Somewhat late reviews

WOMANTHOLOGY: SPACE #4 (IDW, 2013) – I’m sorry to say that this was not a high-quality comic book. Each of the three stories in it is so short that there’s no room to develop the characters or the setting, so they’re all unsatisfying and they all try to cover too much territory. Also, some of the stories are amateurishly written or drawn or both, and the third story even commits the cardinal sin of using Comic Sans to letter an actual comic book.

SAGA #30 (Image, 2015) – So many things happened this issue that it was difficult to process them all. Marko and Alana are back together, Gwendolyn is alive, The Will is awake, but The Brand and the kidnapper robot dude are dead and Hazel is at some sort of preschool on some other planet. It’s going to take a while for all of that to sink in. This entire series is basically one giant shock after another, and this is its greatest strength but can also be a flaw, when it delivers too many shocks for the reader to absorb without enough time to absorb them.

RUNAWAYS #2 (Marvel, 2015) – I spent most of this issue wondering where Molly was, and I wasn’t quite as impressed with the other characters. Jubilee, in particular, initially seems like something of a trite stock character. But the plot twist – that the kids in the Battleworld school are being forced to fight against and kill their fellow students – makes me interested in this series for reasons beyond just Molly. And this discovery leads the students to run away, hence the title of the series, which initially did not make sense. The previous issue was almost plotless, but this issue reveals that there is in fact a coherent and exciting plot to this series. One of the best things about BKV’s Runaways was the atmosphere of constant tension; it felt like the characters were constantly on the brink of death or discovery. And I expect that this series will have the same constant level of tension. Good thing that Molly is there for some comic relief.

STARFIRE #2 (DC, 2015) – This was another extremely entertaining issue, but the main problem was that there was too little Starfire. Too much of the issue was spent on scenes involving Stella and her brother and next issue’s villain. But still, this was an exciting and funny story involving a threat which is sadly quite realistic (hurricanes in Key West). I like Kory’s visual thought balloons, especially the one where she literally gives Stella a hand. Kory and Sol are obviously going to become an item.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #7 (Marvel, 2015) – I really hope this series won’t be cancelled after Secret Wars. It wasn’t on the initial list of 45 titles, but supposedly there are more titles that will be announced later, and we can only hope Squirrel Girl will be one of them. It’ll be a shame if this series gets cancelled because each issue so far has been incredible, and this one is no exception. (ADDENDUM: This was obviously written before the new USG series was announced.) I didn’t realize Girl Squirrel was Ratatoskr, but it makes perfect sense (though this is obviously not the same Ratatoskr who appeared in Thor and the Warriors Four). I have previously praised Ryan North for coming up with realistic ways for Squirrel Girl to defeat more powerful opponents, rather than just having the fight take place off-panel. In this issue he violates that principle by having Squirrel Girl defeat the Avengers singlehandedly in a fight that happens off-panel, but it’s no big fine if this happens just once. Incredibly, all of the information about databases at the beginning of the issue is correct. Someone told me at Heroes Con that Ryan North is a computer scientist and he’s very careful about making sure that his comics portray computer science accurately.

8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT #1 (Image, 2015) – I believe this is the first comic I’ve read that has Marian Churchland artwork. She’s not bad at all – I think she may be better than Brandon’s other major collaborator, Simon Roy. And Simon Roy comes to mind here because this series reminds me very much of Prophet, only it has a somewhat clearer storyline and takes place in a less bizarre world. Which is kind of a good thing. This comic has Brandon Graham’s trademark weirdness and bizarre creatures, but it’s not impossible to understand. I’m excited about this series.

THE SPIRE #1 (Boom!, 2015) – This is another effective debut, by the same team responsible for Six-Gun Gorilla. Simon Spurrier’s artwork in this issue reminds me very much of Miyazaki. I try to avoid comparing things to Miyazaki, but in this case the similarities are obvious – like, Jeff Stokely’s linework is very similar to Miyazaki’s linework in Nausicaa, and the little girl at the beginning of the issue looks just like a Miyazaki character. It’s not entirely clear yet where this new series is going, but its setting is fascinating: a giant tower-city in the desert, inhabited both by humans and by “skews.”

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #12 (Image, 2015) – This issue does not clear up any of the mysteries created by last issue’s abrupt shock ending, except by confirming that Laura is dead. Much of the issue is taken up with a fight scene involving Morrigan and Baphomet. I was rather surprised to see that Kate Brown is the guest artist for this issue. Apparently she also did Young Avengers #6, but I don’t remember that issue at all now. Rereading my review of that issue, I see that I complained about how it didn’t have Jamie McKelvie artwork, and similarly, Kate Brown’s artwork in this issue of TWTD is not a replacement for McKelvie’s artwork. During the fight scene, her art even becomes difficult to follow. I guess next issue there’ll be another guest artist, who I hope will be better.

CHEW #50 (Image, 2015) – This is a somewhat disappointing conclusion to the overly long Collector storyline. Considering how much work Layman and Guillory have been doing to build up the Collector as the ultimate villain, it seems disappointing that Tony beats him as easily as he does, even if Tony is only able to do this because he ate Poyo. Maybe the high point of the issue is Tony saying that Poyo tastes angry. I also don’t understand why Olive gives Tony the chocolate knife to kill the Collector with, and the last page of the issue makes no sense – it looks like Amelia Mintz is dead, but why?

ARCHIE #1 (Archie, 2015) – I’m feeling kind of disgruntled with Mark Waid at the moment, so it’s surprising that I enjoyed this issue as much as I did. Mark mostly avoids overwriting or excessive seriousness and just focuses on writing realistic-sounding dialogue, which has always been his greatest strength. But the real draw of this issue is Fiona Staples’s artwork. Fiona is probably the preeminent artist in mainstream comics right now, and her facial expressions and page layouts and backgrounds are amazing. Her characters look realistic in a way that Archie characters never do, while also looking cartoonish. This issue is an impressive package and it suggests that this comic might succeed at making Archie relevant again. The reprint from Pep Comics in this issue is bizarre – it’s a great example of what TVTropes calls Early Installment Weirdness.

PROVIDENCE #1 (Avatar, 2015) – This is a weird comic book. From the title, I expected it to have something to do with Providence and HP Lovecraft, and indeed the inside covers have an old map of Providence – which, by the way, made me very nostalgic for college, though Brown University doesn’t seem to appear on the map at all. Anyway, though, neither Lovecraft nor Providence is present in this issue. The story revolves around Robert Black, an aspiring novelist who’s concealing both his homosexuality and his Jewishness. Over the course of the story, he visits an old Spanish doctor who’s invented some sort of immortality treatment, and discovers that his lover has committed suicide using an “exit chamber” – it wasn’t until this point that I realized that this story was taking place in a mildly science-fictional version of New York, with some steampunk technology. After reading this issue I have no idea where this series is going, but I’m curious to find out.

SILK #4 (Marvel, 2015) – After reading this issue, I felt like I’d missed something. And looking at my master list of comics reviewed, I find that I indeed forgot to read issue 3. This is an okay comic book, with a funny scene in which Silk and Johnny go on a date, but it’s not as good as issue 1 or 2.

7-11-15

WE STAND ON GUARD #1 (Image, 2015) – I have a serious case of Canada envy – I almost feel like I’m a Canadian at heart because I’m from Minnesota. So this story, about a war between the U.S. and Canada, certainly struck a chord with me. It’s cute that a Tim Horton’s sign is prominently displayed on page one. But as a debut issue, this is less impressive than Saga #1. I don’t know where this story is going or what to expect next. I am curious about what happened to the protagonist’s big brother.

NO MERCY #4 (Image, 2015) – As I read this issue, I realize that I have a visceral hatred for Chad and I deeply want him to die. I can’t remember a more loathsome character in any recent comic book, although he does remind me of Ike in Morning Glories. And besides that, I don’t much care if any of the characters live, except Charlene and the mute kid. These characters seem designed to represent all the worst aspects of today’s younger generation. I seriously don’t know how they’re all going to survive and I kind of don’t care. If it’s not clear from the above, this is an extremely bleak comic book, though I like it anyway.

GRONK: A MONSTER’S STORY #1 (Action Lab, 2015) – I’m counting this as a comic book, not a graphic novel, because it’s pretty short and the title isn’t listed on the spine. I wrote earlier that I don’t like Gronk as much as MLP because it’s too cutesy-wootsy, and I think that’s kind of unfair. Gronk is absolutely adorable of course, but it has just enough sardonic humor and weirdness that it’s not overwhelmingly saccharine. Also, Katie’s jokes are really good and her comic timing is excellent. The Thanksgiving cartoon (where the dog eats the entire turkey in the third panel) is a good example of this. The bonus strips by artists like Mike Maihack and Jay Fosgitt are a nice addition.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #8 (DC, 2015) – So apparently Olive’s mother had some sort of fire powers, and she somehow died over the summer, and now Olive has inherited those powers… come to think of it, that sounds exactly like Gunnerkrigg Court. More to the point, I don’t understand what’s going on with Olive’s mother and I really never have. It feels as though there was some comic before this one that I was supposed to have read. Maybe it’ll make more sense if I read the entire series all at once. Other than that, this issue’s story is fairly exciting and Trevor is a cool new character. But my enthusiasm for this series is decreasing. When this series began, it was the only good DC comic besides Batgirl, but now it has a lot more competition and it no longer seems so much better than DC’s other titles.

GROOT #2 (Marvel, 2015) – I would like to write this review in Grootspeak, but that joke is only funny once. Groot’s origin story in this issue is heartbreaking; it’s the story of a well-intentioned creature who’s unjustly feared. I feel like some of the material here is retconned, but who cares. At the beginning of the issue, the writer and artist use a brilliant means of representing what Groot is trying to say: they include pictures inside the letters of the phrase I AM GROOT. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before and it’s a great way to convey what Groot means without expanding his vocabulary. In general I’m a lot more excited about this series than I was about Rocket Raccoon, at least near the end of that series. I look forward to Groot’s team-up with the Silver Surfer and Dawn next issue.

ALL-STAR SECTION EIGHT #1 (DC, 2015) – This issue had way too much gross-out humor for my tastes, and I did not enjoy it. I forget if I said this before, but Garth Ennis isn’t good when he’s overly serious (Preacher) and he’s also not good when he’s not serious enough (Hitman), and Hellblazer is my favorite work of his because it usually avoids either of these extremes. This issue, however, is way too far toward the funny end of the spectrum. It’s a series of bad jokes with no compelling plot. The only thing I liked about it were the homages to old Batman artists.

PISCES #1 (Image, 2015) – This is very different from Rat Queens, though Kurtis Wiebe’s dialogue style is still recognizable. However, this issue is extremely confusing. I guess I sort of figured out that the soldier in the Vietnam sequence is the son of the man from the sequence before that, but other than that, the chronological order of this comic is difficult to understand, and it’s not clear what it’s supposed to be about. I’m glad I waited to read this issue until after issue 2 came out, because otherwise I would have been even more mystified.

PISCES #2 (Image, 2015) – Here it starts to become somewhat clearer. Both the father and the son are veterans, and they’re both suffering from PTSD – an uncommon topic for comic books, though it was the subject of an excellent Doonesbury storyline. What’s not clear yet is how the outer space sequences relate to the father and son’s story. But this is an interesting piece of work and I need to get to issue 3 soon.

THOR #8 (Marvel, 2015) – Probably I didn’t bother reading this when it came out because I already knew the spoiler. But even though I already knew who Thor was, the revelation of her identity was still quite effective, since I didn’t realize her use of her powers was killing her. I hope this plotline will be picked up again after Secret Wars. As usual, Russell Dauterman’s artwork in this issue is phenomenal.

IT WILL ALL HURT #1 (Study Group, 2015) – This is my first Farel Dalrymple comic. I’ve had The Wrenchies on my shelf since last year but have yet to read it. This is a somewhat difficult comic, given the weirdness of the world, the number of characters, and the lack of obvious connections between any of their stories. But I enjoyed it. Farel Dalrymple’s art style is truly unique – it’s a blend between two and three dimensions. The linework is highly visible but he also uses subtle gradations of color to create a realistic rendering of light and shadow. This comic is also a beautiful artifact. It’s printed on matte rather than glossy paper (I think that’s the right term) but it’s a higher quality of paper than newsprint, so it feels like a high-end version of an old comic book.

CAPTURE CREATURES #4 (Boom!, 2015) – I still like this book enough to keep buying it, but it’s not one of the better current Boom! titles. Maybe it’s because it’s been a while since I read the first three issues, but I can’t remember much about the characters and the plot. And I think the Pokemon creatures could be even cuter. The fight scene in this issue is pretty enjoyable at least.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #18 (IDW, 2015) – Jay Fosgitt may be the second best pony artist after Andy Price. He certainly has a distinctive and recognizable style. This is a pretty basic Rainbow Dash-Fluttershy story and it doesn’t tell us much about their relationship that we didn’t already know, but it’s adorable, and it makes good use of the classic high school reunion plot. This story should have been called “One Time, At Flight Camp.”

7-19-15

WONDER WOMAN #44 (DC, 1990) – This is the second part of what was at least a two-part story about the Silver Swan. I didn’t understand what was going on here, and I’ve forgotten most of the earlier Silver Swan stories from this series, so this was not my favorite Pérez Wonder Woman story. Still, this issue has a powerful message about abusive relationships and about accepting what you look like – the villain of the issue is able to manipulate the Silver Swan by playing on her disgust at her ugly appearance. The artwork this issue is by Chris Marrinan, who is a rather mediocre artist, but here he does a good job of imitating George Pérez – the splash page in this issue looks like something out of a Pérez Avengers issue.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: THE AVENGERS #22 (Marvel, 2008) – Marc Sumerak was the worst Marvel Adventures writer (unless there’s a worse one I’m forgetting) and this is not even one of his better efforts. The guest-star and villain this issue are Black Panther and Sabretooth, neither of whom I particularly care for, and this issue also emphasizes Black Panther and Storm’s romance, which is something else I don’t like. And there are no truly original ideas in this story.

STRANGE SPORTS STORIES #2 (DC, 2015) – The best story this issue is “The Patchwork Palooka,” about a sailor/boxer who fights a Frankenstein monster made of all his past opponents. This story reminds me of both Popeye and The Goon, in a good way. I’ve never heard of the creators, Mark Finn and John Lucas. The second best story is the one by Ron Wimberly. I hated his artwork in She-Hulk, but this story is more appropriate to his style. The Tim Fish story is overly predictable; I saw the shock ending coming from a mile away. And then there’s the piece by Lee Loughridge and Nick Dragotta, which doesn’t deserve to be called a story because it has no plot and is completely incoherent. The editor should not have allowed it to see print in this form.

ATOMIC ROBO/BODIE TROLL/HAUNTED FCBD 2014 (Red 5, 2014) – The Atomic Robo story this issue is the one where Robo battles a giant rock monster who turns out to be defending its eggs. It’s as adorable as any Atomic Robo story; the only annoying thing was that I couldn’t tell that the “action mycologist” character was supposed to be female. There really is a giant underground mine fire under Centralia, Pennsylvania. The Bodie Troll story was drawn in an overly busy and complicated style which made it cumbersome to read, though it’s cute, and I’m surprised to realize that the creator of this series is Jay Fosgitt, my second favorite pony artist. The Haunted story is a boring piece of generic horror.

PISCES #3 (Image, 2015) – I just got a DCBS notification saying that issues 4 and 5 of this series were cancelled. I assume that means they’re delayed and will be resolicited later; it would be a shame if this issue was the last. This series continues to explore the theme of PTSD and difficulty reintegrating into civilian life, as the protagonist tries to socialize and completely fails. Also, the overall plot of this series is starting to become clearer: Dillon is being recruited by NASA, which sort of explains all the scenes that take place in outer space. This series is evidence that Kurtis Wiebe is not a one-trick pony: Rat Queens is a highly successful comedic work, but Wiebe can also write in a more serious mode.

INVINCIBLE UNIVERSE #2 (Image, 2013) – Unlike Invincible, this is no more than a generic superhero comic. Most of the issue is taken up by a fight between the Global Guardians and a villain who can control a dragon with his brain. The subplot is that Cecil Steadman feels guilty about all of his assistants who have gotten killed. This title never even came close to the quality of its parent series.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #14 (DC, 1994) – The problem with this series is that I can never manage to read the issues in order. I have issue 13 but it must have been years since I read it. And I never have the time to go back and read each storyline in the correct order. This is probably why I haven’t made any effort to complete my run of this title. Still, this is one of the best DC comics of its period. It’s incredibly well-researched and Wesley Dodds and Dian Belmont are both unique and fascinating characters. This issue, which is part two of “The Vamp,” is interesting because of its portrayal of lesbianism in ‘40s New York.

DAREDEVIL #16 (Marvel, 2015) – Taken at face value, this issue suggests that Matt is going to kill off his Matt Murdock identity in exchange for Foggy and Kirsten’s safety. If this happens, it will be a severe anticlimax and will close off all sorts of interesting narrative possibilities that future writers could have used. On top of that, the “death” of Matt Murdock is not even an original idea; it already happened in Daredevil #325. I hope that Mark Waid has something up his sleeve and that Matt is going to find a way to save the day without sacrificing his secret identity, but on the other hand, he is notoriously bad at writing satisfying endings, so I don’t know. I’m just tired of all these depressing stories where horrible things happen to Matt Murdock. Mark Waid is my favorite Daredevil writer since Frank Miller, but his run on Daredevil is not ending well. The one thing I did like about this issue is that the Kingpin has an entire gallery of paintings that depict Daredevil being killed.

DETECTIVE COMICS #775 (DC, 2002) –In this issue, Batman searches for Bruce Wayne’s former bodyguard Sasha Bordeaux, who has become an agent of Checkmate. This story assumes that the reader is familiar with the other stories where Sasha Bordeaux appeared, and I’m not. Still, the scene where Bruce reunites with Sasha is an effective piece of characterization. Greg Rucka’s writing is highly underrated. This issue also has a backup story but I don’t remember anything about it.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #8 (DC, 1993) – See previous comments about this series. This one is part four of “The Face.” I didn’t like it quite as much as the previous SMT issue I reviewed, but it is an interesting depiction of Chinese-Americans in the WWII era. Notably, this issue is written by Matt Wagner alone rather than Wagner and Seagle.

SPEED FORCE #1 (DC, 1997) – This 64-page special was probably a tie-in to some crossover or other. It contains five stories each of which features a different Flash, but other than that they have little in common, and none of them is especially good. In particular, the John Byrne story reminds me that John was never that good a writer to begin with, and he got worse as he got older. The best story is probably the one about Max Mercury, which shows some evidence of historical research and has some cute Easter eggs, including a toy factory run by someone named Schott.

INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #8 (Marvel, 2013) – The only reason I bought this issue is because it guest-stars Thor and is drawn by Walt Simonson. Uncle Walt’s artwork in this issue is truly incredible and epic, showing that he hasn’t lost anything since the 1980s. Chris Eliopoulos even does a good job of imitating John Workman’s lettering style. As for the story, I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t care. There’s a character in this issue who’s dying of Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, which Wikipedia describes as “incurable and invariably fatal,” and Bruce tries to convince her to have faith that she can be magically cured. This attitude seems rather offensive to people who actually have incurable diseases.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #42 (IDW, 2015) – This is another funny and exciting issue, and having read it, I’m finally caught up on this series. In this story, we learn that the creatures who were killing Thunderclash are “personality ticks” that feed off positive character traits. And when Rodimus and Megatron show up, the creatures die of a charisma overdose, which is hilarious. I can’t even guess where this series is going next.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #7 (DC, 1991) – In this story, a convict laborer is forced to bury the body of a homeless man who died in anonymity. He goes insane and, thanks to the American Scream, whatever that is, he causes New York to be covered in garbage. The logic is that the trash, like the man he buried, is a waste product of capitalist culture, a thing that’s discarded and consigned to anonymity. Shade manages to save the day by entering the dead man’s mind and learning his name. This is a pretty powerful story, although there are some panels where the coloring makes the artwork impossible to parse.

SUICIDE SQUAD #26 (DC, 1989) – This is the sequel to the story where Deadshot stops Rick Flag from killing a senator by killing the senator himself. Oddly, I don’t believe I’ve read that story, but I know about it thanks to having read about it on TVTropes.com. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in this issue, including a flashback to an adventure involving the original Suicide Squad and the Haunted Tank. But the centerpiece of the issue is Rick Flag’s suicide mission in Qurac, which leads to his death. He was resurrected many years later, but I’m going to ignore that because this issue is such an effective send-off for his character. While I haven’t read every story in which he appears, my sense is that he was essentially a failure, and in this story he gets to succeed in his final mission, sacrificing his life to destroy a Nazi nuclear warhead. What makes this even more poignant is that Rick Flag’s story is narrated in a letter he writes to Nightshade, who was in love with him. Somehow this story didn’t have a huge effect on me as I read it, but as I write this review, I realize it’s one of the best Suicide Squad issues I’ve read.

THE ROCKETEER/THE SPIRIT: PULP FRICTION #1 (IDW, 2013) – This is an excellent homage to two great comics. Mark Waid has a deep understanding of both these characters and their supporting casts, and he comes up with a plausible reason why they should meet. Besides the main characters, Ellen and Bettie are an excellent duo. Paul Smith’s art in this issue is not as good as I would have expected – I think his style may not be appropriate for this kind of adventure story. My other nitpicky problem with this issue is that the title page has some seriously ugly lettering, which is a big deal considering that The Spirit was famous for its title pages.

JOHN LAW DETECTIVE #1 (Kitchen Sink, 1983) – This is a collection of three stories that were intended to be published in a 1948 comic book, but were instead reworked into Spirit stories. This comic was the first time any of these stories saw print in their initial form. It includes an excellent essay by Cat Yronwode explaining the origin of these stories and the changes that were made when they were retooled to feature the Spirit rather than John Law. The first of the stories is what later became the original Sand Saref story. I can’t remember if I’ve read the Spirit version of this story, but Cat Yronwode says the John Law version is better, and I believe her. This version is a very powerful piece of work, and it reminds me a lot of Alan Moore and Rick Veitch’s Greyshirt, although obviously Greyshirt was inspired by Eisner and not vice versa. There’s also the original version of “The Strange Ghastly Affair of the Half-Dead Mr. Lox,” a clever ghost story. The third story isn’t as good, but it has a powerful message about kids who idolize gangsters. Overall, I’m proud to have this comic in my collection because it’s a unique piece of work by a master cartoonist at the peak of his career.

ROCKET RACCOON #11 (Marvel, 2015) – I didn’t read this issue sooner because I’d lost my enthusiasm for the series – as I’ve mentioned before, it got much less exciting when Skottie Young stopped doing the art. But this issue is a nice sendoff. Rocket finally finds the Book of Halfworld, but decides that he doesn’t care what it says because he’s happy being who he is, and the series ends as it began, with Rocket in jail. The implication here is that Rocket’s character hasn’t evolved at all over the past 11 issues, and that’s not a bad thing.

THE HUMANS #4 (Image, 2015) – A disturbing and bloody, but exciting, story, involving a cage match between sub-sentient humans. This comic is disgusting and has no admirable characters, but it does a great job of reviving the underground comics sensibility. I met one of the creators of this comic at Heroes Con and he mentioned that S. Clay Wilson was a major influence. I’m not familiar with Wilson, but this comic reminds me heavily of Spain’s stories about biker gangs.

BLACK PANTHER #42 (Marvel, 2002) – This may be the only Black Panther comic in my collection, not counting Jungle Action. (ADDENDUM: Not true, I have two Kirby Black Panthers at least.) I’m not a fan of this character, but my main exposure to him is from Don McGregor’s work, and I’ve grown to hate McGregor’s writing. But I get the impression that Priest was the best Black Panther writer, and I’d like to collect more of this run. This issue has an incomprehensible plot but some excellent dialogue, and Sal Velluto’s artwork includes some cute homages to Kirby.

A-FORCE #2 (Marvel, 2015) – This series is not living up to its potential. It’s hampered by being too heavily linked to Secret Wars. But worse, the writers still aren’t providing enough background information to enable readers to understand the plot. The main thing I liked about this issue is the unidentified new character; she doesn’t speak but her body language is just adorable.

STRANGE FRUIT #1 (Boom!, 2015) – After reading J.A. Michelinie’s devastating review of this comic, I felt ashamed of having bought it. I resolved that I was going to read it myself and make my own judgment, and now that I’ve read it, I absolutely agree with Michelinie. This is a tone-deaf, embarrassing piece of work that shows a lack of understanding of the issues it tries to confront. My biggest problem with this comic is not even the Confederate flag thing, but the way that Waid and Jones present a prettified, sanitized version of white people in the Jim Crow era. In this comic, there are racist white people but also anti-racist white people; whenever a white person says something racist, another white person immediately objects. I’m afraid that this is wishful thinking. It seems more likely to me that in Missouri in 1927 the real divide was probably between vicious white racists and slightly more benevolent white racists. Waid and Jones seem to want their ancestors to have been better than they were. But a more serious problem here is that this isn’t Waid and Jones’s story to tell. To them, this story is just entertainment. Their ancestors never suffered personally from Jim Crow – in fact, their ancestors were on the other side. They have no personal stake in this story. That does not disqualify them from telling this story, but like J.A. Michelinie says in her follow-up article, it does mean that they were under an ethical obligation to tell this story in a responsible way. That means they should have done more research, they should have thought harder about the potential impact of this story, and they should have been willing to face their subject matter in a more honest way. I’m not going to say that white people should not write about racism – given that white people currently dominate the comics industry, that would be equivalent to saying that no one should write about racism. But if white people are going to address issues like this, they need to take more care than Waid and Jones did.

OPTIC NERVE #14 (Fantagraphics, 2015) – I enjoyed this much less than the previous two issues, and my initial reaction was that it was another example of Tomine’s relentlessly negative attitude. The scene where the girl loses her stutter while performing before an audience is beautiful – it’s a heartwarming scene, and yet totally plausible. So of course at that point the story turns into an awful tragedy. The girl’s father turns into a raging asshole, her mother dies of breast cancer, and the story ends with no clear conclusion. Looking at it again, I may have misread the ending. But my reaction was, why does the girl have to have both a terrible father and a dead mother? Wouldn’t one or the other have been enough angst and grief for just one story? Does Tomine have to make everything as bleak as possible? The bleakness of the story seems less gratuitous if you see the mother instead of the daughter as the central figure; in that case, the story is less about the girl’s efforts to overcome her shyness than about the girl and the father’s struggle to cope with the loss of the mother. But that reading was not evident to me at first. The second story in this issue is much more enjoyable and reminds me of Tomine’s early work; it’s also drawn in an unusually loose and crude style.

NONPLAYER #2 (Image, 2015) – This is another spectacularly gorgeous comic book, and a strong piece of storytelling. Nate Simpson may be the most talented draftsperson in comics right now. And this issue clarifies the somewhat sketchy plot of the previous issue; it looks like the plot of this series revolves around self-aware artificial intelligences. I also love all the easter eggs. Just on the first page and the inside front cover, I see a Chog, Yotsuba, Bender, Tintin and Snowy’s submarine, the robot from Laputa, and I’m sure there are lots more I missed. My problem with this comic is the publication model. I’m as attached to the comic book form as anybody else, but I don’t see the point of a comic book that comes out once every four years. I feel like if these first two issues had been published as a single European-style album, they would have gotten a larger audience and there would have been less pressure to publish each issue on schedule, and the art could also have been reproduced at a larger size. My sense is that in this case, the artist’s commitment to the comic book format is harming the viability of his work.

SANDMAN #3 (DC, 1975) – This issue has a Kirby cover, but Kirby only drew the first issue of this series. This issue is by Mike Fleischer and Ernie Chan. That’s a bit disappointing, but this comic is almost as gloriously bizarre as if Kirby had written it. The villain in the story is a brain in a jar who commands an army of zombie gorillas, and then grows to giant size and drains the power from the city of Manhattan. There’s an unintentionally hilarious scene where a little girl dreams that gorillas with clubs are climbing through the window of her father’s den, and her father tells her to go to sleep, and then when he opens the door of his den, a gorilla whacks him on the head with a club. (https://instagram.com/p/5Q7-K5vwOo/?taken-by=aaronkashtan) Neil Gaiman’s homage to this series in A Doll’s House does not do it justice. As someone else said about Fleischer once, this comic is bugf***.

DETECTIVE COMICS #742 (DC, 2000) – This is Greg Rucka’s first issue of this series. It takes place in the immediate aftermath of No Man’s Land, as Commissioner Gordon mourns the loss of his wife and attempts to kill the criminal responsible. It’s a somewhat trite story but it explores themes that come up throughout Rucka’s work on this and other series. It’s grittily realistic, it focuses more on the GCPD than on Batman himself, and it has very effective characterization. It’s just too bad that they let Shawn Martinborough draw this comic.

FLASH GORDON #4 (Dynamite, 2014) – I said that Swords of Sorrow #1 was the only Dynamite comic I was ever going to buy, but I was wrong. It turns out that this Flash Gordon series is the first work of Evan “Doc” Shaner, who is one of my favorite recent discoveries. Other than Chris Samnee, he may be the best young artist who works in the tradition of Alex Toth. And this comic is an impressive example of his work; the drawing and the page layouts are gorgeous. Flash Gordon has a very distinguished heritage and Doc Shaner is certainly not the best artist to draw this character, but he’s at least not an embarrassment compared to Alex Toth or Al Williamson or Mac Raboy. I also like the writing in this comic. Jeff Parker gives Flash, Dale and Zarko much more personality than they normally have.

STUMPTOWN #3 (Oni, 2014) – I kind of lost interest in this comic after the first issue, but it’s an effective crime comic. I do have some trouble believing that Portland has a thriving organized crime scene or a network of rival football hooligan firms, but this comic has the stark realism and deep characterization that are Rucka’s trademarks. Like John Ostrander, Greg Rucka is such a consistently good writer that it’s easy to forget how good he is.

MADMAN ATOMIC COMICS #17 (Image, 2009) – I didn’t like this comic. All that happens in this issue is that Madman and his bandmates travel to the moon and perform for some aliens. There’s no other plot at all. Also, this comic only contains 18 pages of story, followed by an extensive pinup section. Flash Gordon #4 is also just 18 pages, but each of the pages is more substantial.

COSPLAYERS #2 (Fantagraphics, 2014) – I did not much like the first issue of this series, but this one is better. It’s a fairly deep and revealing investigation of the cosplay culture, and unlike the first issue, it doesn’t seem openly dismissive of that culture. And the characters are plausible and realistic, with the exception of Baxter the manga critic, who is such a complete loser that he’s clearly not meant to be taken seriously.

JUDGE DREDD: MEGA-CITY TWO #5 (IDW, 2014) – It’s too bad that I read this issue shortly after Nonplayer #2, because I kept comparing Ulises Farinas to Nate Simpson, and that’s not really fair because they have such dissimilar styles. Farinas is closer to Brandon Graham than Simpson; his style is much more cartoony and bizarre. And his art on this issue is very impressive. Probably the best part is the sideways cutaway diagram of an enormous automated megatrain. It’s also too bad that the story makes little sense to me.

SHOWA: A HISTORY OF JAPAN FCBD (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014) – This comic was not meant to be read in such a small dose. The excerpt included here includes a wide variety of material – Mizuki’s personal recollections of army life coupled with historical information about the war – and these different narratives never come together into a single whole. And the story ends at an arbitrary point. I’m not sure I have the intestinal fortitude to read this entire book, but I do think Mizuki’s firsthand perspective on the war from the Japanese side is fascinating.

Next round of reviews

7-4-15

SWAMP THING #22 (DC, 1984) – “Swamped” was one of three Alan Moore Swamp Things I was missing, along with #24 and, unfortunately, #37. I hadn’t bothered to look for these issues because I already have the black-and-white Essential Vertigo reprints of all of them. But this series is just so much better in color. Tatjana Wood’s coloring is essential to the look of Steve and John’s artwork, and color symbolism plays a major role in the story of this comic. I can’t imagine reading “Rite of Spring,” in particular, in black and white. So it was nice to revisit this issue as it’s intended to be seen. In this issue, Swampy has gone into a trance after discovering that he’s a plant rather than the real Alec Holland, and Abby, Matt, and Woodrue are looking for him. Swampy’s dream is a masterful piece of poetic prose – I still remember the line about “plain Aryan worms” – and the non-dream part of the issue is also full of great moments, including the scene with Abby vomiting when Woodrue mentions eating Swampy, and Woodrue’s line about “steak sobbing.”

AVENGERS #74 (Marvel, 1970) – This issue’s main asset is some gorgeous Buscema-Palmer artwork. Tom Palmer is tied with Terry Austin as my favorite inker ever. The trouble with this issue is the message about race relations, which was cliched and mildly offensive even in 1970. The villains in the story are the racist Sons of the Serpent, but at the end it turns out that Montague Hale, the black radical leader of the opposition to the Sons of the Serpent, is secretly allied with them, and they’re both trying to start a race war. This is offensive for the same reason as Daisy Fitzroy’s portrayal in Bioshock Infinite is offensive. It suggests that black people are just as responsible for poor race relations as white people are, and that America would be a more harmonious place if both sides would just get along. As should go without saying, this sort of attitude is just a way of shifting the blame for racism onto the victim. And unfortunately it’s still a popular attitude 45 years after this comic was published.

MIRACLEMAN #16 (Marvel, 2015, originally Eclipse, 1989) – When I first read this issue, it impressed me even more than #15. At that point I had already read the Golden Age trade paperback, collecting the first part of Neil Gaiman’s run. I was kind of amazed to find that in just this one issue, Alan Moore establishes all of the premises that Neil would later explore in great detail – the subterranean colony with a bunch of resurrected Andy Warhols, the miracle-baby breeding program, etc. In just 32 pages, Alan and John create an entire fascinating and deep world, and yet they also drop hints that this world is not what it seems. Especially in Miracleman’s final conversation with Liz, there are hints that Miracleman and his colleagues are suffering from colossal naïveté and that the utopia they’ve created is fragile, or that it wasn’t worth the price that was paid for it. With its incredibly epic scope and its delicate balance of utopia with dystopia, this issue is a perfect conclusion to Alan Moore’s first great work, and it offers an ideal starting point for Neil Gaiman’s version of the franchise. I’m glad it’s back in print.

LITTLE ARCHIE GIANT #18 (Archie, 1961) – Confusingly, this is the same series as Adventures of Little Archie and regular Little Archie. The main story in this issue introduces Abercrombie and Stitch, and was the first story in this series that included science fiction elements. I’ve already read that story in the 2004 Adventures of Little Archie trade paperback, but this issue also includes some other Bob Bolling stories, including one in which Archie saves Veronica’s cat from falling down a waterfall. Bolling was particularly good at depicting nature and animals.

HARLEY QUINN #16 (DC, 2015) – I bought this at Heroes Con. I don’t know if I just forgot to order it, or if I bought #15 in a comic book store and then started ordering the series with #17. Anyway, this is the one where Harley recruits her Gang of Harleys, and it’s another hilarious comic. (I use the word hilarious too often but I can’t think of another word that menas the same thing.) The tryout scene is even funnier than a typical Legion of Super-Heroes tryout – all the characters are unique and interesting. I especially like the woman with five children, and the pregnant woman who came just because she thought there was cheese, and the one random dude. I feel kind of guilty for enjoying this comic, and I get the impression that it’s not fashionable to like either Harley Quinn or Conner and Palmiotti’s writing, but oh well.

UNCLE SCROOGE #236 (Gladstone, 1989) – The Barks story in this issue is “Boat Buster,” a ten-pager from 1961. It’s funny and well-drawn, but Barks’s ten-pagers are just too short; I prefer his longer works. Of the two non-Barks stories in this issue, the better one involves Donald trying to get rich by selling stolen copper roof tiles.

JONNY QUEST #28 (Comico, 1988) – This issue takes place in a “sleepy little Western town called Rio Diablo,” where Race takes Johnny and Hadji for a vacation. The joke in the issue is that the plot is heavily based on classic Western clichés, and Race and Johnny and Hadji are highly aware of this because they’re Genre Savvy (as TVTropes calls it), and they comment constantly on how everything that happens to them is based on clichés from Western films. I’m not a particular fan of either the Western genre or this sort of meta-humor, and this was not my favorite issue of Jonny Quest.

X-MEN ARCHIVES FEATURING CAPTAIN BRITAIN #3 (Marvel, 1995) – This is a reprint of the Moore/Davis Captain Britan stories from The Daredevils #2 through #5. At this point, Alan Moore had just taken over the series from the previous writer, Dave Thorpe, and was just starting to establish his own take on the series. The stories in this issue include some important moments, such as Brian’s reunion with Betsy, the reintroduction of Slaymaster, and the first appearance of the Special Executive. But these stories are just laying the groundwork for the later classic stories involving Jim Jaspers and the Fury.

Now for the new comics from two weeks ago – I need to write these reviews in a more timely fashion.

LUMBERJANES #15 (Boom!, 2015) – Another solid issue of the second best comic book in America. The most interesting thing about this issue to me is the dynamic between Jo, April and Barney. Jo seems to be extremely jealous of April’s friendship with Barney, but it’s not clear whether this is a love triangle or just a Fluttershy-Discord-Tree Hugger sort of thing. The other subplot involves Abigail, who is perhaps the best villain in the series. The big Lumberjanes news this month, of course, is that this will be Noelle Stevenson’s last storyline. I am very sad to see her go, but I hear good things about her replacement, Kat Leyh (not the same as Kate Leth) and I think this series is bigger than any one creator.

KAPTARA #3 (Image, 2015) – I hate writing these reviews two weeks after the fact; it’s hard to recover my intital impressions after reading the comics, or even to remember what they were about. This issue was funny, but there was nothing in it that stood out to me as much as the Mr. Help scene from last issue. It took me a surprisingly long time to realize that the Glomps were based on the Smurfs.

ASTRO CITY #24 (DC, 2015) – My initial prediction was wrong: Sticks doesn’t leave town, he stays in Astro City and forms a band of other superheroes. I love this idea and I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before, unless Amazing Joy-Buzzards counts. Of Sticks’s band-mates, I think my favorite is the woman who doesn’t play keyboards, she is keyboards. More generally, the idea behind this story is that not everyone who has superpowers is cut out for the superhero lifestyle. This is the sort of idea that can only be explored in a comic like Astro City. Because of the constraints of serial publication, traditional superhero comics are required to focus on superheroes and not on people who have superpowers but choose to do other things.

USAGI YOJIMBO #146 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This is a fairly average story, although an average Usagi Yojimbo story is still better than almnost anything else. Easily the best thing in this issue is Kitsune, with her kleptomania and her admission that she’s making things up as she goes along.

MS. MARVEL #16 (Marvel, 2015) – This was a good comic book, but it’s completely vanished from my memory now. Just to remind myself what actually happens in this issue: Kamala eats a bunch of hot dogs, then goes home and has an encounter with Kamran, then goes to school where she meets Carol for the first time. I expect the next issue will be more memorable than this one – it certainly has one of the best covers of 2015.

RUNAWAYS #1 (Marvel, 2015) – At first, I was not enjoying this issue and I could barely even tell it was a Noelle Stevenson comic. And then, everything changed when Molly Hayes attacked. Molly is the best thing about this issue by far – she has unlimited power and energy but no restraint whatever. She’s like Pinkie Pie or Impulse with superstrength. She obviously reminds me of Riley from Lumberjanes, yet is clearly a very different character. It’s just too bad that the other characters in this comic aren’t anywhere near as interesting. Noelle is going to have to do some more work to make me care about them. This was also a problem with early issues of Lumberjanes, where Riley and April tended to steal the spotlight from their quieter teammates.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #9 (Image, 2015) – This is maybe Image’s third best current series after Saga and Sex Criminals, although I’m sure there’s another one I’m forgetting. I was disappointed to see that this issue is a one-shot story and that we still don’t get to meet Earl Tubb’s daughter – I hope we’re finally going to get to her next issue. But this was an effective single-issue story, something which is extremely rare these days. The sheriff’s story is rather heartbreaking, although this story doesn’t quite qualify as a tragedy because he is not responsible for his downfall, Coach Boss is. I wish I hadn’t accidentally looked at the last page before reading the story.

MIND MGMT #34 (Image, 2015) – This issue is mostly just a series of fight scenes. I have no idea what’s going on with the dog, although the ad on the back cover offers a clue.

PREZ #1 (DC, 2015) – Besides Starfire, this was the new DC title I was most excited about, and so far it’s living up to its promise. This is an effective piece of satire in that all the ideas in it are exaggerated, but only a little bit, and you can easily imagine them actually coming into existence. Good examples of this are the Taco Drone and the reality show where the guy has to shoot himself. This story is an obvious dystopia, but a dystopia which doesn’t seem particularly far away. And the way in which Prez becomes president is also surprisingly plausible: she becomes the subject of a viral video and then people vote for her as a joke. Prez’s sudden popularity is integrated into the story in a very subtle way; the messages about how her viral video is trending are mostly integrated into the background of the panels. The writer and artist are good at telling multiple parts of the story at the same time. I look forward to reading more of this, and I think it’s going to be both a fun read and an interesting commentary on American democracy in 2015. Ben Caldwell’s art is not as radically experimental as it was in his Wonder Woman story in Wednesday Comics, but it’s still good.

REVIVAL #30 (Image, 2015) – This issue deals with the fallout from last issue’s terrorist attack, and the big revelation this time is that May Tao is dead. This is unfortunate because I think she was literally the only Hmong character in the history of American comic books. (After writing that sentence I Googled it and found that this is not true, there was a Hmong character in Scalped, but he was a mobster.) I was initially a bit skeptical about the accuracy of Seeley and Norton’s depiction of May’s funeral. But I just read Kao Kalia Yang’s The Latehomecomer, which includes an extended description of a Hmong funeral, and the statement that May’s funeral is a “welcome home party” seems very much in line with the description in Yang’s book. That line also makes me suspect that May will be returning as a reviver, and it would be fascinating if Seeley chose to write about the intersection between Hmong religion and the supernatural phenomena in this comic. Besides that, I don’t have much else to say about this issue.

FANTASTIC FOUR #51 (Marvel, 1966) – This was my most exciting purchase at Heroes Con. I only paid $5 for it and the copy is in completely readable condition. This issue is the best comic book ever published by Marvel, with the possible exception of Amazing Spider-Man #33. I’ve read “This Man… This Monster!” many times and I know some parts of it by heart, but it still rewards rereading. It’s the perfect combination of Kirby’s artwork and Stan’s narrative style, and I’m glad I own a copy.

ADVENTURE COMICS #360 (DC, 1967) – “The Legion Chain Gang” was one of the few Shooter Legion issues I was missing, and I wasn’t actively looking for it because I already have Superboy #238, which reprints this story. But I feel I have to also own the real thing, for the sake of completism. And this issue is worth revisiting. The original Universo story is almost as epic as Levitz’s “Universo Project,” and it’s unusual in that the protagonists are mostly the less powerful Legionnaires, and they all get at least something useful to do.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #10 (DC, 1991) – I have a lot of these old issues of Shade and I finally got around to reading some of them. Without having read the first nine issues recently, it’s hard to understand exactly what’s going on here, but it seems that there’s some sort of madness wave infecting America, and Shade and Kathy are being forced to travel around the country to fight it. In this issue, they investigate a Wisconsin town that’s started persecuting anyone who’s not “normal” according to a very narrow definition. It’s a fairly impressive piece of work, especially the ending, which reveals that the chief persecutor was traumatized by the sight of his father using some kind of bizarre masturbation machine.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #4 (IDW, 2015) – I’m sorry to see that the most recently solicited issue of this series does not have Sophie Campbell artwork. But this series is fun enough that I’m willing to continue reading it if and when Sophie leaves. There’s nothing much that’s new about this issue compared to the previous three, but it’s still an enjoyable comic with an impressively diverse cast.

BATGIRL #41 (DC, 2015) – It was inevitable that this issue would be overshadowed by the massive controversy that developed around its variant cover. But even then, this issue is just boring. It feels like Stewart and Fletcher were at a loss for what to do next after finishing their big epic. The scene with Babs and Gordon is kind of painful because it’s so reminiscent of Spider-Gwen, yet so much worse written.

HOWARD THE DUCK #4 (Marvel, 2015) – At Heroes Con, I met both Zdarsky and Quinones, and I told one of them (I think it was Joe) that I thought Steve Gerber would have approved of this comic. It doesn’t have the satirical elements of Gerber’s HTD, but it has the same absurdist style of humor. And Chip Zdarsky’s Howard, like Gerber’s Howard, is basically a straight man: he’s normal, despite being a duck, it’s just that everything around him is absurd. The humor in this issue was pretty funny. It took me a minute to get the “Objectivist Realms of Deet-Ko” joke, and I like the idea of the Abundant Glove, which is like a mediocre Infinity Gauntlet – I’m reminded of the McSweeney’s article about the Church of the Pretty Good God. Also, this issue includes Katie Cook’s first work for Marvel, though it’s not her best work.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #86 (DC, 1969) – This Batman/Deadman team-up is a classic, and my copy is in surprisingly good condition. I don’t remember much about the story – it’s about Deadman trying to kill Batman because he’s been poisoned or something – but Neal’s artwork is incredible.

VALIANT NEXT 2015 PREVIEW (Valiant, 2015) – Just a bunch of boring previews.

PRINCELESS BOOK FOUR: BE YOURSELF #1 (Action Lab, 2015) – This issue includes a number of plotlines that don’t intersect until the end, and introduces a variety of characters who didn’t appear in the previous Princeless series. So I had trouble figuring out what was going on here, though I enjoyed the parts of the issue that I did understand, especially the killer squirrel.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #11 (DC, 1991) – This issue’s villain is a serial killer who only murders women with names starting with K. It eventually becomes clear that the killer is Troy Grenzer, a recurring villain. I know I’ve read at least one previous issue of Shade with this character, and I know he has some complicated history with Kathy, but I can’t remember anything else about him. Anyway, this is good stuff.

DAREDEVIL #24 (Marvel, 1967) – Like many early issues of Daredevil, this one has gorgeous Gene Colan artwork but a forgettable plot. This issue guest-stars Ka-Zar, who, at this point, was completely indistinguishable from Tarzan. Ka-Zar had little identity of his own until the Bruce Jones/Brent Anderson series in the ‘80s. At the end of the issue, Karen accidentally discovers Matt’s secret identity, which leads to the whole Mike Murdock thing.

INVINCIBLE #43 (Image, 2007) – This was the only issue of Invincible I can find at Heroes Con. I’m running out of Invincible back issues that are within my price range. A lot of interesting stuff happens in this issue, though none of it is of earth-shaking importance. Mark realizes he doesn’t want to be in college, the Immortal and Al the Alien meet and almost fight, Mark starts to realize that his father’s books are clues to how to beat the Viltrumites, etc. The most interesting thing in this issue was Mark asking his mother why he should go to college. As a college professor, I tend to reflexively believe that everyone should attend college no matter what, but Mark makes a convincing case for why he doesn’t need it. And his inability to concentrate on his schoolwork is very realistic. While in college, Peter Parker had various academic difficulties, but he always seemed to enough time to fight villains and make a living as a photographer and maintain a full course load. Having had many students who are athletes or who work full time, I know how implausible this is.

FANTASTIC FOUR #333 (Marvel, 1989) – This is the last issue by Englehart writing as John Harkness. It’s best remembered for the fourth-wall-breaking scene at the end, where Franklin visits “John Harkness” in his home and asks him to write a comic explaining the bizarre events of recent issues. And Harkness replies “I’ll try, but it might take a better man than me to straighten out this mess.” Certainly “mess” is the right word for it – the rest of the issue is a giant three-way fight scene between the Frightful Four and two versions of the Fantastic Four. All of Englehart’s FF run was very strange but this was perhaps his strangest issue, and you get the feeling that the editors just weren’t paying attention or didn’t care what he wrote.

THE FICTION #1 (Boom!, 2015) – I bought this because of the artwork by David Rubín, who is apparently the top young talent in Spanish comics, and who known to me because of The Rise of Aurora West. David Rubín’s artwork is exciting but maybe not good enough to carry this comic book all on its own, which is a problem because the story is not particularly good. It’s about three people who get together to rescue their childhood friend who was eaten by a book. That sounds like an awesome premise, but there are already lots of stories exploring this sort of blurring between reality and fiction – The Unwritten and Jonathan Carroll’s The Land of Laughs both come to mind immediately, as well as Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, which I haven’t read yet. And so far, The Fiction isn’t treading any territory that those stories haven’t already explored.

BLACK CANARY #1 (DC, 2015) – Another exciting post-New 52 debut issue. The most impressive thing about this comic is Annie Wu’s artwork, which is a massive departure from the typical DC house style. This comic looks more like a punk rock magazine than a comic book. The linework is intentionally crude and blurry and there’s heavy use of screentones and flat colors. The creatures that attack the concert are awesome – they look like what I’ve always imagined grues as looking like. The writing is not at the same level of the artwork, but it’s readable, and I’m especially intrigued by the new character Ditto.

MANIFEST DESTINY #15 (Image, 2015) – I don’t understand the scene at the start of the issue. Why were all those men hanged – what did they do? Are they the same men who started the fight with Lewis? Does this scene take place before or after the rest of the issue? Other than that, this is another interesting story. Dawhog is an extremely funny character, and I certainly did not expect to learn that he could talk or that he belonged to an advanced civilization of other talking birds. And that of course is the coolest thing about this series – it puts the reader in the same position as Lewis and Clark, exploring a completely unfamiliar continent with no idea what to expect from it.

POWER PACK #2 (Marvel, 2000) – I talked to June Brigman briefly at Heroes Con and mentioned that I had just bought the last three issues of this miniseries, and she said that she’d never seen it. Neither have most people, I’d expect, because it was not promoted very well. And it seems to be largely forgotten today, which is no surprise because it’s not very good. The stories are just rehashes of old Simonson-Brigman material, and some of the scenes in this story could have come from a bad ABC After-School Special (is that redundant?). Even the art is below Colleen Doran’s usual standards. The later revival by Marc Sumerak and Gurihiru was an improvement on this one in every way. I do think Marvel ought to do

DETECTIVE COMICS #744 (DC, 2000) – See the review of #745 below, which I wrote before I wrote this review (I decided it would be better to go in reverse order and start with the comics I had the clearest memory of). All the comments on that issue apply to this issue as well.

XENOZOIC TALES #1 (Kitchen Sink, 1987) – This issue is an effective introduction to the complex and unique world of this series, and each of the three stories in it is fairly enjoyable. The best moment is in the first story, with the shock revelation that Jack Tenrec’s friend Hermes is a giant dinosaur. But Mark Schultz’s artwork at this point in his career was not nearly as good as it would later become.

USAGI YOJIMBO #7 (Fantagraphics, 1988) – I have almost a complete collection of the Dark Horse Usagi, and it’s time to start collecting the Fantagraphics series more heavily. The Usagi story in this issue, “The Tower,” is both weird and cute. Usagi climbs a tower to rescue a tokage that’s gotten stuck up there, and a local bully tries to trap him by cutting down the ladder to the tower, and slapstick comedy results. It’s quite funny. This issue also includes a backup story by Phil Yeh, which is most notable for its excessively ornate and barely readable lettering.

PLANETARY #2 (Wildstorm, 1999) – I am not a big Warren Ellis fan, but I really ought to try to assemble a full run of this series (and Transmetropolitan). As I remember, every issue of Planetary is a pastiche on a different genre, and in this issue the genre of choice is kaiju films. The most notable thing about this issue is a series of panels showing the giant corpses of dead kaiju. If there’s one thing John Cassaday is good at, it’s making things look absolutely huge.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #155 (Marvel, 1976) – I spoiled the joke in this issue by reading the last panel before I read the rest of the comic. It’s not that funny of a joke, though. This issue is a locked-room murder mystery that reads like a fill-in: there’s very little characterization or plot advancement. And it’s unfortunately drawn by Sal Buscema and not the regular artist at the time, Ross Andru.

YOUNG JUSTICE #31 (DC, 2001) – This is perhaps one of the best issues of the entire series because it’s a perfectly executed silent story. In Impulse’s solo series, Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos established that Bart thinks in pictures instead of words because of the speed at which his mind works. In this issue, PAD and Todd Nauck exploit the comic potential of that idea. All the dialogue in the issue – except for the title, “Quiet!” – is pictorial, whether it’s in word balloons or thought balloons, and the entire story is silent. And the plot of the issue is a series of funny excuses for why Bart has to be quiet – for example, because he’s at a librarian’s convention, or because he’s hanging out with mimes or Trappist monks. This issue is an impressive feat of storytelling.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #41 (IDW, 2015) – At this point I’m almost caught up with this series. This issue is about an old Autobot general who’s about to die under mysterious circumstances (long story) and who has left some disturbing messages behind. This issue is up to James Roberts and Alex Milne’s usual level of quality, but it also exemplifies my biggest problem with this series, which is the weight of the continuity behind it. I haven’t been a Transformers fan since elementary school and it’s hard for me to figure out just who all these characters are or what their history is, and the assumption is that the reader will have all this information already. Maybe this is how new Legion readers feel.

GIANT DAYS #4 (Boom!, 2015) – This is the one where Daisy gets high on pills, and the next morning her grandmother visits unexpectedly and her friends have to disguise the fact that she’s been taking drugs. I suppose this is a huge cliché but it’s executed in a funny way. Daisy’s confusion about her sexual identity is rather poignant.

STRANGE TALES #148 (Marvel, 1966) – My copy of this issue is barely holding itself together and needs to be replaced soon. The Nick Fury story in this issue is a continuation of the AIM/THEM plot, while the Dr. Strange story is the origin of Kaluu. Neither of these is particularly impressive. This was a fallow period for Strange Tales because Ditko had just left and Steranko had yet to arrive.

GROO THE WANDERER #5 (Pacific, 1983) – A very early and crude Groo story. Sergio’s artwork in this issue looks more like his ‘70s artwork from Plop! than like his modern style. The premise is also not well developed. In this issue Groo is a normal idiot rather than a cosmic, earth-shattering idiot – he’s stupid, but he’s capable of rational thought and he’s aware of his surroundings. This issue is notable as the first appearance of Ahax and the first story in which Groo sinks one of Ahax’s ships.

CHEW #30 (Image, 2012) – Chew is starting to become like Groo, in that it has the same joke every issue and it seems to go on forever. Except Chew can’t literally go on forever because it has continuity. This issue is memorable because it starts out with Toni and Paneer’s wedding, but then we learn that this is a fantasy scene that’s not going to happen. Instead, Toni has been kidnapped by the Collector, who cuts off three of her limbs and then kills her. John Layman says on the letters page that this was a hard issue to write, and no wonder.

IMAGE FIRSTS: SAVAGE DRAGON #1 (Image, 2013) – It’s not clear from the cover, but this is the first issue of the 1992 miniseries, not the current ongoing series. The very first Savage Dragon story is bloody, ultraviolent, and full of gratuitous T&A, which means it’s like every other Savage Dragon story, except not as well executed. At this point in his career Erik was clearly more heavily influenced by Jim Lee than by Kirby or Simonson.

HARLEY QUINN AND POWER GIRL #1 (DC, 2015) – Compared to the issue of Harley Quinn reviewed above, this issue has too much gross-out humor for my taste. I look forward to seeing Vartox again, though. The issue where Conner and Palmiotti reintroduced him was one of the highlights of their previous Power Girl run.

GROO THE WANDERER #56 (Marvel, 1989) – If nothing else, this is a better Groo story than the last one I reviewed. In “The Minstrel’s Tale,” the Minstrel tells a funny story about Groo’s disastrous errors, but it turns out that the people in the story are the same as the people to whom he’s telling the story, and they don’t find it funny at all. As a result, the Minstrel is thrown in jail, where he continues telling the story to his cellmates, and they don’t think it’s funny either, because it turns out the story is making fun of them too. Finally the Minstrel is brought before the local king, and, well, at this point the pattern is pretty obvious. Unusually, Groo himself does not appear in this issue except in flashbacks.

AVENGERS #78 (Marvel, 1970) – This is one of the few issues from this period that I hadn’t read. However, it’s almost entirely a Black Panther solo story, and I’m not a big Black Panther fan. This story does do some interesting stuff with the Black Panther and Monica Lynne’s relationship.

DETECTIVE COMICS #747 (DC, 2000) – This Renee Montoya solo story is far better than the two other Greg Rucka Detective Comics issues reviewed in the present blog post – it’s almost a classic, even. The story follows Renee through her 28th birthday, which is not a happy one. Her parents harass her about being single, she doesn’t like her new partner Crispus, and she’s so busy she has no time to investigate who’s been sending her flowers. But Commissioner Gordon remembers her birthday and gives her the day off, which is adorable. It turns out that Two-Face, of all people, is responsible for the flowers – I don’t know the continuity here – and Batman sends Renee a thank-you note for giving Harvey some peace. This is a lovely and deeply relatable story (I’ve had birthdays like this myself) and it lays some groundwork for Greg Rucka’s later work with this character. Also, guest penciller William Rosado is much better than Shawn Martinborough. Sadly the backup story in this issue is just horrible.

ROCKETEER: CARGO OF DOOM #1 (IDW, 2012) – I would have read this comic sooner if I’d realized that it was a Waid/Samnee collaboration. Chris Samnee is one of the premier artists in commercial comics right now. Reading this issue made me realize that he’s really quite similar to Alex Toth – there are panels here where his depictions of shadow and foliage are very reminiscent of Toth’s work. As far as the story, Mark has a very deep understanding of Cliff and Betty and their torrid love affair, and Peavey’s niece Sally is an adorable new character. I need to find the rest of this miniseries.

THORS #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This story takes place in an entire town full of Thors, including Beta Ray Bill, Throg, and Groot-Thor. I have no idea what the hell is going on here, but this issue is worth it just for Groot saying “I AM THOR!” and Throg saying he’s a forensics frog, not a miracle worker. I’m glad to see some new work from Chris Sprouse, but his style of art seems completely unsuitable to the film-noir tone of this comic.

THE REVIVAL #2 (Image, 2012) – I bought this at Mega Comics in Gainesville because there was hardly anything else there that I wanted. This very early issue is mostly an introduction to the world of the series, but it contains some information I didn’t know, including the fact that Dana’s dad is disappointed in her because she got pregnant with Cooper while in high school.

FLASH GORDON #2 (Marvel, 1995) – This late work by Al Williamson is unbelievably beautiful. In fact, it’s almost too beautiful – the lush richness of the landscapes and poses makes the story difficult to follow. Compared to Al’s previous Flash Gordon revival, the film adaptation from the ‘70s, I think the artwork in this miniseries is slightly worse – which tells you how good that ‘70s film adaptation was. But this miniseries is written by Mark Schultz and therefore has a much better story. Al Williamson was truly one of the greatest artists of American comics, and other than Mark Schultz, there’s almost no one left today who draws like him.

THE 47 RONIN #2 and #3 (Dark Horse, 2013) – This was another miniseries that I bought when it came out, but I only read the first issue. Probably the reason I didn’t get any further was because first, I was unimpressed by Mike Richardson’s writing in the first issue, and second, I unconsciously resented the fact that Stan was working on this instead of Usagi. And probably the reason I returned to it now was because I had been talking to my independent study student about Usagi Yojimbo, and I didn’t have any other Stan Sakai comics to read. To my surprise, this series is much better than I gave it credit for. Mike Richardson’s dialogue is serviceable, and Stan’s retelling of this classic Japanese tale is perfect. He effectively recreates what Edo-period Japan must have looked like, and his facial expressions are amazing, especially considering that he hardly ever draws human faces. Oishi Kuranosuke emerges as the true hero of the story, a loyal servant who sacrifices his own honor for the sake of that of his master, and Kira is as craven and despicable a villain as any of Usagi’s enemies. Even the minor characters, like the ronin who’s about to get married, are depicted with depth and sensitivity.

INVINCIBLE UNIVERSE #4 (Image, 2013) – This comic is kind of awful. Most of this issue is a gory, bloody bloodbath in which Best Tiger murders all his teammates one by one. On the next-to-last page, we learn that this was all happening in his imagination. But that does not take the bad taste out of the reader’s mouth. It feels to me as though this comic was just an excuse to show all kinds of unnecessary violence. Excessive violence is also a problem with Invincible, of course, but in that comic the violence is usually justified by the plot.

THE 47 RONIN #4 and #5 (Dark Horse, 2015) – See above.

MAN-THING #5 (Marvel, 1974) – This is one of only a couple Gerber Man-Things that I hadn’t read. “Night of the Laughing Dead” is kind of similar to “Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man” (to the point that I thought they were the same story at first) – they’re both about a man who goes nuts because of the callous heartlessness of corporate America, although in this case the man also ends up killing himself. This sort of thing was one of Gerber’s favorite topics – it also comes up in “The Kid’s Night Out” from Giant-Size Man-Thing #4, and Paul Same from Howard the Duck is also this type of character. I’d have to read this story again in order to have more to say about it, but it’s an impressive work by the best comic book writer of the ‘70s, and it also has some excellent Mike Ploog artwork.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #12 (DC, 1991) – I guess the point of this series was to explore the bizarre implications of a man who can change bodies, and this issue certainly accomplishes that. In this story, Shade and Kathy make love while Troy Grenzer goes to commit another murder, but then Shade and the reader simultaneously realize with horror that Shade and Troy have switched bodies – “Troy” was actually Shade, and it was Troy having sex with Kathy. Which is both a shocking surprise, and raises some tough questions about rape and consent. Based on these three issues I get the feeling that Shade is a deeply conflicted and timid character – he’s unable to act on his desire for Kathy, for example – and Troy Grenzer exploits his Hamlet-esque lack of resolve in order to abuse him and Kathy. I have some more issues of this Shade series and I look forward to reading them.

THE INFERNAL MAN-THING #1 (Marvel, 2012) – I bought this entire miniseries when it came out, but never got around to reading it. This miniseries was drawn by Kevin Nowlan from scripts that were unpublished at the time of Gerber’s death. Kevin’s art is gorgeous, but I feel that it’s too realistic for this series; I much prefer Mike Ploog’s Man-Thing. The story is a sequel to Man-Thing #12, “Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man,” which is helpfully reprinted at the end of the issue. Between that story and this one, Brian Lazarus has become a normal person again, gotten married, and become employed as a screenwriter, only to go nuts again when he loses his job because of corporate mismanagement. I found this part a little implausible, given what I know about the precarity of the screenwriting industry, but it’s clear that Brian’s story is intended to be autobiographical. Like Gerber, he can’t get work because he’s “too old and too pricey” and “there are too many younger, cheaper writers out there,” and he can’t realize his creative visions or even keep a roof over his family’s head. Reading this with the knowledge that it’s Gerber’s last completed work is kind of heartbreaking. I need to read the next two issues soon.

SUPERGIRL #2 (DC, 1996) – I very much enjoyed the previous issue of this series that I read, but this one just makes no sense. There’s no attempt to catch the reader up on what happened last issue, which is a fatal flaw in a #2 issue. All I can figure out is that Supergirl is inhabiting the body of Linda Danvers, who was sacrificed in some kind of Satanic ritual, and the ritual was intended to summon a giant demon cat who’s being pursued by giant demon dogs. I need to get issue 1 and then read this issue again.

GROO THE WANDERER #118 and #119 (Marvel, 1994) – I’ll review these together because they’re a two-part storyline, “The Day of the Pig.” The titular pig is Vano, a thirtysomething basement-dweller who realizes he can make money by telling rich people that they shouldn’t feel bad about poverty. The resemblance between Vano and Rush Limbaugh is blatantly obvious, and this is one of Groo’s more direct commentaries on real-world politics. The second half of the story introduces a society of socialists who live underground because they’re sick of the selfishness of the people on the surface. At the end of the story, the underground people realize that by refusing to engage with the surface world, they’re acting just as badly as the surface people. Meanwhile, Vano becomes king and realizes he doesn’t want the responsibility. Overall this is a satisfying story and an effective piece of satire.

LITTLE ARCHIE #148 (Archie, 1979) – It is very hard to figure out which late issues of Little Archie have Bob Bolling artwork. And the ones that do have Bolling artwork are tough to find. This one does have a Bob Bolling story, though, and it’s a good one. In “What Are Friends For?”, Little Archie tells Betty that she can’t be his friend because she’s a girl, but then he loses his dad’s expensive fishing rod and she helps him find it. Archie is forced to admit that Betty is his best friend ever, but the end of the story suggests that he hasn’t fully learned his lesson, because he asks her not to tell the other kids that they’re friends. This story is a cute piece of work with a subtle message about childhood sexism. It also includes some excellent depictions of nature, as well as a funny cameo appearance by Granny Sage, a character who Bolling had used in one previous story. Everything else in this issue is forgettable, though after reading the first story, I wondered who was dumping all those tin cans in the woods. Also, I know nothing at all about fishing, so during and after reading this comic, I must have spent about 30 minutes reading about fishing on Wikipedia.

DETECTIVE COMICS #745 (DC, 2000) – This is part three of “Evolution,” part two of which I reviewed earlier. This story has an interesting experimental color scheme where the only color is red. This would have worked a lot better if the art had been any good. Shawn Martinborough is just not a good artist; his draftsmanship is crude and ugly and unrealistic, in the negative sense. And the story is far from Greg Rucka’s best – it’s a tired old plot about a gang war and an experimental drug. There’s even a scene where Batman crashes through a skylight. I feel like I’ve seen that exact scene many times before, although I may be thinking specifically of Batman #416. The best thing about this issue is the black-and-white cover by Dave Johnson, which must be one of his most striking pieces of work.

SUGAR & SPIKE #92 (DC, 1970) – I got this issue at Heroes Con, and I read it today (July 6) because I’d just seen the news about Keith Giffen’s Sugar & Spike revival, which sounds just execrable. I know I shouldn’t dismiss a comic before reading it, but number one, I have problems with Keith Giffen that are outside the scope of this review. And number two, the premise has absolutely nothing to do with Sugar & Spike. Instead of being babies, they’re grown-up secret agents. In that case, I don’t see the point of even calling it Sugar & Spike.

Anyway, the two long stories in this issue are the one with the lawnmower, and the one where Sugar unplugs the air conditioner so their parents will take them to the beach. The lawnmower story confused me because I’ve never used a lawnmower with a starter rope, and I had to use Google to figure out what that was. On Facebook, Mordechai Luchins described Spike as a “brat” and I see what he meant, although “brat” may not be the proper term. The typical pattern in this series is that Sugar convinces Spike to participate in some hairbrained scheme, and Spike ends up suffering for it. Sugar is always the dominant partner in their relationship. It’s a Bugs Bunny-Daffy Duck dynamic.

First two batches of Heroes-Con reviews

6-23-15

I’m going to try to write these reviews as soon as possible after I read the comics reviewed. (Later note: I did not succeed.) Most of these comics were purchased at Heroes Con.

RAT QUEENS #9 (Image, 2015) – I somehow missed this issue when it came out, probably because it was solicited before I started using Discount Comic Book Service, but published after. At Heroes Con, I looked for this issue at practically every booth that was selling current comics, and I finally managed to find it. Rat Queens #9 is an enjoyable issue and a good start to Stjepan Sejic’s run, though the best line in it – “Demon babies are fun to play with” – was included in the preview. And after so many months, I can barely remember who Sawyer even is. It was nice to see Betty again, though. This series lost a lot of momentum due to lateness, which was partly caused by unfortunate events that will go unmentioned here, but hopefully it’s back on track now.

ADVENTURE COMICS #375 (DC, 1968) – “The King of the Legion!” is one of the few gaps in Shooter’s Legion. It’s the first part of a two-parter in which Bouncing Boy wins a competition to select the mightiest Legionnaire. Obviously there are some shenanigans involved here, but it’s been so long since I read #376 that I can’t remember why Bouncing Boy won or how this story ends. This issue is far from Shooter’s best Legion comic, especially considering the boring Win Mortimer artwork. Still, this was a fun read. It’s annoyingly sexist, in that most of the girl Legionnaires don’t even enter the competition – even Supergirl, who is explicitly stated to be the only girl with any chance of winning – and they spend most of the issue worrying about their respective boyfriends. And there’s a disturbing amount of fat-shaming directed at Bouncing Boy. But at least this issue has characterization. It’s full of fun character interactions, which means it’s a step above most DC comics of the time. For that matter, it’s a step above most DC comics published 47 years later.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #81 (Marvel, 1970) – I must have read this issue years ago in one of the Essential volumes, but I couldn’t remember anything about it. This issue introduces the Kangaroo, a pretty idiotic villain – he’s just a big musclebound thug who can jump high. The interesting part, as with many classic Spider-Man stories, is the characterization. Aunt May is suffering from a heart condition and Peter is feeling typically worried about her health, but Aunt May is being so overprotective that she forces Peter to stay in bed even though he’s not sick. To get away from her, Peter has to climb out the window and leave a web dummy in his bed, and when May discovers it, she almost dies of shock. This issue is perhaps one of the more screwed-up moments in Peter and May’s relationship.

MISTER MIRACLE #6 (DC, 1972) – This is one of the two issues of Kirby’s Mister Miracle that I was missing, the other being #1. This issue introduces Funky Flashman and Houseroy, Kirby’s caricatures of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. Jack’s depiction of Stan and Roy is extremely brutal. Funky Flashman lives on a literal abandoned slave plantation, and Houseroy is his submissive servant. I’m not a huge fan of Stan myself, and yet I think this depiction of him is almost too cruel. The part of this issue involving Mr. Miracle and Barda is amazing, and this issue even includes the page where Barda takes a bath, which I believe was written by Mark Evanier. It’s been so long since I read an unfamiliar New Gods comic, I’d forgotten how good they are. This issue also includes a Newsboy Legion backup story, which is kind of weird in that it includes Simon and Kirby as characters.

GUARDIANS TEAM-UP #5 (Marvel, 2015) – I should have ordered this when it came out, but I didn’t. In this issue Rocket Raccoon teams up with the Pet Avengers and they fight the Pets of Evil Masters, a funnier name than Pet Masters of Evil. I absolutely loved the Pet Avengers miniseries, even if they weren’t as well-written as some of Marvel’s more recent humor titles, and I love seeing these characters again. The “dogs playing cards” splash page is a moment of brilliance, and in general Gustavo Duarte’s artwork is adorable. The one thing I didn’t like about this issue is that some of the dialogue is clumsily written.

STRANGE TALES #146 (Marvel, 1966) – This copy appeared to be in great condition, but the cover came unattached as I was reading it, which was highly distracting and made it hard for me to concentrate. In the first story in this issue, SHIELD battles THEM, who, as will probably be revealed next issue, are the military wing of AIM. This story surprised me because I hadn’t realized that AIM was initially introduced as a legitimate organization. The Dr. Strange story is much more important, though I was in the middle of reading this story when the cover fell off. “The End – At Last!” is the conclusion of Ditko’s Dr. Strange, one of the great runs in Marvel Comics history, and it features Dormammu’s epic battle with Eternity. I saw one of the splash pages from this issue in Les Daniels’s Marvel coffee table book, but I’ve never read the actual story until now, and it’s an impressive piece of work with gorgeous artwork. This story also reveals Clea’s name for the first time.

AVENGERS #110 (Marvel, 1973) – This issue has eluded me until now because it’s an X-Men appearance. This issue is somewhat clumsily written and shows evidence that Englehart was still getting his feet wet as a writer. And this story predates Giant-Size X-Men #1, so the X-Men were still rather boring and poorly developed. Amusingly, the Avengers don’t recognize Professor X at first because they’ve only met him once, at Reed and Sue’s wedding. As usual for Englehart, the high point of this issue is the characterization. When Quicksilver announces his engagement to Crystal, Wanda tells him about her own relationship with Vision. Pietro is furious, and demands, as the head of the family, that Wanda stop dating an android. Pietro’s hostility toward Vizh was a common theme in several later Englehart comics. Steve saw Quicksilver as essentially a villain, and would have turned him into a villain for real if not for editorial interference (see goo.gl/CLOUmZ). The other notable piece of continuity in this issue is that it introduces Magneto’s mind-control helmet.

UNCANNY X-MEN #139 (Marvel, 1980) – This was the only Claremont/Byrne X-Men I was able to find at Heroes Con. At this point I have about half of this run but I’m missing #129, #141, and #142, which I expect will be nigh impossible to find for my usual price range of $6 or under. I know this issue practically by heart, though it was fun to revisit. It’s full of adorable moments, including Kurt offering Logan a beer instead of lemonade, and Kitty meeting Stevie Hunter for the first time.

HERO FOR HIRE #8 (Marvel, 1973) – This is the first part of the two-parter with Dr. Doom. The following issue is the one with the line “Where’s my money, honey?” I looked for that issue at Heroes Con but couldn’t find a copy that was in my price range. This issue is still pretty awesome, though. Luke’s interactions with Dr. Doom and his underlings are hilarious. There’s one slightly disturbing line where Doom says that he has no black subjects because Latveria is in Europe – this reminded me of the arguments people use to justify the absence of black people in Game of Thrones. But Doom does go on to mention that no one ever emigrates to Latveria, which is perhaps the funniest line in the issue. I feel obliged to point out that this comic is an extreme example of blaxploitation, perhaps even more so than most Luke Cage comics.

YOUNG JUSTICE #30 (DC, 2001) – I’m closing in on a complete run of DC’s best teen superhero comic since New Teen Titans. In this story, the kids return from New Genesis and then Spoiler and Secret get in a fight over Robin. Because this comic guest-stars Spoiler, it brought back unpleasant memories of Chuck Dixon’s Robin. I say unpleasant because I used to like that comic so much that I used “Tim Drake” as a screen name, but my memory of it has been tarnished by my personal distaste for Dixon. It’s hard to think about that comic without seeing Dixon’s right-wing beliefs everywhere in it. Besides that, this issue is pretty good, and like most issues of YJ, it passes the Bechdel test easily.

BATMAN #316 (DC, 1979) – On the Classic Comics Forum, shaxper recommended this issue, calling it a “really solid Batman/Robin team-up.” Crazy Quilt is an extremely stupid villain, but somehow Len Wein depicts him as a legitimate menace. The Batman/Robin interactions in this issue are very cute, reminding me of the similar scenes in Detective Comics #474. The one thing in this issue that surprises me is Bruce telling Dick that someday Wayne Enterprises will be his; I can’t really imagine Dick as a businessman or a millionaire playboy.

UNCLE SCROOGE #261 (Disney, 1991) – This was the only Don Rosa comic I could find at Heroes Con. I’m still looking for Uncle Scrooge #292, which is the only chapter of Life & Times that I’m missing. It seems like practically all post-1986 duck comics are harder to find than Gold Key duck comics, which is no doubt because of low print runs. However, I also feel like last Heroes Con, everybody had all sorts of Gladstone comics, and this year no one had any. But anyway, “Return to Xanadu” is an unannounced sequel. Scrooge and the nephews go looking for the Xanadu described in Coleridge’s poem, and they discover that Xanadu is really Tralla La. Unfortunately I spoiled this for myself by reading ahead, but the moment where one nephew says “welcome back to Xanadu” and another nephew says “welcome back to Tralla La” is still pretty cool. The first part of the story is one of Rosa’s typical exciting adventures, and in the second part, the ducks reach Xanadu and settle into an idyllic existence. It occurred to me when reading this part of the story that Tralla La is obviously based on Shangri La. But their blissful life is interrupted when they discover they’ve made a horrible mistake which may have doomed Tralla La for good. Unfortunately the story ends at this point – it’s 30 pages but the last 13 pages are in the next issue, which will probably be nearly impossible to find. I wish Disney had just printed the entire story in one issue.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #164 (DC, 1979) – As I’ve written before, Gerry Conway’s JLA was not nearly as good as Steve Englehart’s JLA, but Conway was still much better at characterization than any of the JLA writers before Englehart. His two favorite characters seem to have been Zatanna and Red Tornado, both of whom play a major role here. This was part of a multipart storyline exploring Zatanna’s origin, and Zatanna meets her mother Sindella for the first time in this issue. Reddy is the narrator, and there’s one poignant scene where he wonders if he’ll ever see his friends again, and then there are three silent panels. Otherwise, though, this issue was kind of forgettable.

IRON MAN #242 (Marvel, 1989) – Somehow I finally felt motivated to read this and this comic, which I’ve had for about four years. I don’t know why I didn’t read them before because I’m a big fan of both of Michelinie’s runs on Iron Man, and I consider him the best Shellhead writer by far. This issue is annoying because the villain is the Mandarin, an offensive yellow peril stereotype. This comic does include one positively depicted Chinese character, Soo Lin (from issue 130), but otherwise it’s full of Orientalist stereotypes. Otherwise, this is a fairly exciting story, which ends on a massive cliffhanger as Kathy Dare shoots and apparently kills Tony.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #105 (DC, 1973) – This is an average issue from Haney and Aparo’s best period on this series. It’s mostly notable because the guest star is the mod version of Wonder Woman. The story is kind of annoying because it relies on all sorts of Hispanic stereotypes. The plot is about expatriates from San Sebastian, which appears to be based on Cuba, and a major plot point is that young women from San Sebastian are unwilling to be seen in public without a duenna.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #7 (Image, 2015) – I allowed myself to fall behind on this series because I was not particularly interested in Euless Boss’s backstory, and I wanted to learn more about Earl Tubb’s biracial daughter. But at Heroes Con I went to the Southern Bastards panel, partly because I was tired and needed to get off the floor, partly because I wanted to see Jason Aaron and Jason Latour and the line at their table was always way too long. Listening to the panel revived my interest in the comic, so today I read the last two issues. Issue 7 is pretty compelling. During the panel, someone mentioned that this story makes the reader sympathize with Euless Boss despite knowing that he’s a horrible villain and a murderer, and I agree that this story effectively explains his motivation. The scene where we discover that Euless didn’t get any college scholarship offers because his coach badmouthed him is particularly powerful and surprising.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #8 (Image, 2015) – This issue begins with Coach Boss killing his own father. Olis Boss clearly deserved it, and I was even wishing he would die after issue 7, yet this scene was still quite shocking. Since I don’t have much else to say about this issue, I will also mention that in the letter column of issue 7, a reader makes the obvious point that Big is a classic example of a Magic Negro. Jason Aaron’s response to this is not entirely satisfying, though it does indicate that he’s aware of the stereotype and is not using it in a naïve way. I asked a question about race at the Southern Bastards panel, and I later had a brief conversation with Jason Latour about this topic, and I do expect that race is going to be a significant topic in this comic even if it hasn’t been explicitly discussed yet.

IRON MAN #244 (Marvel, 1989) – Tony survives the shooting, obviously, but is confined to a wheelchair. The first half of this issue is interesting for its realistic and sensitive depiction of disability. Tony has trouble doing everyday things, he feels powerless, and everyone treats him like “an animal in a zoo.” This portrayal of disability is unusually deep for its time, and you get the sense that David Michelinie based it on knowledge of real disabled people. The second half of the issue is a flashback to Tony’s relationship with Joanna Nivena, who helped convince him to become a superhero after his heart injury. This part of the story is an obvious retcon: Joanna had never been mentioned before, and only appeared once after (in Kurt Busiek’s Iron Age). I suspect this whole sequence may have originated as an inventory story. Still, it’s very sweet, and it serves its purpose of motivating Tony to build a new Iron Man armor that allows him to walk. In general, this is a satisfying Iron Man story. It also includes an unintentionally hilarious line where one of Tony’s fellow hospital patients asks him to change the channel because “life’s tough enough without having to stomach that Downey character” – though this could refer to Morton Downey Jr. and not Robert. (Addendum: I asked David Michelinie about this on Facebook and he confirmed that he meant Morton, not Robert.)

WONDER WOMAN #277 (DC, 1981) – This was one of a couple Paul Levitz Huntress stories I didn’t have. The trouble with these Huntress stories is that they came packaged with Wonder Woman stories which were execrably bad. This issue’s Wonder Woman story includes Kobra’s origin, which is a litany of cliches about India. Kobra’s headquarters is in the Temple of Kali in Delhi (because of course there’s just one temple in Delhi dedicated to Kali), and you get the impression that this is because Gerry Conway didn’t know of any other Hindu deities or any other cities in India. And Kobra’s origin story is told to Diana by an old black woman who herself is a huge stereotype. However, this issue is completely redeemed by the Huntress backup story. Helena Wayne was one of DC’s great female characters of the ‘70s and ‘80s; she was a confident, assertive, and even frightening, yet she had realistic fears and insecurities. This story is about her reaction to Harry Sims’s accidental discovery of her secret identity. Helena and Harry were an adorable couple and it was very frustrating when Geoff Johns decided to break them up in JSA Annual #1.

WEIRD SCIENCE #4 (Russ Cochran, 1993) – I have to make more of an effort to collect these Russ Cochran EC reprints. I eventually want to have all of them. The highlight of this issue is probably “The Radioactive Child,” which has some beautiful Kurtzman artwork, though the story is not great. Al Feldstein’s “Panic!” is a funny take-off on Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast, where the aliens turn out to be real. I wonder if this story is the first appearance of the phrase “spa fon.” Graham Ingels’s “House in Time” has an interesting SF premise: a house where going through the front door sends you back in time 500,000 years, but going through the back door sends you forward in time the same amount. I had to spend a few minutes trying to figure out how this worked. Jack Kamen’s “Gargantua” is about a man who can’t stop growing. The most memorable thing about it is the calculations of the amount of food that the man needs at each of his various sizes.

6-28-15

ALIEN WORLDS #2 (Pacific, 1983) – This issue includes “Aurora,” one of Dave Stevens’s few non-Rocketeer works – in fact, it might be the only comic story he did that wasn’t Rocketeer. It was drawn in 1977 for Sanrio and was intended for the Japanese market. Dave says in his introductory note that it’s heavily influenced by Moebius, but I couldn’t really tell. It was drawn for a smaller page size than the standard American one, so at the top of each page there’s a banner showing Aurora and Unk’s faces. It’s sort of a crude piece of work compared with his later masterpieces, and the story is rather trite, but it’s still recognizable as Stevens, and it’s an exciting glimpse of an early period in this important artist’s career. This issue also includes a wordless story by Ken Steacy, which is nearly incomprehensible. The last story in the issue is both written and drawn by Bruce Jones, and is clearly a pastiche of EC’s Weird Science, but is not as good.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #38 (DC, 1965) – “Crisis on Earth-A, Part 2” has a convoluted plot which is very difficult to understand without having read Part 1. The most memorable part of this issue is the evil Johnny Thunder’s attempts to outsmart the Thunderbolt into doing his evil bidding, and vice versa.

THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE #1 (DC, 1993) – I didn’t realize that this was written by Neil Gaiman, or I would probably have gotten it sooner. This is the first of two bookends for a crossover story, and it focuses on Rowland and Paine’s investigation of the disappearances of a series of children. This is not Neil’s absolutely best work, but Rowland and Paine are entertaining, with their good intentions and their humorous ineptitude. And the story is a fairly interesting investigation of the theme of childhood, which comes up a lot in Neil’s work. I need to get the second issue of this.

MIRACLEMAN #14 (Marvel, 2015, originally Eclipse, 1988) – This issue goes through a lot of major plot points very quickly, as setup for the two epic issues to follow. One impressive thing about this comic is how Alan was able to establish such a deep and rich web of continuity in so little space. Some of the major characters, like Winter and the Qys, appear on just a few pages each and yet they still seem like major characters. There’s a ton of fantastic stuff in this issue, but easily the most shocking scene is where Johnny Bates changes into Kid Miracleman to save himself from rape – and then goes and murders the nurse who was nice to him. Annoyingly, in Marvel’s version, all of Bates’s dialogue on that page is missing for some reason, although it’s visible in the reproduction of John Totleben’s pencils. Speaking of John Totleben, the biggest revelation of rereading Miracleman in this form is what a spectacular artist he was – he deserves to be remembered as one of the great artistic geniuses of the ‘80s. Without him, neither the glory of Olympus nor the horror of Bates’s massacre would have been nearly as impressive.

MIRACLEMAN #15 (Marvel, 2015, originally Eclipse, 1988) – And now we come to perhaps the most shocking and brutal comic book ever published, a comic that used to be my biggest collecting Holy Grail. (After I finally got to read it, I gave up on ever owning a copy, and now I’m satisfied with just owning this reprint.) This issue underwhelmed me a bit when I first read it, just because it couldn’t possibly have matched the way I imagined it, but on rereading it, I’m amazed by its power and horror. I think Johnny Bates is the scariest comic book villain ever – he’s effectively the devil incarnate, especially the way John Totleben draws him. And could there be anything as horrific as the two-page spread at the end? Or as poignant as the scene where Miracleman is forced to kill the human Johnny? This is not an easy comic to read, but every fan of English-language comics should read it.