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.

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