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.

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