29 (DC, 1990) – Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol is possibly the best Marvel or DC comic that I haven’t read in its entirety. I’m not sure why not. This issue is the conclusion to the Painting That Ate Paris story arc. It would have had more of an impact on me if I’d read it in the proper order (see review of #28 below), but it does fascinating things with metafiction and metalepsis and mise-en-abyme and stuff. I need to make a priority of collecting the rest of this run.

MY LITTLE PONY: FIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #3 (IDW, 2015) – The villains in this issue are Aria Blaze, Adagio Dazzle and Sonata Dusk, who I’d never heard of before because I haven’t been following the Equestria Girls films. This issue really did nothing for me. I guess it was kind of cool to see Equestria in the distant past, but there was nothing in this issue that excited me.

MY LITTLE PONY: FIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #4 (IDW, 2015) – Another issue that’s average but not great. I think the Nyx people from the moon have appeared before in the comic, but not in this particular role of creating ponies’ dreams. The two primary Nyx characters in this issue are named Doran and Gaiman, which is the sort of inside joke that’s annoying rather than funny.

CHEW #32 (Image, 2013) – The surprise revelation in this issue is that Caesar has been collaborating with Mason Savoy for the entire series. This was even a surprise to me because it wasn’t entirely clear from any of the later issues. Other than that, this is just another Chew comic.

ANT-MAN #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This is a well-drawn and reasonably well-written comic. My main problem with it is that it erases all the work Allan Heinberg did in developing Cassie Lang’s character. In Young Avengers, Stature was depicted as an energetic young superhero in training, but this series depicts her as a stereotypical teenage girl with no powers. For that matter, Scott Lang’s characterization is also off. Nick Spencer writes him as an irresponsible buffoon, ignoring the stuff that Matt Fraction and Mike Allred did with his character in FF. This comic is still fun, but Nick Spencer’s willful disregard of other writers’ work is annoying.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #30 (DC, 1992) – This issue deals with the fallout from the Dominion’s assassination of Earth president Tayla Wellington. There’s so much going on in this issue that none of it has any impact. You get the impression that the Giffbaums’ narrative ambitions were too great, and that they could have used a second monthly Legion title (which they eventually got). The best parts of this issue are the scenes with the SW6 Legionnaires.

SUPERBOY #62 (DC, 1999) – I have a bunch of issues of Kesel and Grummett’s second run on Superboy, but I still haven’t gotten around to most of them. This issue is a chapter of “Hyper-Tension,” in which an evil Superboy named Black Zero chases Kon-El across Hypertime. As I may have mentioned before, this is the only story that ever did anything interesting with the Hypertime concept. This particular issue, which reveals Black Zero’s origin, is excessively plot-heavy.

DOOM PATROL #28 (DC, 1989) – The penultimate chapter of “The Painting That Ate Paris” reveals that the painting in question has multiple levels, each of which is associated with a particular 20th-century art style: impressionism, cubism, futurism, etc. It’s fascinating how Grant Morrison changes his prose style to reflect the style of the level where the story is taking place. For example, when the characters reach the impressionism level of the painting, the first caption is “Perfumed air and light on the leaves. Light falling like snow, like chamber music.” Unfortunately Richard Case doesn’t quite have the talent to represent each of these art styles accurately. I’d like to see Grant revisit this story with J.H. Williams III as the artist.

Now we get to some comics that I can clearly remember reading. I need to write these reviews twice a month instead of once a month. Some of the comics below were purchased at Queen City Comix in Fairfield on Free Comic Book Day.

SILK #2 (Marvel, 2015) – In this issue, Silk fights some giant octopus-skull-thing in the sewers, then encounters her ex-boyfriend, who now has a new girlfriend. I would rate this comic below both Ms. Marvel and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – it’s not as dense or as emotionally involving – but it’s still better than most female-led superhero comics of the past.

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #21 (Exhibit A, 1998) – This issue is an obvious homage to Rashomon, though this is not explicitly stated. The frame story takes place in the distant future, where three college students each tell their own version of a story of one of Wolff & Byrd’s cases, involving a magical artifact that can summon a giant monster. One of the three stories is drawn in a distinctly manga-esque style, and I wonder if it was drawn by Batton himself or by one of the two people credited with “art assists.” As usual with this series, this is a very intelligently written story which combines relationship drama, specialized legal knowledge, and bad puns (“that’s the way Dekoo Kei crumbled”).

CONVERGENCE: NEW TEEN TITANS #1 (DC, 2015) – I bought this because I’m a lifelong Dick/Kory shipper, and in this issue Dick and Kory are married (somewhat unhappily). I’ve long since lost faith in Marv Wolfman as a writer, and I’ve given up on the possibility that DC can ever recapture the magic of the ‘80s New Teen Titans. As I wrote on Facebook: “The ’70s Swamp Thing and the ’80s New Teen Titans were successful because they had original ideas and they appealed to their contemporary audiences. But DC seems to have learned exactly the wrong lesson from this. Instead of publishing comics that appeal to today’s youth, they’re trying to rehash the ’70s Swamp Thing and the ’80s New Teen Titans, in hopes that they’ll still be relevant to readers today.” That having been said, there is nothing wrong with revisiting the ‘80s Titans for just two issues, and this issue does a good job of reminding me why that series was so great. Too bad about the stupid Convergence plot, though.

DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #43 (Gladstone, 1997) – This was easily the most exciting thing I bought on Free Comic Book Day. Don Rosa’s “The Lost Charts of Columbus” is a sequel to Barks’s “The Golden Helmet” and also draws upon Rosa’s own “Guardians of the Lost Library.” In this issue, the villains from Barks’s story, Azure Blue and Lawyer Sharky, try to become the legal owners of North America by finding evidence of pre-Columbian discovery of America. So Donald and his nephews have to stop them by finding evidence of even older discoveries of America. As a result of this, the story mentions pretty much every theory about pre-Columbian transoceanic content (as Wikipedia calls it), from Madog ap Owain Gwynedd to St. Brendan to Hui Shen to Hanno the Navigator. Of course in real life almost all these theories have been proven false, but the fact that Rosa even knows about all of them is a testament to his historical knowledge and his research ability. The story ends with the revelation that it was actually Native Americans who discovered Europe and not the other way around, and the last panel shows a painting of Columbus with a pained expression on his face. This is a welcome contrast to the typically negative portrayals of indigenous people in duck comics.

GROO THE WANDERER #111 (Marvel, 1994) – In this issue, Groo acts stupid, fails spectacularly at everything he tries to achieve, and, okay, never mind, I still have a bunch more Groo comics to review and I’m getting tired of this joke. In a reversal of the usual pattern, the most recent issues of Marvel’s Groo are the hardest ones to find, thanks to their low print run. I have eighteen of the first twenty issues of this series, but until FCBD this year, I didn’t have any of the last ten. The scarcity of the late issues is annoying because Mark and Sergio’s humor got more subtle and politically relevant as the series went on. In this issue, the Minstrel tells a story about a man who claimed to have killed Groo, and who was obviously proven wrong, with disastrous results. The man in the story is named Oslaf, “Falso” spelled backwards, and his town is called Mentiras, Spanish for lies, so the implication is that the Minstrel’s story is itself a lie. So this story turns out to be a surprisingly sophisticated investigation of the topic of lying.

INFINITE LOOP #1 (IDW, 2015) – I’m still not sure whether this comic was originally published in French or in English. It looks like it was originally designed for the comic book format rather than the album format, and the artwork doesn’t look particularly Franco-Belgian to me. Either way, this comic maybe tries to do too much in too little space, but it’s a fun piece of work which engages with issues of both time travel and LGBTQ identity. I look forward to seeing where this goes. The premise reminds me a lot of Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time.

SCARY GODMOTHER: WILD ABOUT HARRY #1 (Sirius, 2000) – The Harry in the title is not Harry Potter, but Harry the spoiled, lazy werewolf. Scary Godmother is an incredibly charming and funny and beautifully drawn comic. However, I sometimes hesitate to read it just because it’s so dense; there’s so much stuff going on in every panel. On top of that, Jill’s artwork can be difficult to parse because it’s black and white with little shading, and all the lines are the same thickness. I think her stuff works better in color. Nonetheless, this is an impressive piece of work. I wonder what Jill’s been doing lately – her most recent work that I can think of is Magic Trixie.

FANTASTIC FOUR #554 (Marvel, 2008) – I believe this was the first issue by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. I normally hate Millar’s writing, but in this series he was able to tone down his excessive tendencies, and this issue has some cute characterization and some brilliant Kirbyesque artwork by Hitch.

L.E.G.I.O.N. ’90 #13 (DC, 1990) – The plot this issue is that Garryn Bek gets possessed by the Emerald Eye, causing him to go berserk and attack his teammates. Like Suicide Squad, this is a series where every issue is of uniformly high quality, but there’s not much to distinguish one issue from another.

SKREEMER #3 (DC, 1989) – I bought this because Ben Lipman, Ian Gould and Chris Nowlin all recommended it on Facebook, right after I shared the sad news of Brett Ewins’s death. Unfortunately, when I read this I forgot I had also already bought issue 1 for the same reason, so this comic didn’t make much sense to me. There’s some interesting stuff going on here, but the plot takes place in multiple time frames at once, and I feel like I need to have read the previous two issues in order to understand what’s going on.

GIANT DAYS #1 (Boom!, 2015) – Shannon Watters may be the best editor in comics right now. It’s too bad there’s no longer an Eisner award for that, or she’d be a good candidate. This comic is a slice-of-life story about British university undergrads, with effective characterization and an attractive, cartoonish style of artwork. I haven’t felt especially motivated to read the second or third issues yet, but this seems like a quality series.

ROCKET RACCOON #10 (Marvel, 2015) – In this issue, Rocket battles a giant crab monster and then runs away from police who are trying to arrest him, and that’s basically it. Jake Parker’s artwork is fairly effective, but the story is forgettable. This is the next-to-last issue of this series, and I’m not going to miss it very much, because it never recovered the momentum it lost after Skottie Young quit doing the art.

NEW MUTANTS #46 (Marvel, 1986) – This is a Mutant Massacre crossover, so it’s an extremely grim and depressing story in which the New Mutants encounter all kinds of death and destruction. As a result, this comic is not particularly fun to read, even though it includes some nice pieces of characterization. I think my favorite scene in the issue is when Rahne and Bobby get into a petty fight – it emphasizes that they play the same role in this group as Jack and Katie in Power Pack.

SUICIDE SQUAD #20 (DC, 1988) – This is a hilarious issue. The premise here is that Captain Boomerang is moonlighting as the Mirror Master, having somehow acquired the Mirror Master’s costume and weapons. And then Amanda Waller assigns both Captain Boomerang and Mirror Master to the same mission, so it’s basically the same as one of those sitcom episodes where a character goes on two dates at the same time. It turns out that the whole mission is an elaborate ruse designed to trick Captain Boomerang into revealing his double identity. This issue emphasizes why Digger is such a great character – he’s unrepentantly evil and completely self-centered, but in a funny way.

GROO THE WANDERER #115 (Marvel, 1994) – This is the latest issue of Marvel’s Groo that I have. It’s part two of a two-parter in which Groo battles some bandits who live on an inaccessible mountaintop and use giant birds to harass the people living below. I think the best moment this issue is page 13, where in panel one, Groo thinks “I cannot find weapons for the people who live at the bottombase of the mountain covered in bird droppings… oh, if only I knew where to get fertilizer” (since there’s another town that makes excellent weapons, but they want fertilizer in exchange). And after thinking about it for an entire page, Groo finally realizes the obvious solution to his problem. It’s a good example of how Groo, left to his own devices, will sometimes come up with the correct solution; it just takes him a while. Oddly, this issue ends with Groo, Rufferto, and a lot of other people falling to their apparent deaths. Obviously Groo and Rufferto didn’t die, and I wonder if the next issue explains why not.

LADY KILLER #4 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This issue is most notable for a hilariously awkward scene in which Josie tries to do assassination-related work and watch her kids at the same time. Of course the kids are too young to realize that anything weird is going on with Josie, and even if they did realize that their mother was a hired assassin, no one would believe them. A more curious question is how Josie’s husband completely fails to realize that his wife is a professional killer, although I suppose the explanation is that he’s just oblivious.

HARLEY QUINN #15 (DC, 2015) – “Demental Overload” begins by introducing us to a variety of new female characters, including a waitress in an Indian restaurant who’s being harassed by racist white customers. The end of the issue reveals that these characters are all Harley’s future assistants, which is a really cool idea. This series feels like a guilty pleasure somehow, but I’m enjoying it anyway (well, I guess that’s part of the definition of a guilty pleasure).

TERRIBLE LIZARD #5 (Oni, 2015) – A very predictable conclusion to this miniseries. The only surprising thing is that Jess’s dad lets her believe he killed Wrex, when he just sent Wrex back in time. This was not the best comic of the year by any means, but at least it promised what it delivered: an exciting adventure starring a teenage girl and her dinosaur. Speaking of which, I don’t suppose we’re ever going to see another issue of Super Dinosaur. I guess Kirkman said that it was on hiatus rather than cancelled, but I don’t believe that.

BRAVEST WARRIORS #24 (Boom!, 2014) – I keep buying this series even though I don’t really know what’s going on or who the characters are. I just think Kate Leth’s writing and Ian McGinty’s artwork are extremely fun. With this issue, I was even more lost than usual because it’s the second part of a two-parter. Maybe over the summer I can catch up on the actual Bravest Warriors cartoon. By the way, I should remind myself that this series has “alt text” at the bottom of each page, just like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #34 (IDW, 2014) – This issue has an awesome cover (in which a character accuses the reader of complicity in lawbreaking by buying a comic book whose cover features a character not appearing therein). But I don’t remember much of anything about the actual issue, except that it includes a scene where an apparent corpse turns out to be alive, like in the movie Saw.

INVINCIBLE #62 (Image, 2009) – “Conquest, Part 2” is an ultraviolent extended fight scene in which Mark and Conquest beat the crap out of each other. Normally I hate this sort of thing. One of the earlier issues of this story was the first issue of Invincible I read, and I disliked it so much that I didn’t return to the series for over a year. However, this issue is surprisingly okay. Conquest is the most loathsome, disgusting villain in the series, and Kirkman succeeds in encouraging the reader to hate him and to root for Mark to beat him.

INVINCIBLE #63 (Image, 2009) – The same as above, except this issue ends with Eve’s apparent death. This would have had more impact if I didn’t already know that Eve was still going to be alive five years later. Indeed, she comes back to life in the next issue. I can think of at least three times that Eve’s come close to getting killed in this series, but I wouldn’t accuse Kirkman of fridging because Eve does have her own story; her apparent death is not just a means of advancing Mark’s character arc.

INVINCIBLE #65 (Image, 2009) – In this issue Mark and Eve attend Rex’s funeral, and Robot decides to take Rex’s name. I still don’t understand the relationship between Rex and Robot; I think they’re different characters but I’m not sure. Then Mark and Eve go home and have sex. I wonder if this is when their first, aborted child was conceived. This issue was not spectacular but it was a nice break from the brutal violence of the previous three issues.

GROO THE WANDERER #47 (Marvel, 1989) – In “The 300% Solution,” Arcadio enlists Groo to help him steal a priceless relic from a tower. Groo can’t do it alone (since obviously Arcadio has no intention of actually doing anything), so he recruits every other major character in the series to help him, offering each of them 50% of the proceeds. Hilarity ensues. And in the end no one gets anything, because Groo decides to cut the Gordian knot by destroying the relic. This is not the best Groo story but it’s funny.

CONAN: ROAD OF KINGS #1 (Dark Horse, 2010) – It’s kind of cool that Roy Thomas is still writing Conan. This issue brings back pleasant memories from his earlier runs on the series. I may have mentioned before that I associate Conan much more with Roy than with Robert E. Howard. Roy Thomas’s Conan is my Conan. That having been said, this is kind of a boring story. All that happens is that Conan commands a pirate ship, gets marooned with his current mistress after his ship sinks, and decides to set off for who knows where. I’d only buy the second issue of this miniseries if I saw it in a quarter box or if I was desperate for more Conan.

FANTASTIC FOUR #564 (Marvel, 2009) – Another Millar-Hitch issue. This has an adorable cover which is an homage to Norman Rockwell’s “freedom from want” painting, though it’s spoiled by a snarky caption saying that “nothing this lame happens inside.” The story itself also includes a lot of cute moments. The plot is that the family go to visit Reed’s old college friends in Scotland (no coincidence given who the writer is), and there’s clearly some weird stuff going on in their town. The trouble with this issue is that, as often happens in current FF comics, Franklin is depicted as if he’s younger than Valeria, even though the writer and artist are both aware that this is not the case. Val even says at one point that Franklin acts like he’s her little brother.

SAVAGE DRAGON #155 (Image, 2009) – Part one of “Dragon War” is hampered by being dependent on a bunch of confusing continuity. I don’t think I’ll ever understand just how many parallel worlds there are in this series, or what the relationship is between them. I don’t think anyone else understands this either except Erik Larsen himself and his most devoted letterhacks. But this story depends on the premise that there are two different Dragons. Other than that, there’s not much that’s particularly interesting about this issue.

SNARKED! #8 (Boom!, 2012) – I liked this better than #2, reviewed above, mostly because I didn’t already know the ending. In this issue, the Griffin tries to kidnap the main characters by summoning a frumious bandersnatch to attack their ship, but of course it doesn’t work, thanks largely to the Walrus and the Carpenter’s heroism. The Walrus is the deepest and most dynamic character in this story, and this issue is key to his evolution from a Phoney Bone-esque selfish sociopath into a hero. His transformation is largely the result of his falling in love with a penguin last issue (yes, a penguin). I still need to get the last four issues of this series.

HELLBLAZER #69 (DC, 1993) – A very depressing issue. Having been dumped by Kit, John is now living in the streets in a state of complete squalor. Then the King of the Vampires shows up and tries to drink his blood, but dies because John has demon blood. So John is a hero, I guess, but at the end of the story he’s still living in complete squalor. There’s one scene in this issue that includes the line “I am just going outside and may be some time,” which was supposedly said by Lawrence Oates when he voluntarily walked to his death during Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic expedition.

QUACK! #1 (Star*Reach, 1976) – This was the first issue of a funny animal anthology published by Star*Reach. I assumed it was also the only issue, but there were five more. It also appears to have nothing to do with Howard the Duck besides the involvement of Frank Brunner. This issue has sort of an all-star cast of creators, including Brunner, Howard Chaykin and Dave Stevens. However, none of their work in this issue is as good as they’re capable of. The Chaykin/Alan Kupperberg story seems to be some kind of satire of the dating scene, but I wasn’t able to make any sense of it. Dave Stevens’s story in this issue, in which he does pencils over Scott Shaw!’s layouts, must be some of his earliest comic book work – it predates his first solo comic book story, which was in 1977. Sadly, it’s a pretty dumb story and a waste of his talent.

HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTARS #3 (Marvel, 1991) – “The Tunnel” is the first part of a two-parter. Trish’s ex-boyfriend Ronald Gage moves to Hollywood to work as a stuntman, and after proving himself to be a complete and utter jerk, he gets himself killed attempting an unsafe stunt. As usual, the highlight of this story is Dan Spiegle’s gorgeous artwork, though Mark’s story is also interesting; I wouldn’t be surprised if it were based on personal knowledge of unsafe working conditions in the stunt industry. This issue also includes an essay by Mark about Johnny Carson. One reason I enjoy Mark’s essays is because of his incredible depth of knowledge about Hollywood, television, and comics. I think he may know more about popular culture than anyone I’ve ever met, and I have no idea where he gets all this information.

On May 14, I received a shipment of three weeks’ worth of comics:

SAGA #28 (Image, 2015) – The obvious high point of this issue is Yuma’s heroic and tragic sacrifice. She will be missed. Though I don’t know what her sacrifice accomplished if anything, because Marko and Prince Robot still seem to be in as much trouble as before. Other than that, this issue advances the plot in a variety of ways, but is not especially memorable. One question I have is how old Hazel is at this point. The last time her age was stated, she was less than two, but she must be significantly older by now, considering how well she can talk.

ASTRO CITY #23 (DC, 2015) – On the letters page, Kurt writes that “a superhero universe that doesn’t have talking gorillas in it simply isn’t finished yet.” One can hardly disagree. Sticks is yet another great Astro City protagonist. He’s as goofy and ridiculous as one would expect a giant talking gorilla to be, yet his story is genuinely poignant. He left his hometown because it’s an awful place and he didn’t fit in, yet Astro City is no place for him either. I expect the endpoint of this story will be that Sticks, equipped with knowledge of the outside world, will return to his home and try to change it for the better. I look forward to seeing whether I’m right about this.

SILVER SURFER #11 (Marvel, 2015) – The hype for this issue was justified. This is the most radical experiment with the comic book form in many years, and perhaps the most formally innovative comic book since Fantastic Four #352. It’s like the Mobius strip page from Promethea #15, but on the scale of the entire issue. The story involves a sequence of events that keeps repeating itself, and we get to see it from the separate perspectives of the Surfer, Dawn, Krattaka, and the enemy aliens. Even this on its own is pretty impressive, because each reread of the story reveals things that we didn’t know before; for example, the refugees on the ship are not nearly as fond of the Surfer and Dawn as they pretend to be. The formally experimental element is that each of the stories is presented as a separate segment of a Mobius strip, and to read the entire story, you have to read the top tier on each page of the first half, then the bottom tier on each page of the second half, then turn the comic upside down and continue reading backwards… it makes more sense if you can actually see it. And then after you finish reading all four segments, you turn to the last part of the comic to continue the story. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was how to read the final upside-down segment, because it doesn’t seem to connect to anything else. What I really want to do is read the digital version of this comic and see how Slott and Allred managed to translate all of this into digital form. I remember reading an interview where they said that they had to change two lines of dialogue to make the comic understandable in digital form, and I’m very curious as to which two. Overall, this is one of my favorite comics of the year and it’s an early candidate for the Eisner Award for Best Single Issue.

ODY-C #5 (Image, 2015) – More impressive work by Fraction and Ward, though less impressive than earlier issues. Aeolus’s secret is extremely creepy, though he seems very reminiscent of Craster in Game of Thrones. I’m not entirely following the drama between Zeus, Hera and Poseidon because I keep forgetting which is which. It looks like the next issue will reveal a lot of backstory, and I look forward to that.

MY LITTLE PONY: FIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #5 (IDW, 2015) – Easily the best issue of this miniseries, which is not surprising since it’s Katie and Andy. As it turns out, this is not really Queen Chrysalis’s origin story because she’s always been evil. I remember Katie saying on Facebook that she’s not interested in doing a story that redeems Queen Chrysalis; she’s the one unredeemable villain in the universe. So instead this issue is a collection of vignettes from her past, plus a frame story. I think the best vignette is the one about Emperor Incitatus, who is named after the horse that Caligula supposedly made a consul. In the revised version of my book chapter on pony comics, I discuss the scene on page 4 where Rarity produces a couch out of nowhere, and Fluttershy comments “She’s been hanging around Pinkie Pie a lot.”

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #5 (Marvel, 2015) – This is a great issue, but it’s also a problem for me because it sort of contradicts the argument of my Wiscon paper. My argument is supposed to be that this Squirrel Girl series appeals to new readers, unlike the original 1991 Squirrel Girl story, which appealed to nobody, and her appearances in Great Lakes Avengers, which were targeted to existing fans who were disgruntled with the curent state of superhero comics. The previous four issues mostly support that thesis, but this issue includes a lot of jokes that are only going to make sense to a longtime fan like me. Like, there’s one sub-story that’s obviously a parody of the Clone Saga, and another that’s a parody of Silver Age Marvel comics. Still, this sort of insider-oriented satire is not at all typical for this comic.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2015: ALL AGES (Dark Horse, 2015) – This was the FCBD issue I was most excited about this year, though it didn’t completely live up to my expectations. The Avatar story is a team-up between Toph and Ty Lee. The art is by Carla Speed McNeil, but has little in common with her usual style, other than the gorgeous facial expressions. Overall this wasn’t as good as most Avatar stories, primarily because the emphasis is on Ty Lee and she’s not a particularly deep or well-developed character. As for the Plants vs. Zombies story by Paul Tobin, I don’t think this particular game really needs a story. The new Bandette piece was the best thing in the issue. Even then, it’s not Paul and Colleen’s best work.

MS. MARVEL #15 (Marvel, 2015) – The thing I remember most about this issue is the splash page of Kamala running down the hallway with a goofy expression on her face. This page emphasizes that Kamala is not a confident, adult superheroine. She’s an awkward teenager, and that’s part of her charm. More generally, this story is a satisfying conclusion to the Kamran story arc. The hook for the next storyline is that there’s someone else in Kamala’s family with Inhuman powers. I’m guessing it’s her sanctimonious older brother.

ROCKET GIRL #6 (Image, 2015) – I’m thrilled to see this series back after a long-ass hiatus. Dayoung Johansson is an amazing heroine, and 13-year-old Dayoung is even more adorable than the slightly older version. I especially like the scene where Dayoung hugs a complete stranger.

SAVAGE DRAGON: LEGACY #1 (Image, 2015) – This issue takes place an unspecified amount of time in the future, relative to the ongoing series, and the bombshell at the end of the issue is that Maxine is pregnant. This is the sort of shocking thing that can happen when a series takes place in real time. I have the issues where Malcolm’s mother is pregnant with him (though I wasn’t reading the series at that point) and now Malcolm’s about to be a father himself. Though Malcolm does seem very young to be a father – as of issue 203, he’s still in high school, although Legacy #1 may be taking place several years in the future.

INVINCIBLE #119 (Image, 2015) – This series is slowly becoming okay again. This issue raises some interesting questions relating to medical ethics and anti-Viltrumite prejudice, and it finally gets around to addressing the topic of Mark’s rape. I don’t know if I’m looking forward to next issue, though – I don’t care about this Thragg-Battle Beast business.

SPIDER-GWEN #4 (Marvel, 2015) – Seeing Uncle Ben alive is a surprisingly powerful moment, and Gwen’s conversation with May and Gwen, which takes up the bulk of the issue, is a very effective scene. In a Comics Alliance article, Juliet Kahn described Spider-Gwen as a good girl protagonist, but I would disagree. Spider-Gwen is on the run from the law and she’s lying to her dad and she’s guilty about her role in Peter’s death; I don’t think there’s much “good” about that. Of course all those things were also true of the young Peter Parker, but Peter was not exactly a good role model either; it was precisely his flaws that made him interesting.

CONVERGENCE: SHAZAM #1 (DC, 2015) – This is a perfect classic superhero comic. The art is gorgeous, the heroes are heroic, the villains are villainous, and the plot is exciting. I mentioned above that Jeff Parker is perhaps the most underrated writer in commercial comics. It’s weird that people think Geoff Johns is a good Silver Age-esque writer when Jeff Parker writes that style of sory so much more effectively, and with so much less gratuitous violence and shock value. I hadn’t heard of Doc Shaner before, but he’s a brilliant artist and I want to see more of his work. If every DC comic was like this one, the company would be in much better shape.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #58 (DC, 1983) – This is the one where Superman, Robin and Elongated Man fight a bunch of yellow-costumed crooks who have a variety of poorly defined powers, including the power to turn intangible. I have to remind myself what happens in this issue because otherwise I would forget. This issue has some quality artwork by Curt Swan, and Mike W. Barr’s writing is wittier than I remember it being, but overall this is a forgettable comic.

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #8 (Archie, 2015) – This series has lost a lot of its former momentum as a result of its excessively slow schedule. Francesco is clearly too slow to put out issues on a regular basis. However, this issue does deliver quite a lot of narrative content. Archie’s proposal to Betty at the end is surprising, but it makes sense given that Veronica has consistently been portrayed as a villain in this series. I’m excited for the next issue, except that by the time it comes out, I’ll probably have forgotten about this issue. Some of the reprinted backup features are attributed to Phil Seuling, who I only knew of as a comics fan; I didn’t know he’d done any actual writing for comics.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #2 (IDW, 2015) – A substantial improvement over last issue. Kelly Thompson’s characterization is quite deep, and Sophie Campbell continues to be the best artist in the industry at drawing diverse female body types. In the scene where Stormer is doing a signing, two characters from Wet Moon are visible in the background. In the profile section at the end, it mentions that Roxy is a high-functioning illiterate, which is something I’ve never seen referenced in comics before (other than stories specifically about dyslexia).

HOWARD THE DUCK #3 (Marvel, 2015) – Chip Zdarsky’s writing is just incredibly weird, both in this series and in Kaptara. And in this issue it’s mostly just weird for weirdness’s sake, and not because Chip is trying to make any kind of argument about society. This issue could have investigated any number of controversies involving senior citizens, but it really didn’t. That’s okay for now, but I hope this series will engage with the serious social satire that made Gerber’s HTD so great. The backup story does have a bit more of a political angle – it includes a line about how women and minorities are taking superheroes’ jobs. I LOLed at the line “bread makes you fat,” which is a brilliant reference to Scott Pilgrim.

GRONK/HERO CATS FCBD 2015 (Action Lab, 2015) – Katie Cook is one of the most important creators in the industry because of her appeal across audiences; she can bring in both little kids and Star Wars fans. I don’t like Gronk quite as much as her MLP comics, because it’s too cutesy-wutesy, but Gronk is an adorable character and this story is really charming. The backup story is Hero Cats, which is really not that good of a comic, even though it’s cute.

PRINCELESS: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #4 (Action Lab, 2015) – This issue resolves the story in a predictable but satisfying way. The only really notable part is when Adrienne hugs Raven and says “I wish you were my sister,” and Raven is clearly disappointed because she has unsisterly affections for Adrienne. This was previously suggested in issue 2, and I think my problem with it then was that it was way too unsubtle and seemed designed to titillate older readers. In this issue, though, Raven’s attraction to Adrienne is hinted at in a much more tasteful way.

MASTER OF KUNG FU #76 (Marvel, 1979) – I read this because I wanted to read an old Marvel comic, and this is a pretty good one. If I’m remembering correctly, issue 73 is the one where Shang and Leiko make love while listening to “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac… actually it’s not, I checked and that’s issue 71. But anyway, that’s one of my favorite scenes in the series, and this issue references toward that scene while also suggesting that since then, things have changed radically in a very short span of time. Like most of Doug Moench’s work, this issue is rather overwritten and histrionic, but I don’t really mind because that was the style at the time.

INVINCIBLE #48 (Image, 2008) – This is a pretty boring issue. It’s mostly just a fight scene in which all the superheroes (including Savage Dragon and Angel) battle a villain with seismic powers. Probably the best thing about the issue is Ryan Ottley’s depictions of giant subterranean monsters.

MARCH GRAND PRIX FCBD (Capstone, 2015) – This comic is a preview of an upcoming graphic novel by Kean Soo, whose work I’ve previously seen only in other FCBD comics. It’s a very charming funny animal story about auto racing. It’s clearly aimed at quite young readers, though there are some sophisticated jokes here – for example, the villain is a fox named Lyca, i.e. “crazy like a fox.” Compared to some kids’ comics, this one doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to offer an adult reader, but I’m glad it exists.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #35 (IDW, 2014) – Getting closer to being caught up on this series. This issue is a convoluted time travel story, part of which takes place in a dystopian past where Cybertron is ruled by a “functionalist” dictatorship, and Cybertronians are summarily killed if their alt modes are no longer considered useful. It’s pretty bleak and brutal, though this issue still has a lot of James Roberts’s characteristic humor.

REVIVAL #26 (Image, 2014) – There’s a scene in this issue where Abel says “maybe” eleven times in a row in slightly more than two pages. I counted. Also, at the end of this issue, Joanne Gorski beats another person at tic-tac-toe 32 times in a row. How stupid do you have to be to not be able to figure out optimal tic-tac-toe strategy? Otherwise, this issue is mostly setup for what comes next.

ALL-NEW MIRACLEMAN ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I’m just going to file this under M, ignoring the “all-new” part. After I read Grant Morrison’s story in this issue, my initial reaction was, WTF was the point of that? Did we really need to be told yet again how evil Johnny Bates is? I had to look online to figure out that this story was originally intended for Warrior in the ‘80s, and would have been published before Miracleman #15. Alan killed the story, apparently not because of its content but because he didn’t want anyone else writing Miracleman, and now Grant’s taken the opportunity to expand it from six to eleven pages. That’s really too long, but at six pages, this story would have effectively fit into Alan’s Miracleman run. The backup story is by the X-Statix team of Peter Milligan and Mike Allred, and there’s not much substance to it. The best thing about it is the dolphin king wearing a crown made of shells.

MADMAN IN YOUR FACE 3D SPECIAL #1 (Image, 2014) – This issue includes 3D versions of two previously published Madman stories, including one that I’d read already, plus some new material. Christian LeBlanc did a great job with the 3D conversion, but I found it difficult to keep the images in focus, especially when I tried to wear my regular glasses and the 3D glasses at the same time, and I’m not going to be in a hurry to reread this comic. It’s an impressive physical artifact, though. The thing is 80 pages and even the cover is in 3D.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #36 (IDW, 2014) – In this issue, the characters from the Lost Light go back in time four million years to stop an assassination attempt on Orion Pax, the future Optimus Prime. This is a pretty fascinating time travel story, especially since all the characters have lifespans on the order of millions of years, and many of them were alive both in the present and in Orion Pax’s time. One thing that came up in an earlier issue is that when you have such a long lifespan, you lose memories, and there are entire chunks of your life that you can’t recall. At least I think that came up in this comic and not in something else I read.

REVIVAL #27 (Image, 2015) – This issue, Dana goes off to kill Edmund Holt, but instead he kidnaps her. Meanwhile, Em, May Tao and Abel make a shocking discovery about the father of Em’s child. This issue is still mostly setup for what comes next, but it’s exciting.

IMAGE EXPO JANUARY 2015 PREVIEW BOOK (Image, 2015) – The only thing here that’s of any interest to me is the preview of Island, which I was planning on reading anyway. It also includes a preview of No Mercy #1, but I already read that.

REVIVAL #28 (Image, 2015) – This issue advances all the ongoing plotlines and also gives us some more information about Em’s boyfriend, UW Marathon County professor Aaron Weimar. I think UW Marathon County ought to hold a symposium about this comic. I would totally go to that.

REVIVAL #29 (Image, 2015) – A spectacular conclusion to most of the current plots. Edmund Holt finally gets what’s coming to him, but even in death, he succeeds in achieving his final plot, which results in the death of the mayor and a bunch of other people. Meanwhile, Blaine Abel beats May Tao half to death. With this issue, I’m finally caught up on this series, and I’m excited to read it on a monthly basis.

LADY KILLER #5 (Image, 2015) – This is an okay conclusion to what was a pretty fun series. The main question I have after this issue is what the hell is going on with Josie’s husband. He’s a boring, sexist, oblivious jerk, and I have no idea what Josie could possibly have seen in him, or why they got married. Probably the explanation is just that it was the ‘50s. I’d love to see a sequel to this comic in which Josie becomes a second-wave feminist.

BITCH PLANET #4 (Image, 2015) – I think the most powerful moment in this comic is the list of all the crimes for which the women were committed, such as fetal murder, political incitement, and gender treason. I was complaining before about how this comic was too unsubtle and it made its point with a sledgehammer, but honestly, this is exactly the world that certain radical right-wingers want to bring into existence, and I applaud KSDC for confronting sexist ideology in such a blunt and powerful way. Also, Mikki Kendall’s column about the impact of racist policing on black girls is really good.

SAVAGE DRAGON #203 (Image, 2015) – This issue brings back the Deadly Duo, a pair of old joke characters. It ends with the revelation that Tierra is pregnant (again), which, as I realized when someone else pointed it out, is a reference to the scene where Rapture makes the same announcement to Dragon. Somehow I doubt that she is pregnant or that Malcolm is the father, but we’ll see. This issue also includes a scene where some dude accuses Malcolm of being gay because he’s dating an Asian girl. This is annoying because it’s such an obvious strawman. I haven’t even heard of this idea that men who date Asian girls are gay – I think Erik may have made this up. If he wants to establish his progressive and liberal credentials, he’s going to need to do a lot more work. I should also point out that I’m kind of embarrassed about supporting this series, given Erik’s recent frustrating behavior on social media. I’m continuing to read this comic, but under protest.

GIANT DAYS #2 (Boom!, 2015) – This is a really fun comic. It’s really a rather mundane story about first-year college life, which is interesting only in that it takes place in England. The interest of this story is in the way it’s told. The artist, Lissa Tremain, does a brilliant job of taking ordinary situations and making them ridiculous.

And with that, I have now finished writing reviews of 105 comic books.


Conferences I would attend if I were a professional conference attendee

I love attending conferences and conventions so much that I occasionally wish I could do that as my full-time job. I decided to amuse myself by making a list of the conferences and conventions I would attend (or would have attended) in 2015 if I were a professional conference-goer. This list assumes that I would have an unlimited travel budget and no other job-related responsibilities. An asterisk before or after the date indicates that I would have to either arrive after the conference or convention began, or leave before it ended.

1/2 – 1/5: American Historical Association (AHA), New York, NY

1/8 – 1/11: Modern Language Association (MLA), Vancouver, BC

1/29 – 2/1: Angoulême International Comics Festival, Angoulême, France

2/13 – 2/15: Boskone, Boston, MA

3/2 – 3/6: Game Developers Conference (GDC), San Francisco, CA

3/7 – 3/15: Fumetto International Comix-Festival, Lucerne, Switzerland

3/18 – 3/22: International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA), Orlando, FL

3/25 – 3/26*: Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS), Montréal, QC

*3/27 – 3/29: Emerald City Comicon (ECCC), Seattle, WA

4/1 – 4/4: Popular Culture Association (PCA), New Orleans, LA

4/8 – 4/10*: Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), Minneapolis, MN

4/10 – 4/12: UF Comics Conference, Gainesville, FL

4/14 – 4/19: Barcelona International Comic Fair, Barcelona, Spain

4/24 – 4/26: Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2), Chicago, IL

5/8 – 5/10: Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), Toronto, ON

5/14 – 5/17: International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo, MI

5/22 – 5/25: WisCon, Madison, WI

5/28 – 5/31: Computers and Writing, Menomonie, WI

6/3 – 6/7: Nebula Awards Weekend, Chicago, IL

6/16 – 6/18: Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Los Angeles, LA

6/19 – 6/21: Heroes Con, Charlotte, NC

6/25 – 6/27: Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA), Stony Brook, NY

6/29 – 7/3: Digital Humanities (DH2015), Sydney, NSW

7/8 – 7/12: Comic-Con International, San Diego, CA

7/16 – 7/19: Council of Writing Program Administrators (CWPA), Boise, ID

7/24 – 7/26: Otakon, Baltimore, MD

7/30 – 8/2: Gen Con, Indianapolis, IN

8/4 – 8/7: Electronic Literature Organization (ELO), Bergen, Norway

8/7 – 8/9: BronyCon, Baltimore, MD

*8/11 – 8/13: ACM SIGGRAPH, Los Angeles, LA

8/19 – 8/23: Worldcon, Spokane, WA

9/4 – 9/7: Dragon Con, Atlanta, GA

9/17 – 9/18: MakerCon, New York, NY

9/19 – 9/20: Small Press Expo (SPX), Bethesda, MD

9/25 – 9/27: Mechademia, Minneapolis, MN

10/3 – 10/4: Alternative Press Expo (APE), San Jose, CA

10/8 – 10/11: New York Comic Con, New York, NY

10/17 – 10/18: Frankfurt Book Fair, Frankfurt, Germany

10/29 – 11/1: Lucca Comics and Games, Lucca, Italy

11/5 – 11/8: World Fantasy Convention, Saratoga Springs, NY

11/12 – 11/15: Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA), Houston, TX

11/19 – 11/22: Communication Studies Association (NCA), Las Vegas, NV

12/11 – 12/13: GaymerX, San Jose, CA

12/13 – 12/15: Association for Jewish Studies (AJS), Boston, MA

12/2? – 12/2?: Comiket 89, Tokyo, Japan