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.

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