Pre-Heroes Con reviews

I don’t know how many comics I’ve reviewed here, but it’s more than 105.

JONNY QUEST #17 (Comico, 1987) – First a brief account of the circumstances in which I bought this comic. I visited my parents in Minneapolis for a couple days between Wiscon and Computers & Writing (more on Wiscon below) and I finally convinced them to go with me to Fasika in St. Paul to try Ethiopian food. It turns out that Fasika is right next to Midway Books, which I visited once while in high school, and I remembered that their basement was full of cheap boxes. So after dinner, which was amazing, I ran over to Midway Books just before it closed. The cheap boxes are still there, though they’re not quite as amazing as I remembered – I didn’t see a whole lot that I didn’t already have, and this Jonny Quest was easily the most exciting comic in the lot. I also have some issues with the owner, though I won’t go into that here. But revisiting the store was still a fun experience.

As for the actual comic, I absolutely love Bill Loebs’s Jonny Quest – I’ll go into that more later – but this issue was too bizarre for me. The plot is that Benton Quest’s “friend” Stuart Gold tricks him into participating in an experiment which has something to do with creating a life-size Transformer, and then lots of things happen that are so weird I couldn’t explain them if I tried. This issue doesn’t have any of the serious social commentary that appears in the other issues of this series which I discuss below

INCREDIBLE HULK #217 (Marvel, 1977) – After Wiscon was over, I visited Capital City Comics. Let me repeat what I said about this place on Facebook: “Just went to Capital City Comics in Madison, the namesake of the former distribution company of that name. It’s been around since 1975, and the owner, Bruce Ayers, had some interesting stories about the early days of the direct market. Unfortunately they have such a huge and cluttered back issue inventory that if you want anything, Bruce has to send his employees into the back to look for it — the back issue rooms are not open to the public. And that wasn’t possible today because the employees had the day off. I ended up just buying some 50-cent comics, but it was worth the trip. Bruce told me to send him my want list in advance if I’m in Madison again, and I will plan on doing that.”

This was one of those 50-cent comics. The issue before this one was the first old Hulk comic I ever read, and I still remember it fondly. In this issue, the Hulk encounters some circus freaks who turn out to be refugees from the Circus of Crime. He falls in love with one of them, who turns out to be a mermaid, but then has to return her to the sea. Overall this is an average and forgettable piece of work, though it was fun to read. I have not read a lot of old Marvel comics lately, and as will become apparent, I’ve consciously tried to correct that.

GROO THE WANDERER #116 (Marvel, 1994) – Only one of the dealers at Wiscon had any comic books, but he had some late issues of Groo at cover price. These are very hard to find and I bought them all. I was thrilled to discover that this one is the wordless issue, because I knew there was a wordless issue of Groo, but I could never figure out which one it was. In the strip on the inside front cover, Mark and Stan both quit in a huff because they’re sick of Sergio’s egotism, leaving Sergio to fend for himself. The credits say “Without the lettering of Stan Sakai / Without whatever Mark Evanier does.” Sergio’s wordless story is a hilarious piece of slapstick in which Groo encounters some men who are building a bridge and some other men who are besieging a castle, and mayhem ensues. This issue is funny as a one-off, but even though Sergio is a master of wordless comics, I think Groo benefits from whatever it is that Mark does.

SAVAGE DRAGON #17 (Image, 1995) – This issue was released in a censored version, with Dragon on the cover, and an uncensored version, with Rapture and She-Dragon on the cover. In the uncensored version, page 4 shows Dragon and Rapture having sex in the shower. In the censored version, this page is completely redrawn, and part of Rapture’s anatomy on page 5 is blacked out. Erik did this because some stores had been refusing to sell the comic to kids. I mention this because I unknowingly bought both versions of this comic at the same time – I didn’t realize they were the same issue because I only looked at the cover, not the issue number. Besides that, the other notable event in this issue is that Dragon foils a plot against him by newspaper publisher R. Richard Richards, who is based on, well, you know. Erik’s style has not changed a whole lot in the twenty years since this comic was published, and that’s both a good and a bad thing.

GROO THE WANDERER #117 (Marvel, 1994) – This story introduces Macha, who is kind of the opposite of Chakaal: she’s a fat, unsightly warrior woman who falls in love with Groo, but he has no interest in her. (And her dog has a similar relationship with Rufferto.) Groo escapes from her by pretending to be a coward so she’ll lose respect for him. The fat jokes in this issue is a bit annoying.

When I got back home, I found the following comics waiting for me:

LUMBERJANES #14 (Boom!, 2015) – I was a bit disappointed to learn that this issue wasn’t going to be another flashback story, but it turned out to be another good issue of the best all-ages comic on the market, almost as good as #13. I no longer have the sense that the writers are at a loss for where to go next. This issue is full of fantastic moments, including April’s perfectly timed quotation from Frozen, and the reappearance of the Scouting Lads. I even like how Barney thinks that being a Lumberjane sounds pretty cool, and April is fine with that. It’s weird how in the context of this series, Barney’s interest in exploring the wilderness, rather than staying inside knitting and making cookies, actually seems like a violation of traditional gender roles. This scene even answers the nagging question of where all the kittens went. This issue also introduces Abigail, an intriguing and disturbing new villain. My one complaint is that Ripley’s size seems to fluctuate wildly, and in some panels she’s unrealistically small.

USAGI YOJIMBO #145 (Dark Horse, 2015) – The greatest storyteller in American comics returns to his ongoing series, which has been on hiatus for more than three years. This issue is up to Stan’s usual extremely high standards of craftsmanship, and I liked it better than most issues of Senso. But it does seem like a fairly standard Usagi-Kitsune story, and it was pretty obvious that the mysterious ninja was Chizu. I’m less excited about next issue than about the upcoming story where Usagi meets his first European.

CONVERGENCE: SHAZAM #2 (DC, 2015) – The first half of this issue reads more like a Gotham by Gaslight story than a Shazam story. Which is another frustrating thing about this poorly conceived Convergence event – I bought this issue because I wanted to read about Shazam, not Steampunk Batman. As a result, this issue is not as good as the last one, though it gets better near the end when Mr. Mind and Mary and Freddy show up. I would happily read an ongoing Shazam Family series by this creative team. Doc Shaner is the best DC artist since Babs Tarr (I know that’s damning with faint praise).

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #3 (IDW, 2015) – More proof that Sophie Campbell is the best artist in the industry at drawing women. Jerrica and Rio and Kimber and Stormer are both cute couples. I love the scene with the kid trying to ride Rio’s motorcycle. The letter column includes an unintentionally hilarious letter complaining that Jem was perfect how it was and didn’t need to be changed.

After reading the first few comics from the current week, I realized I had hardly read any old Marvel or DC comics lately, and I was feeling nostalgic. So I read the following:

FANTASTIC FOUR #216 (Marvel, 1980) – The story in this issue, written by Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo, is pretty dumb. Blastaar teams up with a scientist who’s evolved himself into a super-post-human bald big-headed creature, they defeat the entire FF, but Franklin saves the day with his deus ex machina powers. The lettering in the second half of the issue is hideous. The main draw of the issue is the guest (?) art by John Byrne. His artwork is hampered by poor inking from Pablo Marcos, but it’s still recognizable as Byrne. In this issue’s letter column, Carol Strickland complains that Sue Storm is an outdated character and a sexist stereotype, and the editor replies: “[M]aybe Sue does not have a ‘liberated woman’ lurking underneath struggling to get out… Maybe it is a genuine personality function of hers to be non-aggressive, maternalistic, and those ‘traditional’ feminine traits… Do all women in comics have to be ‘liberated’? Can we or should we show alternatives?” Misogyny in superhero comics is not a new problem.

FLASH #255 (DC, 1977) – Cary Bates was a Silver Age DC writer in the pejorative sense, in that he didn’t care much about characterization or artistry, and his stories were purely based on plot. Therefore, the Flash was the perfect title for him because Barry and Iris never had much personality to begin with (hence why I have no interest in recent revivals of Barry as the Flash). However, this issue is not one of his better Flash efforts. It’s so complicated and confusing that I just couldn’t remember anything about it. The plot has something to do with the Mirror Master and Mazdan, but beyond that, I would be unable to summarize it.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #127 (DC, 1976) – In “Dead Man’s Quadrangle,” Batman and Wildcat team up to stop an illegal-alien-smuggling operation. The quadrangle of the title is obviously based on the Bermuda Triangle, which was in the news at the time – Charles Berlitz’s bestselling book of that title had been published two years before. The story ends with a rather disturbing scene. In defeating the primary villain, Batman and Wildcat get some help from the undocumented immigrants who the villain was transporting. At the end, one of the immigrants says that “to stop them, we were glad to give up our chance to live in America” and Batman replies “We thank you and your friends, Emilio! Maybe someday you can enter the U.S. legally!” This seems rather ungrateful – he could have said that he would use his influence to try to lobby for better immigration laws, so that people like Emilio wouldn’t have to risk their lives to enter the U.S. legally. The writer, Bob Haney, was clearly not interested in thinking critically about immigration policy. As usual, the high point of this issue is Jim Aparo’s artwork – I think the mid-‘70s were his best period.

GREEN ARROW #55 (DC, 1991) – Ollie only appears on the last two pages of this issue. The bulk of the issue is told from the perspective of a cop named Jim Cameron, who spends his entire career pursuing a serial killer named Harold Gilbert. Finally, Gilbert is executed for a murder that he didn’t commit, while the person who really did commit that murder goes free and kills again, and Cameron is left to deal with his guilt. It’s a fairly powerful piece of work.

IRON MAN #60 (Marvel, 1973) – I haven’t read a whole lot of pre-Michelinie Iron Man. I know my friend Kurt Mitchell is a fan of George Tuska’s Iron Man, but I’ve never particularly gotten into it. I remember enjoying this issue, in which Iron Man battles the Masked Marauder, but in retrospect, I can’t remember much about it except that it includes some relationship drama between Tony, Happy and Pepper.

INVINCIBLE #120 (Image, 2015) – At the bottom of this issue’s cover, it says “You didn’t think we’d focus on Mark and Eve raising Terra every issue, did you?” I wish they would, because the Mark-Eve-Terra scenes in this issue are adorable, especially the two-page splash of Terra in her crib. Mark seems really young to be a father but he’s doing a great job of it so far. On the other hand, I really could have done without seeing Thragg wearing Battle Beast’s skin. I expect that Mark is about to have a giant war with Thragg and his half-insect children, and I’m not looking forward to it. Neither am I looking forward to next issue, which will be set on Earth.

A-FORCE #1 (Marvel, 2015) – Most of the publicity for this issue has focused on Jill Lepore’s poorly argued and misinformed article about its cover. I think the cover is fine; unfortunately, the actual issue is not fine. It relies too much on plot elements from Secret Wars that are not sufficiently explained, and the reader isn’t given enough reason to care about Miss America and Nico, who are the main characters in this story. G. Willow Wilson is the most important writer at Marvel right now, but this issue does not represent her best work.

KAPTARA #2 (Image, 2015) – He-Man was one of my favorite cartoons when I was little, so this issue is giving me a lot of nostalgic memories. Chip Zdarsky hilariously reveals the queerness that was always lurking beneath the surface of He-Man and similar cartoons. I love how Kaptara is full of men who walk around dressed in only a loincloth for no reason. And I don’t know who’s funnier, Mr. Help or the Motivational Orb. Chip Zdarsky’s writing shows some signs of inexperience, but this is one of the top debuts of the year.

THOR #250 (Marvel, 1976) – The period between Kirby and Simonson was a dark age for this series. This issue, in which Mangog disguises himself as Odin and tries to destroy Asgard by drawing the Odinsword, is just a retread of old Kirby material. The main attraction of the issue is the John Buscema artwork.

UNCANNY X-MEN #128 (Marvel, 1979) – I’ve read “The Action of the Tiger” several times before, but it’s a classic that’s worth revisiting. The first time I read this story, I think what struck out to me the most was Storm’s reluctance to kill the bees that Proteus spontaneously generates and uses against her. On reading this story again, I only notice a couple new things. First, Ororo and Peter have a cute big brother/big sister relationship which is mostly forgotten after Kitty becomes the primary object of Ororo’s maternal feelings. Second, Proteus has the same powers as Discord.

SAVAGE DRAGON #150 (Image, 2009) – This is a 100-page special, but most of those pages are either reprints or bad filler material, and even the Dragon story isn’t much good. The Thor story in this issue has some hideous Liefeldian artwork, and the Vanguard and Powerhouse stories are thoroughly boring. One of the reprints is the origin story of the Lev Gleason Daredevil, but this story is so racist that it should have remained out of print. The Aboriginal Australians in the story are depicted as typical illiterate savages, bearing no resemblance to actual Aboriginal people. This story ought to have been consigned to oblivion. The issue ends with a reprint of Savage Dragon #0, which I already have.

SUPERMAN #346 (DC, 1980) – “Superman’s Streak of Bad Luck” is a typically weird and bizarre Bronze Age Superman story. The streak of bad luck mentioned in the title is caused by Amos Fortune, who uses a phony game show as a plot to steal money from celebrities. The story ends with a moment of massive Superdickery: Clark uses his powers to beat Lois to a scoop, as revenge for some comments she made about TV reporters earlier in the issue.

EMPIRE: UPRISING #2 (Image, 2015) – I almost forgot this was an Image comic, not a DC comic. For such a short-lived comic, Empire has had a bunch of publishers – three in all, including Gorilla. This is an okay comic but it suffers from an excess of what I would call “Mark Waid syndrome,” meaning an excessive emphasis on one-liners, catchphrases and shock value at the expense of fundamentally sound storytelling. Barry Kitson is still a brilliant artist, though.

MIND MGMT #33 (Image, 2015) – Three issues left. This one, again, is mostly setup for Meru’s epic confrontation with the Eraser. But Meru’s reunion with her foster parents is really cute. And the relevance of Salvador Dali’s Triple Indemnity film is starting to become clear. Oddly, this issue doesn’t have any Mind MGMT Guide excerpts along the page edges, and there’s no explanation for why not.

CHEW #49 (Image, 2015) – As mentioned before, this series is tough to review because all the issues are the same. It’s like Groo in that way, if Groo had a single ongoing storyline. The clear highlight of the issue is the revelation that Tony has to eat Poyo, although I still don’t understand what that’s going to do. I have high expectations for issue 50. It’s pretty cool that the covers of Chew #37, #39 and #50 all fit together in multiple combinations.

ROCKET SALVAGE #5 (Boom!, 2015) – A thoroughly satisfying conclusion to an excellent miniseries. The ending is a bit predictable and leaves little room for a sequel, but whatever. I was terrified that one of the protagonists was going to get killed, and I’m glad that Yehudi Mercado didn’t take that route. It’s nice that Beta finally gets some appreciation after having been depicted as a useless moron for most of the series.

NONPLAYER #1 (Image, 2015, originally 2011) – This is probably the best-drawn comic book of the past decade. The level of detail in Nate Simpson’s artwork is amazing – he draws the individual leaves on trees and the individual hairs in a monster’s fur. That’s not quite literally true but it almost is. And he makes brilliant use of digital color. The trouble is that this style of artwork is not sustainable. When you draw like this, you end up putting out two issues in four years. In her essay “The Cover to Nonplayer #2 and how to make money as an artist,” Heidi MacDonald quotes Nate Simpson’s explanation of why it took him three and a half years to draw Nonplayer #2, and says that there is no appropriate business model that will support his work habits. She writes: “His passion project will remain that—and something that others can enjoy when it comes out. For many creators, comics will never be a full time job—but as an industry we need to make sure that there’s still a business model that makes it possible for those who CAN work full time to be able to get a job that pays a living wage.” I agree, but I also think it would be more appropriate for Simpson to do a series of Molly Danger-style albums than a pamphlet-size comic book. The comic book form was designed for artists who can make a monthly or bimonthly schedule – it was never supposed to be something that came out every year or two. It is true, though, that there really should be a way for artists to make money doing this style of artwork. (On another note, the story in this comic is potentially fascinating, but it’s difficult to evaluate because we get so little of it in this issue.)

DAREDEVIL #128 (Marvel, 1975) – This Marv Wolfman/Bob Brown collaboration is boring and poorly drawn. All that happens in it is that Daredevil fights Death-Stalker and a new villain whose name is not given. The cover calls him “the most startling character in the annals of Marveldom” but I would have to disagree. It was because of this issue that I wrote on Facebook “I wonder how Daredevil escaped being cancelled in the ’70s. After Gene Colan left and before Frank Miller arrived, there was no good reason why anyone should have bought it.” Some people corrected me by pointing out that there were some good Daredevil stories between Colan and Miller. This issue, however, is not one of them.

ACTION COMICS #415 (DC, 1972) – The Superman story in this issue has some nice art by my favorite Superman art team, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. The plot, though, is really weird. It eventually turns out to be a reversal of Frankenstein, in which a hideous green-skinned alien builds a normal-looking human, who then turns against him. Until I noticed the Frankenstein connection, the story made no sense to me. Unsurprisingly the Metamorpho backup story is much better written. After Simon Stagg closes down a coal mine that’s become unprofitable, one of the laid-off miners intentionally traps himself in the mine as a publicity stunt to raise money for his dying child, and Metamorpho has to rescue him. Metamorpho succeeds, but Stagg makes the miner pay the cost of the rescue effort, leaving him even poorer than before – what a heartless jerk! So Metamorpho saves the day by stealing the money that Stagg keeps hidden in his mattress and giving it to the miner. This story is both hilariously wacky and emotionally moving, and it’s a good example of why I love Bob Haney’s writing (sometimes).

THOR #270 (Marvel, 1978) – This is from the first and much less famous of Walt Simonson’s two periods as Thor artist. I wouldn’t be able to identify the artist of this issue as Simonson if I hadn’t already known it was him. Partly because of inappropriate inking by Tony DeZuniga, there is little here that looks like Simonson, besides some very well-drawn spaceships. I also hardly remember anything about the plot of this issue, except that the villains are Blastaar and a computer system called F.A.U.S.T.

OH, KILLSTRIKE #1 (Boom!, 2015) – I did not like this issue and I’m glad that I don’t seem to have ordered any of the subsequent issues of this miniseries. First, the main character of this comic is an overgrown man-child who’s not ready for parenthood. I guess this is kind of the point – this comic is obviously supposed to be a coming-of-age story – but the writer, Max Bemis, offers me no reason to feel emotionally invested in this character. Second, this comic is a satire of early ‘90s Image comics, and that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. I don’t see the point of making fun of a style of comics that’s no longer popular and that was already widely mocked even when it was popular. Maybe this comic is going somewhere interesting, but I don’t have the patience to wait for it to get there.

CONCRETE #1 (Dark Horse, 1987) – Paul Chadwick is one of the most underrated cartoonists in America. He draws beautifully and he’s extremely smart and intellectually curious, and he also probably deserves some credit for the fact that Dark Horse exists today – I’ve read some of the early issues of DHP and Paul was the only good artist at the company back then. This issue is notable for being Concrete’s first appearance in his own series and for introducing the third of the series’ major characters, Larry Munro. The scene where we first meet Larry is kind of implausibly written (he’s going on a date when he coincidentally runs into a big dumb jock who he owes money to, and his date goes off with the jock instead), but the rest of the issue, in which Concrete rescues some trapped mine workers, is closer to Paul Chadwick’s usual level of realism. The subtext in this issue is that Concrete is becoming seriously uncomfortable with his celebrity status.

HOUSE OF FUN #1 (Dark Horse, 2012) – This was going to be Dork #11 until Evan Dorkin decided to change the title. It’s indistinguishable from a typical issue of Dork except that it includes Milk and Cheese in addition to the Eltingville Club, the Murder Family, and a bunch of short strips. There’s nothing particularly innovative about this issue compared to Evan’s earlier work, but it’s funny and brutally honest.

FANTASTIC FOUR #346 (Marvel, 1990) – I think that either I read this issue a long time ago when I checked it out from the library, or I have a Spanish edition of it, or both. But when I (re)read it, I hardly remembered anything about it, except that it involved the FF being trapped on an. In general this issue is an excellent piece of work and it gives Simonson the opportunity to draw dinosaurs, which he doesn’t get to do very often. The weak link in the issue is Sharon Ventura, easily the worst character to have used the name Ms. Marvel. There is one embarrassing scene where she says that she “never liked being a woman in a man’s world,” so becoming a she-Thing was “like being reborn.” But when she met Ben Grimm, she “learned that there are other ways to be reborn. The sharing ways between a man and a woman.” Blecch.

BATMAN #446 (DC, 1990) – This issue is not especially memorable and the artwork is far from Jim Aparo’s best. The plot here is that the NKVDemon (not the same character as the KGBeast) is trying to assassinate a bunch of politicians at a hockey game between the Soviet Union and the U.S. I guess it was still the Soviet Union at the time this story was written. The main thing I remember about this story is wondering how the NKVDemon was able to disguise himself as a hockey player, and compete in a hockey game, without any of the other players noticing.

FANTASTIC FOUR #330 (Marvel, 1989) – This is one of the issues written by Steve Englehart under the pseudonym John Harkness. According to Google, the reason why was because he was angry at being ordered to reintroduce Reed and Sue into the series. Even for Englehart, this issue is a convoluted mess that makes no sense at all. My initial assumption was that he didn’t particularly care about the quality of this story since he was about to quit, but in a blog post (goo.gl/vUv7SR), Jef Willemsen provides a more interesting explanation. What’s going on in this issue is that Aron, the rogue Watcher (who has an awesome name, if somewhat deficient in A’s) is monitoring the FF’s dreams, and their dreams are condensed versions of the stories that Englehart would have told if he hadn’t quit the series. This one, for example, is an alternate reality where the FF talk and act like they did in the ‘60s. I kind of want to read this issue again with that knowledge in mind.

FANTASTIC FOUR #331 (Marvel, 1989) – This one is Mr. Fantastic’s dream sequence, in which his new Turino-XL computer turns out to be Ultron-XI (note the anagram). This is much better than last issue since it makes sense on its own. This story is also a sequel to Ultron’s appearances in Englehart’s West Coast Avengers. And I think this reveals one of the tragedies of Englehart’s career. Each of his series is extensively linked by continuity elements to all of his other series, and I think this is because his real ambition was to tell a giant, years-long cosmic epic, with Mantis at its center. Fragments of that story appear in Avengers and West Coast Avengers and Fantastic Four and even Justice League, but the working conditions of the ‘70s and ‘80s comics industry made it impossible for him to tell that story in the way he wanted to.

BATMAN #229 (DC, 1971) – This issue’s first story is below the standards of most Batman comics from this period. In this story, Batman battles a cult of “Futurians” who have ESP, or claim to. It’s not very exciting and there’s no real point to it. Very unusually, the Robin story, in which Dick defeats a corrupt politician, is better than the Batman story. Mike Friedrich, who wrote this story, is not that great of a writer, but he’s better than Robert Kanigher on a bad day.

AQUAMAN #61 (DC, 1978) – The clear highlight of this issue is seeing Don Newton draw both Aquaman and Batman at once. The plot is not particularly interesting; it features Kobra, one of DC’s most boring and generic villains. And none of Aquaman’s supporting cast members appear in the issue.

WHAT IF? #1 (Marvel, 1977) – “What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?” is a reasonably good beginning to a series which was always interesting and sometimes excellent. The problem with this story is that it follows the plot of Fantastic Four #13 and #14 very closely, to the point where it often seems like just a slavish adaptation of earlier stories. But at least it doesn’t read like a plot summary, which was the problem with many later issues of What If. In the end, Sue decides to leave the FF and stay with Namor because Spider-Man’s inclusion in the group has left her feeling like a fifth wheel. This ending surprised me at first, but I do think it follows logically from the rest of the story.

TALES TO ASTONISH #81 (Marvel, 1966) – I liked the Sub-Mariner story in this issue a lot. It has some excellent Gene Colan art, and it powerfully depicts Namor’s jealous rage when Dorma leaves him for Warlord Krang. The Hulk story is not quite as good. It introduces Boomerang, who has the most hideous costume this side of Paste Pot Pete, and who doesn’t use boomerangs nearly as much as his name implies. But this story does have some nice Bill Everett artwork over Kirby layouts.

ADVENTURE COMICS #318 (DC, 1964) – “The Mutiny of the Legionnaires!” is a weird story – well, every Legion story is weird in one way or another, so I guess it would be more accurate to say that this story is weird in an ineffective way. After going on five consecutive missions with no break, Sun Boy goes crazy and starts acting like an oppressive tyrant to his teammates, leading to the mutiny mentioned in the story. After Sun Boy is cured, the Legion constitution is amended so that “no Legionnaire shall go on more than five successive space-missions without a rest-period, to prevent space-fatigue.” I’m pretty sure this rule was never mentioned again. At this early period, there was no characterization and no real difference between one Legionnaire and another, and much of the continuity of the series didn’t exist yet – the Legionnaires even use gravity belts instead of flight rings. I usually hate the Golden Age reprints that appear in the back of ‘60s DC comics, but the one in this issue is interesting because it introduces Fuzzy, the Krypto Mouse. I had assumed that Art Baltazar and Franco created Fuzzy, so I was delighted to discover that he was a preexisting character, and his first appearance (and I assume his only appearance until Superman Family Adventures) is hilarious.

GREEN LANTERN #123 (DC, 1979) – Denny O’Neil’s writing has not aged well, unlike that of some of his contemporaries (e.g. Gerber and Englehart and even Haney), but I still generally like his Green Lantern. This is the first issue of the revived series that just has the Green Lantern logo on the cover, instead of Green Lantern/Green Arrow. That explains the scene where Hal seemingly dissolves his partnership with Ollie in a very rude way. Other than that, this story is not particularly exciting. Joe Staton’s artwork is rather pedestrian, and the story, in which Hal saves Guy Gardner from Sinestro, never manages to create much excitement.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #15 (Marvel, 2015) – This is the last issue of KSDC’s run, at least for now, though I assume the series will be restarted after Secret Wars. This issue is a touching tribute to Tracy Burke, and it seems to have been inspired by the death of one of KSDC’s relatives. I feel like maybe KSDC’s greatest strength as a writer is her skill at self-promotion – she believes very strongly in herself and her writing reflects that.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #30 (IDW, 2015) – In this untitled story by Christina Rice and Agnes Garbowska, Twilight Sparkle goes out of town, and instantly everything goes to hell in a handbasket. Due to a dispute over whether Rarity’s store or Applejack’s barn was the first building in town, half the town takes sides against the other half. This is really a rather powerful and suspenseful story, because Rice and Garbowska succeed in making the reader feel that the Mane Six have taken sides against each other and that their friendships might be ruined for good. Of course it’s all going to be cleared up next issue.

SANDMAN: OVERTURE #5 (DC, 2015) – J.H. Williams III is still the best artist in the industry. He draws in a million different styles, and even if he’d stuck to just one of those styles, he would have been a great artist. And the plot of this series is still going nowhere. I think I preferred last issue, when Hope was still alive. On Facebook, Charles Hatfield suggested that the motivation for this series was just that Neil wanted to work with J.H. Williams, and that at least is a reasonable explanation for it.

WEIRD SCIENCE #9 (Gemstone, 1994, originally 1951) – The best story in this issue is “The Gray Cloud of Death,” a very gloomy and grim piece of SF with gorgeous artwork by Wally Wood. Jack Oleck’s “The Martian Monster” would have been more suitable for Crime SuspenStories if not for the shock ending, in which the monster of the title turns out to be real. The second Wally Wood story, “The Invaders,” is even more beautiful than the first, but not as well written. The final story, “The Slave of Evil,” is an intriguing and well-plotted story about a man who doesn’t realize he’s a robot. This story is drawn by George Olesen, who I’d never heard of before, but Wikipedia tells me that he worked on the Phantom comic strip for four decades. This may have been his only art job for EC.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #16 (IDW, 2015) – This issue stars the two most loathsome, despicable villains in the MLP franchise, a pair of characters who are worse than Queen Chrysalis and Lord Tirek combined. I refer, of course, to Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. I was kind of nervous about reading this issue because I was afraid that it would force me to sympathize with these two ponies and that I would have to stop hating them. Luckily the writer, Jeremy Whitley, avoids that. He allows us to empathize with them a little bit, by showing us that they’re not happy despite their vast wealth, but he doesn’t exonerate them. By the end of this story, I understand why Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon are the way they are, and I still hate them.

TOMORROW STORIES SPECIAL #2 (America’s Best Comics, 2006) – I believe this was the only Alan Moore ABC comic that I didn’t have, although only half of it is written by Alan. The issue begins with Alan and Rick Veitch’s “The Lethal Luck of the Magister Ludi,” a pastiche of the Gardner Fox/Mike Sekowsky Justice League. It’s fairly entertaining but it’s not even close to Alan’s best work, or even his best superhero parody. Surprisingly the highlight of the issue is the Little Margie in Misty Magic Land episode by Steve Moore and Eric Shanower. This story is an effective tribute to Little Nemo and is full of funny inside jokes and tributes. At one point, Margie meets a character who’s obviously supposed to be Nemo, who says that his father has a submarine. And I was like, well, why does Nemo’s father have a submarine… oh, right. This is just a really touching and funny story. Next is a Jonni Future story by Steve Moore, which is okay, but Jonni and John’s romance is very creepy. Last is a First American story by Alan and Jim Baikie. The First American is tied with Splash Brannigan as the worst Tomorrow Stories feature, and this story is too silly and disgusting to be effective as gross-out humor.

ARCANA ANNUAL #1 (DC, 1994) – This was the prequel to the Books of Magic ongoing series. It introduces a number of characters who will reappear in that series, including Tim’s father Tamlin and his friend Marya. Her part of this issue is more interesting than Tim’s part – it turns out that Marya was born in Imperial Russia and the tsarina forced her to enter ballet school at a young age. It’s not clear exactly which tsarina it was, but based on brief Google research, it may have been Anna, who established the first Russian school of ballet in the 18th century. It’s too bad that this issue is also part of the Children’s Crusade crossover, so it doesn’t tell a complete story, despite being more than 50 pages.

KULL THE DESTROYER #12 (Marvel, 1974) – I’ve always liked Kull much less than Conan. Kull is just a boring character, probably because he lacks either a sense of humor or a sex drive. My pet theory is that he doesn’t have much interest in women because he and Brule are lovers. This issue is written by Steve Englehart, which came as a surprise to me, but it’s very similar to the earlier issues by Roy Thomas. Like just about every other issue of Kull, this issue is about Kull trying to defeat a plot to overthrow him. You have to wonder why Kull even bothered being king of Valusia when his subjects all hated him, and he himself didn’t seem to enjoy being king very much. This issue does have some very nice art by Mike Ploog.

KULL THE DESTROYER #13 (Marvel, 1974) – This issue continues the plotline from #12 and it’s basically more of the same. It lends some support to my Kull-and-Brule theory, because it includes a scene where a woman tells Kulll that “you have shown me only kindness – when my heart wants so much more!” To which Kull replies by complaining that women are always ruled by their hearts. Again the Mike Ploog artwork is the highlight of the issue.

MEZZ: GALACTIC TOUR #1 (Dark Horse, 1994) – This is a one-shot starring some of the minor characters from Nexus. It’s really just a minor curiosity which has limited appeal even to a dedicated Nexus fan like me. There’s not much of a plot here – it turns out that the story revolves around yet another conflict between Vooper and Honest Crocus – and we don’t learn much about Mezz or his bandmates that we didn’t already know.

I notice that these reviews have mostly been pretty negative. It’s because number one, I read most of these comics a week or two ago, and number two, most of them are comics that I bought a long time ago and didn’t read, so I was coming into them with low expectations.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #37 (IDW, 2015) – This issue continues the story where the Lost Light Autobots go back in time to stop Brainstorm from murdering Optimus Prime. In this issue they visit Cybertron during the “Clampdown,” which I don’t really understand. After reading a bunch of issues of this series in order, I’m finally starting to understand the plot, though I still have trouble telling the characters apart. But it’s becoming clear that James Roberts is a skilled storyteller and not just a brilliant dialogue writer.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #38 (IDW, 2015) – This concludes the Brainstorm story arc. In this issue James Roberts presents the characters with an interesting moral dilemma, as the Autobots manage to convince Brainstorm not to kill Megatron (who turns out to be his real target), but Rewind kills him anyway. Though Megatron doesn’t actually die, because of parallel universes or something. I still don’t quite understand this comic, but I enjoy the parts of it that I do understand.

SWORDS OF SORROW #1 (Dynamite, 2015) – This is probably the only Dynamite comic I’m ever going to buy. I love the idea of a story where all the female pulp heroes team up, and this is a reasonably fun comic, but it’s mostly just setup.

MS. TREE #40 (Renegade, 1987) – This is from the period when only half of each issue was new material, and the other half was reprints of Pete Morisi’s Johnny Dynamite. Max and Terry explained why they had to do this, but I don’t think their explanation was persuasive. Surprisingly the Johnny Dynamite story is more memorable than the Ms. Tree story, in which Michael avenges her father’s murder. The Johnny Dynamite story was written by Ken Fitch, who I’ve never heard of, but he had an impressive command of the hard-boiled detective aesthetic. This is not a genre I particularly like, but reading this story, I see why Max Collins enjoys this series and chose to reprint it.

UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #20 (Gladstone, 1990) – My copy of this issue is signed by Don Rosa. The issue begins with Barks’s 1959 story “The Paul Bunyan Machine,” an implausible and silly piece of work in which Scrooge hides his money in a forest, but the Beagle Boys use the machine of the title to try to steal it. This story strongly suggests that the Money Bin contains all of Scrooge’s money, and is difficult to reconcile with Don Rosa’s later stories which state that it just contains the money Scrooge feels nostalgic about. Next up is Don Rosa’s “On a Silver Platter,” which is much better. Like “The Universal Solvent” or “Forget It!,” this story takes a weird idea – a silver platter that acts as a portal between Duckburg and Magica de Spell’s hut – and exploits it for as much comic potential as possible. It’s amazing how many bizarre implications follow from such a simple premise. There’s also a Gutenberghaus story in which a foreign prince presents Scrooge with a pet goat who requires extremely expensive care. This is funny but forgettable. The issue ends with a ten-pager by Barks, which is unusual in that it ends with Scrooge losing money instead of making money.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #39 (IDW, 2015) – In this issue, we step away from the Lost Light characters for a bit and focus on the Decepticon Justice Division. As expected, these characters are awful, sadistic monsters, and yet they talk in the same dialogue style as all the other characters, and this helps us see them as human (or at least as human as a giant transforming robot can get). Nickel is an especially disturbing character because she seems so small and vulnerable, and yet she’s part of this awful organization. It’s impressive how James Roberts almost makes us sympathize with these characters who we’ve spent the last several issues learning to hate.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #242 (Marvel, 1991) – This is one of the few issues of Roy Thomas’s second Conan run that I hadn’t read. I even assumed that I had read it and that this copy was a duplicate, but I was wrong. “The Sorcerer and the She-Devil” is a deliberate homage to Roy’s earlier Conan run, as it guest-stars Red Sonja and the villain turns out to be Zukala. The plot is that Red Sonja somehow gets engaged to marry some wimpy jerk (who, again, is really Zukala), and this obviously causes the constant sexual tension between Conan and Sonja to flare up. This story is a lot of fun.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #40 (IDW, 2015) – This issue focuses on Ratchet. It begins with a scene where Ratchet makes three failed attempts to do something, but it’s not clear what he was trying to do. Then we observe the day-to-day events on the Lost Light through Ratchet’s eyes. At the end, Ratchet leaves the Lost Light, with the caption “First successful attempt at saying goodbye properly.” It’s a touching moment, and this issue is an effective example of a day-in-the-life issue.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #123 (Marvel, 1982) – A while ago Kurt Mitchell called J.M. DeMatteis and Kerry Gammill’s MTU stories to my attention. He was correct in recommending them, because these stories are very narratively complex and sophisticated and they often have rather deep messages. This Spider-Man-Daredevil team-up is not their best work on the series, mostly because it contains an implausible plot twist. The plot is that Daredevil is representing a mob hitman, “Peepers” who’s decided to turn state’s evidence because he’s terminally ill, but he and Spider-Man have to protect Peepers from being assassinated by the super-villain Solarr. The implausible twist is that as soon as Peepers is in danger, he takes a sick child hostage so he can escape from Solarr. This is inconsistent with what we’ve been told about his character up to this point. And then at the end of the story, Peepers goes insane because of guilt, which is an unsatisfying and surprisingly bleak ending. (P.S.: It turns out I already had this comic in my collection and had read it, so I will let this review stand, but I will not include it on my master list of comics reviewed, or on my official count of the comics I’ve read.)

JONNY QUEST #25 (Comico, 1988) – This is the second issue starring Bandit (unless there’s another one I haven’t read), and it’s almost as good as the first one, which I reviewed in 2011. (See goo.gl/IRUIHn.) This time, Bandit gets lost while trying to catch a squirrel and ends up as the companion of a mentally ill homeless woman. Unfortunately it turns out that the local homeless people are being stalked by a serial killer, who was himself released from a mental hospital. This story is explicitly a critique of deinstitutionalization. At one point Race says to a policeman that “It seems like folks like that were further along before people tried to reform things by closing the institutions,” and the policeman agrees and says “There was a lot of talking about reform, but it was really about saving money. They just dumped people out in the street, and let us deal with the problem.” However, this story is more than just a sermon about mental health care, because it’s presented to us through the eyes of Jonny and Bandit, and Bill Loebs is incredibly good at writing from an animal’s perspective.

On a side note, this issue includes hints that Benton Quest is going to marry Kathy Martin. I think that character was a beard, introduced to dispel the rumor that Benton and Race were a couple. Also, this issue’s letter column includes letters from two of the greatest critics of American comics, Charles Hatfield and T.M. Maple.

UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #28 (Gladstone, 1994) – “Land Beneath the Ground” is a bizarre and implausible piece of work, but it’s a classic. The idea that earthquakes are caused by subterranean bowtie-wearing rock people is utterly preposterous, but in a funny way. And this story includes some incredible depictions of creepy subterranean caves. The backup story, Romano Scarpa’s “The Man from Oola-Oola,” is funny but also has some potentially racist implications, since it’s about a man from an uncontacted tribe who’s completely covered in hair. Scarpa may be my third favorite duck artist, but he’s a very distant third.

TINY TITANS: RETURN TO THE TREEHOUSE #4 (DC, 2014) – This is exactly the same as every other Tiny Titans comic.

DAREDEVIL #0.1 (Marvel, 2014) – I did not enjoy this comic. Let’s start with the beginning. Matt Murdock chases a man through the Milwaukee airport, then when the man jumps through the wall of the airport, Matt jumps out after him, in full view of several policemen. In doing so, he abandons Kirsten McDuffie, who arrived at the airport with him. At the end of the issue when Matt returns to the airport, no mention is made of his bizarre behavior the last time he was there, and Kirsten doesn’t seem to mind that he completely abandoned her. The actual plot of this issue involves the Super-Adaptoid, but it’s not especially interesting. Another problem here is the art. This issue was originally published digitally on the Marvel Infinite Comics platform, and it was clearly designed for the screen rather than the page. Each page divides neatly into two vertical halves of the same shape as a computer screen, and there’s never any attempt to take advantage of the vertical dimension of the page.

JONNY QUEST #21 (Comico, 1988) – Another amazing issue, with gorgeous artwork by Dan Spiegle (who, as of this writing, is one of the oldest living American cartoonists). In “Here There Be Dragons,” Race Bannon encounters Uncle Ez, his abusive former foster guardian, and is forced to confront the trauma of child abuse. Like issue #21 above, this is another story that deals in a serious and sensitive way with a real-world problem. It’s especially impressive because of its realistic portrayal of gaslighting – all of the people from Race’s hometown think Uncle Ez was a perfectly nice guy, and no one seems willing to believe his story about being abused.

HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTARS #4 (Marvel, 1991) – Mark liked to make fun of this series, saying that no one ever bought it, but it’s one of his and Dan Spiegle’s greatest works. It’s a continuation of Crossfire, but without the superheroic trappings. This issue is the second part of a three-part story in which Jerry, Leo and Melody investigate a corrupt stunt coordinator. Melody is a bit of an annoying character because of her damsel-in-distress personality, but this story is a powerful depiction of unfair Hollywood labor practices, and I assume Mark based it on personal knowledge. And Dan Spiegle’s artwork is incredible as ever.

HOLLYWOOD SUPERSTARS #5 (Marvel, 1991) – This concludes the above story. It includes a surprising yet plausible scene in which the corrupt stunt coordinator gets off scot-free because he got all his employees to sign release forms. And at the end, Leo says that he has a friend who writes comic books, and he’ll “tell him the story and he could change the names and write it up for one of his books.” The obvious implication here is that this storyline is based on real events, but I can’t find any reference to anything similar happening in real life.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #92 (Marvel, 1971) – This is the one where Spidey and Iceman team up to defeat Bullit’s campaign for district attorney. I’ve read this story at least twice before, although it was fun to revisit. One thing I noticed on rereading is that Spidey behaves like a serious jerk toward Gwen – he deliberately kidnaps and terrorizes her just so she won’t realize he’s really Peter.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #20 (Marvel, 1974) – This issue includes Stegron the Dinosaur Man, one of Marvel’s most hilarious and awesome villains, so it’s a lot of fun. There’s one amazing two-page splash showing Stegron leading a herd of dinosaurs down Broadway in broad daylight. Still, I think Len Wein could have done even more to exploit the comic potential of this villain, and I wish the art had been by Gil Kane instead of Sal Buscema.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #377 (Marvel, 1993) – By this point the series had clearly jumped the shark. The villains this issue are Cardiac, Styx and Stone, none of whom are among David Michelinie’s better creations. Too much of the issue is wasted on scenes involving these dumb characters that no one cares about. Peter Parker’s fake parents also appear in the issue, and the scenes where Peter interacts with them are kind of embarrassing, because they insist on treating him like a child – though I guess that’s a realistic way for parents to behave toward their adult children.

WEIRD SUSPENSE #1 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – Like most Atlas/Seaboard comics, this is pretty stupid, and it’s difficult to care what happens in it because I know that it’s going to be cancelled within three issues at most. This issue does have some very effective horror artwork by Pat Boyette.

And now the new comics from last week:

SAGA #29 (Image, 2015) – I knew something awful was going to happen in this issue because of other people’s Facebook posts. I was terrified that either Marco, Alana or Hazel was going to die, and I’m relieved that that didn’t happen, but what does in fact happen in this issue is almost as bad. The Will’s death is one of the most shocking moments in a series that’s full of shocking moments. I await next issue with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.

Also, this is one of two comics I read last week in which a noncreature orally pleasures itself.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #6 (Marvel, 2015) – I think this was better than Saga. Besides Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl is currently the best Marvel comic – just imagine how weird that statement would have sounded a few years ago. There’s so much incredible stuff in this comic that I can’t remember it all, but I love all the new characters introduced in this issue – Hippo the Hippo, Girl Squirrel, Koi Boi and Chipmunk Hunk. I like the subtle continuity nods, like the headline “Astronomers: That nut planet we discovered last month isn’t there anymore, weird.” And I hope there really is a character called Cat Brat.

STARFIRE #1 (DC, 2015) – This is the best (and perhaps the only good) Starfire story not written by Marv Wolfman. There are some cosmetic differences between this Kori and the Kory I know, including the spelling of her nickname. But Amanda and Jimmy have a perfect understanding of Kory’s character. Their Kory is deeply emotional and uninhibited and unfamiliar with life on Earth, just like she should be. I especially love the scene where Kory cries when she learns that Stella’s grandmother died. This seems like exactly the kind of thing Kory would do, although I assume she’s also crying over the death of her own parents, which she just mentioned to Stella. I wish Amanda was drawing this comic herself, and I hate those hideous bottom-of-page Twix ads, but I’m really excited about this series.

AUTUMNLANDS: TOOTH AND CLAW #6 (Image, 2015) – I’m not enjoying this series nearly as much as Astro City. This issue is disturbing because it encourages us to side with the wizards against the bison, who are clearly the injured parties. Seven-Scars has been consistently depicted as a dangerous, frightening villain, but he hasn’t done anything wrong except negotiate in bad faith, and I can’t blame him for that considering he has no reason to trust the wizards. I really think Dunstan is working for the wrong side. And it sure would be nice if he got to take a more active role in the story. It’s a little surprising when the other wizards show up at the end – I kind of assumed that all the floating cities had collapsed, not just Dunstan’s city.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #7 (DC, 2015) – Another charming issue of the best current DC title. It’s disappointing that Damian is expelled from the school at the end, because he and Maps are an adorable duo; I think they may be my favorite recent DC characters. And this issue is narrated by Maps instead of Olive, which makes it even more fun. Maybe the funniest moment in the issue is where Maps imagines herself marrying Damian’s grapple gun. I’m not familiar with Mingjue Helen Chen but she’s almost as good as Karl Kerschl.

BLUBBER #1 (Fantagraphics, 2015) – I did not like this at all. It reads like Beto’s attempt to imitate Michel DeForge, and I don’t particularly enjoy Michel DeForge’s work to begin with, even if I appreciate its artistry. This issue was just disgusting and disturbing, though I suppose that’s the point. I appreciate that Beto is trying to challenge himself creatively but I wish he was doing something more entertaining. This is the other comic I read last week in which a nonhuman creature orally pleasures itself.

HELP US! GREAT WARRIOR #4 (Boom, 2015) – As usual, this issue contains a lot of epic moments of awesomeness, but very little story. I enjoy this comic, but I’m not convinced that it’s worth the cover price.

I AM GROOT #1 (I Am Groot, 2015) – I am Groot? I am Groot. I am Groot? I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot! I am Groot! I am Groot. I AM GROOT! I am Groot! I am Groot. I AM GROOT! I am Groot. I am Groot? I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I am Groot. I AM GROOT! I am Groot! I am Groot. I AM GROOT!

(Translation: GROOT #1 (Marvel, 2015) – It’s not clear why they had to replace Rocket Raccoon with this series, because this is just as much of a Rocket Raccoon comic as a Groot comic. This is fun, though. Jeff Loveness is almost as entertaining of a writer as Skottie Young. I especially love the scene where Rocket and Groot steal Superboy’s rocket. Not to mention the space tree sharks and the ineffective Skrull spies. I look forward to the next issue.)

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #10 (Image, 2015) – The dominant mood in this issue is of anticlimax, as Laura discovers that she’s not the twelfth god. But it’s hard to remember how I felt when I read this issue, because issue 11 has overshadowed it in my memory.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #11 (Image, 2015) – This issue ends with a massive shock which is then followed by another that’s even more massive. Ananke turns Laura into the thirteenth god, Persephone, and then promptly murders her and her family. I don’t think we were given any reason to expect this outcome, and I have no idea where the series is going to go form here. It feels as though Kieron and Jamie are being unfair to their readers. I eagerly await issue 12 so I can find out what the hell just happened.

SILVER SURFER #12 (Marvel, 2015) – There was no way this issue could top issue 11, but it’s still pretty good. In this issue, we learn that the adaptive planet from last issue is alive, and that it’s not nearly as perfect as it seems. Slott and Allred set this up fairly well; on page ten, for example, you can clearly see a giant face in the mountains in the background. This issue also effectively advances the arc of Surfer and Dawn’s relationship. By the end of this issue I feel that it makes sense for them to be a couple, and I was not convinced of that before.

SPIDER-GWEN #5 (Marvel, 2015) – This is one of the top Marvel titles at the moment, and it’s frustrating that it has to be cancelled because of Secret Wars. I assume this series will be coming back in some form, because this issue does not read like a final issue – it ends on a cliffhanger. I love Latour and Rodriguez’s version of the Black Cat, which appears to have been heavily influenced by Bandette. But clearly the funniest moment in the issue is Betty wearing a cat instead of a winter hat. Someone on my Facebook page suggested that this could be an homage to King City, but it’s funny even if it’s not.

DAREDEVIL #7 (Marvel, 2014) – At this point I finally decided to get caught up on this series, which I have been buying but not reading. Most of this issue is just okay, but the last scene, where Matt asks his mother why she left him, is one of the most powerful moments in any recent Marvel comic. Because the answer is postpartum depression, which is something that’s never even been mentioned in any other comic book I can think of. It’s impressive enough that this comic even acknowledges the existence of this phenomenon, but Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez do more than that. They make us sympathize with Maggie, both because of the depression itself and because of her inability to understand what was happening to her. Because of this scene alone, Daredevil #7 is a classic.

DAREDEVIL #8 (Marvel, 2014) – This is part one of a two-parter involving the Purple Man and his illegitimate children. I haven’t read most of the recent stories involving the Purple Man, but he’s a truly loathsome villain, and his kids are just as creepy. Chris Samnee’s artwork on this issue is incredible; I think he’s currently the leading artist at Marvel. This issue also introduces Kirsten McDuffie’s father and stepmother, though we don’t learn much about them yet.

SAVAGE DRAGON #204 (Image, 2015) – In this issue we learn that Malcolm managed to get not only Tierra but also Angel pregnant. Malcolm reacts to this news in a way that does him no credit; he shows little sympathy to either woman, besides worrying that the pregnancy is going to be fatal to them, and he even doubts that the babies are his. This series has been even more tasteless than usual lately, and I’m feeling guilty about continuing to read it.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #31 (IDW, 2015) – This is a satisfying resolution to the Ponyville Days story, though nothing that happens in it is especially surprising. Twilight manages to heal the rift between the two factions of Ponyvile, and the Ponyville Days event proceeds as scheduled. Probably the best moment in the issue is the two-page spread where Twilight convinces 18 different characters to help with the festival, including Gummy and Angel.

UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #15 (Gladstone, 1989) – “Micro-Ducks from Outer Space” is a very late Barks story. It’s not one of his best, but it’s cute. The micro-ducks of the title are adorable, and Donald’s infatuation with Princess Teentsy Teen is funny. This is another story that surprisingly ends with Scrooge failing to take advantage of an opportunity to make money.

WEIRDWORLD #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I’m disappointed that this series isn’t about Tyndall, Velanna and Mud-Butt, but I like it anyway. It’s got dragons and ogres and undersea apes and one of the best maps in any comic in recent memory – Aaron King must have loved it. Mike Del Mundo’s artwork doesn’t resemble that of any other Marvel artist I can think of, and it effectively creates a fantastic atmosphere.

NO MERCY #2 (Image, 2015) – An alternative title for this series would be “Overprivileged White Kids Get in a Predicament That Their Money Can’t Get Them Out Of.” Maybe the most interesting thing about this series is the conflict between the protagonists’ sheltered upbringing and the horrific situation they find themselves in. The key moment in this issue is when Travis throws some dust on the fire to make “crazy colors,” and the fire goes out, allowing the coyotes to attack. He just seems to have no understanding of the possibility that his actions might have negative consequences for other people. I think the reason I waited a month to read this comic is because it’s rather grim and disturbing, but it’s good.

NO MERCY #3 (Image, 2015) – Besides the stuff I mentioned above, the most interesting thing about this issue is Chad, the abusive brother. He is a truly horrific character and I was genuinely disappointed when Charlene’s attempt to kill him did not succeed. This issue ends on an exciting cliffhanger, and I look forward to the next one.

GIANT DAYS #3 (Boom!, 2015) – It’s kind of cool how this series and No Mercy are both about college kids, and yet they’re so radically different in tone, art style, and everything else. Unlike the first two issues, this one has a somewhat serious plot, in which the protagonists get harassed over social media by some of the local frat boys (or the English equivalent). So there are some serious ideas here, but they’re handled in a very funny and lighthearted way.

18 more reviews to go. I apologize to myself (and anyone else who may be reading) for the low quality of these reviews, but I need to finish them before I leave for Heroes Con.

DAREDEVIL #9 (Marvel, 2015) – This is part two of the Purple Kids three-parter. Mark and Chris achieve the impressive feat of simultaneously making us fear the Purple Kids and sympathize with them. They are clearly the victims here, since their father created them in order to further his criminal enterprises, but they’re also textbook examples of the Creepy Child trope.

DAREDEVIL #10 (Marvel, 2015) – An excellent conclusion to the Purple Kids story. In this issue Matt finally figures out the obvious way to defeat the kids (by separating them from each other so their powers don’t work) and he saves the day, but we also get the sense that they’ve done lasting psychic damage to him, by forcing him to relive his own childhood trauma. The next-to-last page, where Matt crawls into bed, is very touching. I stopped reading this series because I was honestly getting kind of sick of Mark Waid’s writing (see the review of Empire above), but it really is one of the best recent superhero titles.

DAREDEVIL #11 and #12 (Marvel, 2015) – I’ll review these together. In this two-parter, Matt is hired by a character called the Stuntmaster, who is angry that his secret identity has been stolen by a much younger man. It turns out that this is all a scam: the two Stuntmasters are working together, and their stunts are being performed by helpless kidnap victims who get killed in the process. (This story has some uncanny similarities with the Hollywood Superstars story discussed above.) The most significant long-term result of this story is that Matt finally uses the L word with Kirsten – not “lesbians,” the other one.

CONVERGENCE: SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #2 (DC, 2015) – This is an insultingly bad Legion comic. It spends way too much time on the Atomic Knights, who no one cares about; in the first five pages, there are a total of three lines of dialogue spoken by Legionnaires other than Superboy. None of the Legionnaires in the story get any characterization at all, except Ayla, who behaves wildly out of character – her romance between Superboy has no precedent in any previous Legion comic. Stuart Moore doesn’t seem to understand or care about the Legionnaires’ personalities, and this makes him an unsuitable Legion writer. This comic isn’t completely terrible, and the scene on the last page would be cute if not for the problem of Ayla being out of character. But a Legion comic that’s not completely terrible is not enough to satisfy me. The Legion is DC’s single best intellectual property, and there are people in the comics industry today who are capable of doing truly incredible Legion comics, and I think DC is throwing money away by neglecting this franchise.

HARLEY QUINN #17 (DC, 2015) – Another Conner/Palmiotti comic. I don’t think this writing team gets enough credit – they may not be the most polished or literary writers in the industry, but their stuff is always funny and exciting. This issue is not only the debut of the Gang of Harleys, it also reintroduces Captain Strong, the DC version of Popeye. It’s extremely fun. But it’s too bad about those stupid half-page ads.

CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #22 (Marvel, 1973) – This is the first of a run of stories starring Lin Carter’s Thongor of Lost Lemuria, a character who is barely distinguishable from Conan. This story could easily have been turned into a Conan story with only a few name changes. This issue does have a beautiful Steranko cover and some fairly good art by Val Mayerik, and it’s one of the few Marvel comics written by the SF author George Alec Effinger. I need to look out for issues 28 and 29 of this series, which were written by Steve Gerber.

GREEN LANTERN #38 (DC, 1993) – I distinctly remember checking this issue out of the library shortly after it was published. There are moments in it that I still remember, like Hal reporting that Barry used the phrase “a cup of java.” But other than its nostalgia value, this comic is not great. Reading this issue, I understand why DC felt they had to kill off Hal and replace him with a character that was more appealing to younger readers, because he acts like an old man. The conflict in this issue is that Carol wants to marry Hal so they can have kids, and Hal doesn’t want to settle down. Also, the main plot of this issue is difficult to understand if you’re not intimately familiar with issue 75 of the previous Green Lantern series. The plot depends heavily on Ergono and U-minds, and there’s no explanation of what these are.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #17 (IDW, 2015) – Suffering from overwork, Twilight Sparkle uses magic to project herself into Big Mac’s mind so that she can see how he manages his extreme workload. Like most of Ted Anderson’s pony comics, this issue is not particularly deep or memorable, though it’s funny. It doesn’t tell us much about either Twilight or Big Mac that we didn’t already know.

DAREDEVIL #13 (Marvel, 2015) – This issue is the prelude to a storyline involving the Shroud and the Owl, but the most important thing about it is the way it advances Matt and Kirsten’s character arc. After having told Karen he loves her, Matt is wracked with guilt because of what always happens to Daredevil’s girlfriends, and then Kirsten promptly gets kidnapped by a villain. It turns out that the villain is targeting Kirsten because she was responsible for putting him in prison, and not because he’s trying to hurt Matt, and Kirsten’s reaction to this discovery is kind of weird and implausible: she’s happy that she now has her own archenemy. I did not like this ending, and in retrospect, it seems like a preview of the problems that developed in the two following issues.

MIRACLEMAN #13 (Marvel, 2014, originally Eclipse, 1987) – I’ve read this issue before, but not for a long time, and on the first reading, I didn’t quite understand all the continuity with the Qys and the Warpsmiths. So this issue was worth rereading, and I of course am extremely pleased that I finally get to own my own copy of it. I don’t see why Marvel felt it was necessary to pad the length of each issue by reproducing every page of John Totleben’s original art, even though John Totleben is an amazing artist who’s never gotten the credit he deserves.

DAREDEVIL #14 (Marvel, 2015) – This issue is a significant step down in quality. Matt dresses up in a ridiculous new costume, and meanwhile, we learn that Kirsten’s dad is rich enough to rent Giants Stadium for batting practice. I guess we already knew he was extremely rich, but at the point where he has that much money to throw around, I not only find it difficult to sympathize with him, I also start to lose sympathy for his daughter. Also, it’s disturbing to see Matt trying to profit from his fame.

FANTASTIC FOUR #645 (Marvel, 2015) – I never had any interest in James Robinson’s FF; I think he’s completely finished as a writer. He’s gone through perhaps the steepest decline of any comic book writer in recent memory. I bought this issue mostly because of the last story, where Reed and Val share some father-daughter time. This story is adorable, but I’m not sure it justifies the issue’s $5.99 price tag. In one of the other stories, Louise Simonson gets the chance to write Franklin Richards again. This story is cute, but it continues the trend of depicting Franklin as much less mature than his younger sister. The other stories in the issue are pretty forgettable.

AQUAMAN #46 (DC, 1969) – This issue is a climactic moment in the Search for Mera story arc, as Arthur and Mera are finally reunited. Most of this issue is a flashback detailing what Mera was doing while Arthur was searching for her, so it’s effectively a Mera solo story. It’s very unusual for a ‘60s DC comic in that it has a proactive female protagonist who can take care of herself and who even gets to fight and defeat men with her fists. This issue demonstrates that Mera was one of the premier DC characters of her era. It also has some excellent Jim Aparo artwork. He was at the peak of his career at this point, and he does some fascinating things with page layouts.

TALES TO ASTONISH #84 (Marvel, 1966) – The Namor story in this issue has some fairly good art by Gene Colan, though not much of a plot. Very unusually, the art for the Hulk story is credited to “almost the whole blamed Bullpen.” According to the GCD, this included Bill Everett, Jack Kirby, Jerry Grandenetti, and who knows who else. The two stories are loosely linked in that Namor and the Hulk find themselves in the same movie theater at the same time, but they don’t interact in any way. Overall this was a fun comic but also kind of forgettable.

DAREDEVIL #15 (Marvel, 2015) – With this issue the series jumps the shark. It turns out that the Owl has been filming Matt for the entire series, and he releases all the video at once, including footage of Matt’s consultations with his clients and his intimate encounters with Kirsten. I find it rather implausible that the Owl would do this when it deprives him of any leverage over Matt, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that now Matt’s life is completely ruined, and I’ve read that story before, at least twice. And then the end of this issue reintroduces the Kingpin, perhaps Daredevil’s most cliched and overused villain. I’m glad that Mark and Chris’s run is about to end because they’ve written themselves into a corner; there’s nowhere they can go from here. This issue’s plot is trite and overly reliant on shock value, and it’s cruel of Mark to treat his protagonist in this way.

DETECTIVE COMICS #618 (DC, 1990) – This is part one of the story in which Tim Drake’s mother is killed by the Obeah Man, and it may be the first story I’ve read in which Tim’s mother appears at all – she was a rather short-lived character. This issue effectively advances Tim’s character arc, showing us that he’s an ambitious and talented but well-intentioned young man. The disturbing part is the scene at the end where Batman learns that Tim’s parents have disappeared, and instead of doing anything to comfort Tim, he turns his attention to something else. It’s a good example of Batdickery.

POPE HATS #4 (AdHouse, 2015) – I loved the previous issue of Ethan Rilly’s solo series, and this one is almost equally good, though I’m disappointed that it doesn’t continue the ongoing story about the lawyer. (I’m also sad that it’s not in the same format as the last issue, so I can’t store it in my normal boxes.) Ethan Rilly is a prodigious talent – he’s clearly influenced by Seth but he has a style all his own. The stories in this issue are weird because none of them really go anywhere; they all end inconclusively, and I think this is on purpose. These stories intentionally frustrate the desire for narrative closure. Easily the best story in the issue is “The Nest,” about an aging couple who are utterly unequipped to deal with their daughter’s severe mental health problems. Both the daughter and the parents are portrayed in a sensitive and plausible way, and this story deals with the topic of mental illness at a sophisticated level. I think it deserves an Eisner nomination.

SUPERBOY #79 (DC, 1960) – The first two stories in this issue are stupid in an annoying way. In the second story, for example, Pa Kent (then known as Dad Kent) discovers that one of his ancestors was a notorious pirate, and everyone else in town ridicules him for it. Superboy saves the day by proving that the ancestor in question was really a spy working for George Washington, but the real problem is that the people of Smallville were willing to turn on one of their fellow citizens just because they thought his ancestor was a criminal. This story does not make me feel very positively about the citizens of Smallville. The third story, “Life on Krypton,” is also stupid, but in a funny way; it’s a pretty cute depiction of the El family’s life just before Krypton exploded.

JONNY QUEST #20 (Comico, 1988) – I’m not sure if this is part of an ongoing story or not; it makes sense on its own, but it starts in media res. Most of the issue takes place in “Ostrander’s Bar and Grill,” and I assume the bartender is supposed to be John Ostrander himself. The story revolves around an encounter between Benton Quest and a 24th-century descendant of Race Bannon. Benton and Roger Bannon get along so well as to support my theory that Benton and Race are a couple. This issue’s plot makes clever use of time travel.

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