Reviews for week of 8-12-15

Now that I’m getting new comic books every week, I’m going to try to post these reviews on a weekly basis.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #3 (Image, 2015) – It’s been so long since I read the last issue of this series (about four months) that I don’t remember the plot at all, and on top of that, the plot of this series doesn’t make logical sense. Also, I’ve decided that I like Gabriel Ba much better than Fabio Moon, although I still have trouble remembering which is which. So overall this was not a highly impressive comic.

THE UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #8 (Marvel, 2015) – A satisfying conclusion to this series, which is thankfully going to be relaunched in a couple months and is not cancelled. The funniest moments in the issue were Loki’s cat head, and Nancy bringing Bluetooth to Asgard.

ODY-C #6 (Image, 2015) – This is a weird issue. Matt points out in the letter column that it’s based on a lot of inspirations, ranging from Romulus and Remus to the Jataka Tales to the Arabian Nights, and it has more in common with some of those other texts than with the Odyssey. This story is very evocative of a lot of things, but I’m not sure what it all adds up to. I don’t know of any myth where Helen doesn’t make it back to Sparta with Menelaus; this seems to be Matt’s own invention.

Another thought I had when I was reading this issue is that it’s a side story, whose function is to enrich our knowledge of the storyworld rather than to advance the plot. As far as I know, the original precedent for this sort of story is Jack Kirby’s “The Pact.”

STARFIRE #3 (DC, 2015) – Amanda and Jimmy’s version of Koriand’r is rather different from Marv Wolfman’s version – obvious differences include that this Koriand’r has straight hair and doesn’t use contractions. Yet I feel that Amanda and Jimmy understand the essence of this character in a way that no other writer does besides Marv Wolfman himself. Kory’s key character traits are her emotional intensity and her naiveté, and both of those character traits have been displayed very prominently in this series. As a result, this comic is adorable. The surprise this issue is the guest appearance by one of Amanda and Jimmy’s pet characters, Atlee.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #9 (DC, 2015) – This is no longer the best DC title, but it’s still fun. I hardly remember anything about this issue, though, except that I’m finally starting to understand what happened to Olive’s mother. Oh, also, Olive seems eerily similar to Antimony from Gunnerkrigg Court in that they both have a dead mother who had some kind of fire-related powers.

SECRET WARS: BATTLEWORLD #4 (Marvel, 2015) – I looked at this and couldn’t remember why I ordered it, until I opened it and saw the James Stokoe artwork. The James Stokoe story in this issue takes place in a world resembling ancient Egypt and stars the Silver Surfer and the Juggernaut. The plot here is rather flimsy but the art, as usual with Stokoe, is mind-blowing. His visual imagination is incredible. The backup story, by Peter David, is pointless.

HOWARD THE DUCK #5 (Marvel, 2015) – Another hilarious issue. Chip Zdarsky is becoming one of the funniest writers in the industry, and this issue also includes a surprisingly tender scene, Howard’s reconciliation with Tara. Though I still wonder what the hell happened to Bev. I love all the fake footnotes.

HARLEY QUINN #18 (DC, 2015) – This was fun, but I barely remember anything about it except that it involves Captain Strong. I think I was falling asleep when I read this comic. This series is a definite guilty pleasure.

DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS #1 (DC, 2015) – Another comic I can’t remember very well, though I enjoyed it. It seems quite historically accurate, although one of my Facebook friends was complaining that the timeframe seems to be off.

LONG DISTANCE #3 (Image, 2015) – This issue answers my major complaint about this series, which was that there was no real conflict. At the end of the issue, Lee loses her guarantee of a postdoc for next year. This is a very realistic and disturbing scenario that hits close to home for me as a non-TT academic, though I assume it’s all going to work out fine – that Dr. Navi Gownde is going to offer her a job. But then maybe she’ll end up on the other side of the country, which is another common occurrence in academia. More generally, Thom is just such an amazing dialogue writer and he draws such beautiful facial expressions. As I wrote on Facebook, “I didn’t like Thom Zahler’s Long Distance at first, but now I’m obsessed with it. His characterization is so good.”

PRINCELESS: BE YOURSELF #2 (Action Lab, 2015) – Both the plotlines in this issue are very funny. The best joke in the issue is the massacre/masquerade confusion, but the horse thing is cute too. When Adrienne asks Delores Grunkmore if a lot of people use goblin guides, I wonder if that’s an intentional Magic: The Gathering reference. My main gripe about this comic is that the lettering is ugly.

PROVIDENCE #2 (Avatar, 2015) – This issue is more obviously fantastic/SFinal than last issue, and it appears to be a direct reference to Lovecraft’s story “The Horror at Red Hook.” The connections to Alan’s other work are also more obvious – the Kurdish Yazidi man obviously makes me remember King Peacock from Top Ten. The diary entries at the end of the comic are very cumbersome to read because of the illegible font.

EMPIRE: UPRISING #4 (IDW, 2015) – I think I’m getting fed up with this series. Every issue is just a bunch of pointless blood and gore, with no substantial plot progression. In 2003, this sort of thing was original enough to be interesting, but not anymore. I think the next issue of this series will be my last.

LAZARUS #12 (Image, 2014) – And here’s another series that I’m going to stop ordering. This issue typifies the problem with this series: it’s just a lot of internal Family politics that I don’t care about, with no significant worldbuilding or development of Forever’s character.

LAZARUS #13 (Image, 2014) – See above. The poker game is kind of a funny scene, but whatever.

THUNDERBOLTS #12 (Marvel, 1998) – I was reluctant to read this because it’s double-sized, and that also meant I couldn’t read any of the later issues of Thunderbolts in my to-be-read boxes. I finally managed to get through it. I’ve never liked Thunderbolts as much as Kurt’s other major works, and I think it’s because I have little affection for the characters. I guess I like Songbird and Jolt but otherwise my favorite Thunderbolt, oddly, is Zemo, with his unrepentant evil. And this issue is a somewhat formulaic superhero story, though it becomes genuinely exciting toward the end.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #2 (Marvel, 2008) – I read this because I was in the middle of reading The Wrenchies, and I realized that this series also has Farel Dalrymple artwork. Farel is clearly a major talent, but his artwork here is less impressive than in The Wrenches or It Will All Hurt. In particular, his coloring is much more flat, without three-dimensional modeling of volume. Reading this issue, I had the sense that he was phoning it in – that he was not doing the best work he was capable of. As for the story, it makes even less sense than that of the original Omega.

LAZARUS #14 (Image, 2015) – This is the best issue of the series since #4, and it partly redeems this series. Forever finally gets to talk to Jonah about his text message, and starts to realize that the things she’s been told about herself and her world are not the complete truth. The silent pages with Forever watching Jonah swim away, and then watching her hand injuries heal, are quite powerful. The problem is that I feel that the previous ten issues did nothing to advance Forever’s character arc – there was no reason this scene couldn’t have happened right after issue 4. What I want is for Forever to realize that the society she lives in is deeply unjust, and to start working to change it, and it seems like that’s not going to happen for a long time.

GODZILLA: THE HALF-CENTURY WAR #1 (IDW, 2012) – More absolutely gorgeous artwork by James Stokoe, one of the leading draftspeople in comics right now. What impresses me about this issue is the sense of scale he creates. Godzilla seems just toweringly huge – and in a way he even looks more realistic than the people in the comic. With his style, Stokoe is clearly not capable of doing a monthly series, but it seems like he’s managed to build a career out of doing miniseries and one-shots, which is reassuring.

LAZARUS #15 (Image, 2015) – With this issue, we’re back to boring stuff I don’t care about. Michael Lark is the leading artist of action scenes in the current comics industry, and this issue’s epic swordfight between Forever and Sonya is an impressive piece of work. Even then, it wasn’t enough to get me emotionally invested in this comic, because I didn’t care about the stakes involved.

THE ELTINGVILLE CLUB #2 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This story takes place ten years after the previous issue, as the four Eltingville Club members reunite at Comic-Con. Evan uses Comic-Con as an opportunity to make fun of many of the problems affecting the current comics industry, including rampant sexism. Bill’s angry rant about Jerry’s girlfriend is kind of the perfect expression of the Gamergate mentality. This issue also includes Evan’s typical over-the-top cathartic mayhem, as the Eltingville Club causes a riot which leads to the end of Comic-Con. This feels like it could be the last Eltingville Club story. If so, it’s an appropriate sendoff.

PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #1 (Image, 2015) – As explained earlier, I don’t like this comic nearly as much as other Gillen/McKelvie works because I have no interest in the subject matter. I get what Kieron is saying about how music is magic, but I feel that way very rarely myself. This is probably a matter of personal preference: I like media that don’t have a strict temporality attached. I prefer reading and playing video games because I can set the pace myself (though obviously that’s not always true in the latter case). Anyway, I am still going to keep reading this comic because it’s Kieron and Jamie.

HELLBLAZER #48 (DC, 1991) – This is the sequel to “The Pub Where I Was Born” (I remember that title because it’s a Pogues lyric), in which Constantine’s favorite bar is blown up by mobsters. In this issue, Constantine pursues the people responsible, but it turns out that they’re already being pursued by the vengeful ghosts of the murdered bar owner and her previously deceased husband, and Constantine has to get the ghosts to calm down. It’s a violent but also a very touching story. The weak link here is Mike Hoffman’s artwork. His storytelling is fine, but his draftsmanship is so loose and sketchy that it reminds me of Frank Stack – not that I have anything against Frank Stack, his style of art just doesn’t seem appropriate for this comic.

SILK #5 (Marvel, 2015) – Again, I liked this comic but I can hardly remember anything about it now. Probably the best thing in the issue is the scene where Peter and Silk are talking, and in the background the dragon villain dude is escaping, and Peter is like “That is why I don’t team up with bad guys.”

LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD #9 (Marvel, 2015) – Like Lazarus, this is a series that I’ve been buying but not reading. Its initial momentum was killed off by excessive involvement in crossovers. This issue is a good example of that. It’s a crossover with Axis, a story which I know nothing about. It seems like the idea here is that in Axis, all the villains turn good and all the heroes turn evil. This does lead to an exciting scene where Loki picks up Thor’s hammer because he’s become worthy to wield it. But at the end of the issue, the good/evil switch is reversed due to events occurring in some other comic, and Thor and Loki both forget that Thor lifted Loki’s hammer. So effectively the events of the issue never happened. After this, I had little interest in reading issue 10, though I suppose I’ll get to it soon.

SUICIDE SQUAD #22 (DC, 1988) – This is the one where Amanda orders the Squad to stop Rick Flag from killing Senator Cray, and Deadshot obeys her order – by killing Cray himself. I already knew about this plot twist secondhand, but it was fun to see it actually happen on-panel. Besides that, this issue, like every other issue of Suicide Squad, is full of exciting action and effective characterization. The one thing that bugged me about this issue is the black-haired character wearing a black shirt and sunglasses. This person is never identified and has no lines of dialogue, and I’m mystified as to who he might be.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #90 (Marvel, 1982) – This issue is certainly not a classic, but it’s fun anyway. Spider-Man and the Thing run into each other at a Renaissance Fair, where, by coincidence, an inept magician has accidentally spoken an incarnation that summons a giant green monster. This leads to some ineffective fight scenes but also some funny dialogue, especially in the last panel where Spidey wonders what to do with the defeated monster, and Ben suggests the Central Park zoo might like a donation. This story is by Jan Strnad, a highly underrated writer, and Alan Kupperberg, who sadly just passed away.

HELLBLAZER #78 (DC, 1994) – As I’ve probably said here before, this series, not Preacher, is Garth Ennis’s greatest work (that I know of). This is part one of his last Hellblazer story, “Rake at the Gates of Hell” – another title taken from a Pogues song. It’s not clear at this point where this story is going, but it does seem to involve two themes of Ennis’s Hellblazer – John’s deal with the First of the Fallen, and the British National Party. This story has an overwhelming theme of despair, as John realizes that he’s doing awful things to his friends but he can’t help it. Steve Dillon’s artwork is terrific; I think he and Ennis are better together than either of them is alone.

LAZARUS #16 (Image, 2015) – This issue is a side story that focuses on the nun who appeared in the Lift storyline. It would have been a better side story if not for all the unreadable text and the numerous pages that are wasted on infodumps. This story didn’t do much to expand my knowledge of the world of Lazarus, besides telling me that this world is a horrible living hell, which I knew already.

Reviews for 8-14-15

I apologize to myself for getting behind. I received my new comics two days before I went on vacation, and I didn’t have time to write reviews of them. Then after I got back, I didn’t feel like writing reviews.

SECRET WARS JOURNAL #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I could have skipped ordering this comic. There are two stories here, and the second one is just bad, a boring piece of generic horror. The first story is the one that interested me because it stars Kate Bishop, but the writer, Prudence Shen, does not do a good job with her characterization, and the story is too short to develop any momentum.

AVENGERS ACADEMY #8 (Marvel, 2011) – When published this was one of Marvel’s best titles, but the quality of Marvel’s output has increased so much in the intervening years that if this comic were published now, it wouldn’t even be in the top five. The trouble with this story is the excessiveness. The kids discover that the Hood savagely beat Tigra and got away scot-free, so they get revenge by beating him up and posting the video to the Internet. I suppose it’s plausible that a bunch of stupid teenagers would overreact in this way, but it decreases my respect for all the parties involved. And what makes it worse is that Tigra overreacts just as badly by expelling all the kids from the team. I mean, I guess this sort of histrionic behavior is not uncommon in superhero comics, but I’ve come to expect even Marvel to behave more realistically.

SUPERMAN #192 (DC, 1967) – Like many DC comics of this era, “Clark Kent’s Super-Brat!” is blatantly stupid and shows little respect for the reader’s intelligence. The whole story is basically a big joke where Clark Kent Jr. embarrasses his father with his much higher intelligence (I’m reminded a little bit of Winter in Miracleman). One of the central plot points of the story is that Clark loses his memory and forgets he was ever Superman. This creates a gaping plot hole, because other people, including Batman and Supergirl, do know his secret identity, and they could have told him he was Superman. Instead of coming up with a way to fix the plot, the writer, Otto Binder, has Batman and Supergirl directly address the reader and say that they can’t tell Clark his own secret identity because that would ruin the story. This is essentially an admission that the writer not only failed to write a logical plot, but didn’t even bother to try.

Now we come to the new comics from the week of July 20.

HAWKEYE #22 (Marvel, 2015) – It was a long time coming (I reviewed the previous issue in March, and the one before that in December), but this issue is an appropriate conclusion to the best Marvel comic of the decade. Nothing happens here that’s incredibly surprising, but this issue wraps up all the loose plot threads in a satisfying way, and there are even some callbacks to the sign language imagery from issue 19. The closing scene, with Hawkeye and Kate practicing archery, has a powerful sense of finality and resolution, and I don’t quite know why. I congratulate Matt, David, and their collaborators on producing a classic piece of work which has helped to raise the standards for the superhero genre.

LUMBERJANES #16 (Boom!, 2015) – It’s been a long time since I got a new issue of Lumberjanes and it wasn’t the first comic I read. Hawkeye #22 was one of the few things that could have taken priority over Lumberjanes. I don’t know what’s up with this issue’s cover; it seems to have been intended for the next story arc, with the mermaids, instead of the current one. As for the actual issue, I find that I don’t remember much about it. This is partly because I read it a while ago and I’ve read a ton of other stuff in the meantime, but it’s also because there’s not much in this issue that’s particularly memorable. We finally get to see what the Grootslang actually is, and we get an intriguing flashback to what the camp was like when the Bear Woman ran it, but besides that, this issue is just a continuation of the Rosie storyline.

ASTRO CITY #25 (DC, 2015) – The new Hummingbird is the cutest Astro City character since Astra, so I was excited about this spotlight on her, and it turned out to be another fantastic Astro City story. For most of the story, Amanda really does seem like the luckiest girl in the world – she not only has superpowers but also a wonderful mother and supportive friends. As a side note, I like how the elder Hummingbird decides to raise her child by herself rather than go live in her boyfriend’s dimension. This is an unusually positive portrayal of single motherhood. Then the story takes a much darker twist, as Amanda learns that she’s suffering from a curse that’s gradually transforming her into an actual hummingbird. But Amanda refuses to give up her powers in order to stop the curse, because her upbringing has taught her that “I won’t give up on who I am and what I do… out of fear of what might happen if I lose.” It’s a moment of genuine heroism and it shows how Amanda’s mother has made her who she is. Like Iron Man #128, this issue ends with Amanda vowing that she’s going to win, and I believe it.

Also, one of Greymalkin’s cats is Grumpy Cat.

USAGI YOJIMBO #147 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Until reading the letters page of this issue, I didn’t realize that this story was the first time Kitsune and Chizu had met. If that was the point of “The Thief and the Kunoichi,” then the story succeeded at what it was trying to do; Stan did an effective job of exploiting the dramatic potential created by the personality conflict between these characters. The ending of the story is rather surprising, as Kitsune ends up in possession of the treaty, which she’s going to sell to an ally of Lord Hikiji. Though I guess this doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things because the treaty is just a McGuffin. The kiss scene at the end is hilarious.

MIND MGMT #35 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This is the last issue, but the series isn’t over yet because New MGMT #1 is still forthcoming. One of the last parts of my current book that I still need to write is the section on Mind MGMT, and I think I might wait to write it until the week after next when New MGMT comes out, because I think I need to read the last few issues in a couple sittings – I feel like I’ve missed quite a lot. The key plot point in this issue is that the animal girl, whose name I forgot, reappears and saves the day. This feels a bit like a deus ex machina, but I think Matt has provided sufficient justification for why it happened now and not sooner. It’s also worth noting that in this issue, the illustrations at the bottom of the page border are back.

SILVER SURFER #13 (Marvel, 2015) – The first half of this issue is an affectionate tribute to the first 12 issues of the series. I loved seeing Plorp and the Perfect Planet again, and “it’s actually space-French” is one of the funniest lines in the entire series. The second half of the issue is weird and forgettable, although the last page, where the entire landscape turns out to be the face of the Shaper of Worlds, is a cool trick.

PREZ #2 (DC, 2015) – I enjoyed this comic but now I can’t remember much about it, besides the exaggeratedly childish behavior of the state representatives. I’m surprised that Prez’s dad is already dead; I assumed that her motivation was going to be paying for his health care. I did love the line about how there was no hope for him because he was an adjunct professor – I think this may have been the first reference to the adjunct crisis in any comic book.

POWER UP! #1 (Boom!, 2015) – This was a fun comic but, like other recent Boom! comics, it was too short. I barely had time to get to know any of the characters before the issue ended. I do love the premise of this series and I look forward to learning more about the characters, though the fact that there are only five issues left is troubling.

EMPIRE: UPRISING #3 (IDW, 2015) – This is just like every other issue of Empire. None of the characters are sympathetic at all, there’s lots of gratuitious violence and sex, and the whole series seems like a guilty pleasure on the part of the creators. At least it’s not as bad as Savage Dragon.

HARLEY QUINN & POWER GIRL #2 (DC, 2015) – I liked this better than the first issue, but I hardly remember anything about it. Probably the highlight of the issue is that one of Vartox’s ex-girlfriends is a boy.

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I was waiting to read this until Hawkeye #22 came out. This issue was a promising start to the series, though the second issue did not fulfill that promise, as we will see. The only concern here is that both the artwork (in the present-day sections) and the characterization are very close to Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye. There is no way that Jeff Lemire and Ramón Pérez are going to be able to reach the level of quality of their predecessors, so it might have been better for them to go off in an entirely different direction, like Matt Fraction and Mike Allred did when they replaced Jonathan Hickman on FF.

SUICIDE SQUAD #19 (DC, 1988) – This is a “Personal Files” story that follows Amanda Waller over the course of a typical day. As usual with this series, this is a high-quality comic but there’s nothing that particularly distinguishes it from any other issue. This story does offer some interesting insights into Amanda’s character.

I’m going to try to get through the next four reviews very quickly, because I was exhausted when I read these comics and I hardly remember anything about them.

BLACK CANARY #2 (DC, 2015) – Another fairly good issue, but not as exciting as issue 1 because the novelty of the artwork has worn off. I wonder who Dinah’s ex-husband Kurt is – I assumed when she mentioned her ex-husband, she was referring to Ollie.

WEIRDWORLD #2 (Marvel, 2015) – Again, I enjoyed this issue but not as much as the previous one. The reappearance of Crystar is a cool idea, though I’m not familiar with that character at all.

REVIVAL #31 (Image, 2015) – I keep thinking of this series as “The Revival,” but that’s wrong – The Revival was a one-shot by James Sturm. In this issue, Dana and Em finally catch up with Blaine Abel, and we get some further ambiguous hints as to what’s going on with the ghosts. I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see more of May Tao’s funeral.

INVINCIBLE #121 (Image, 2015) – My reaction to this issue was that Robert Kirkman is trolling his readers. Rather than explain this again, I will quote what I said on Facebook: “Kirkman has spent about 30 issues convincing us that Robot/Rex is the most horrible, loathsome villain ever. And now he does this storyline where Robot takes over the world and creates a utopia. It’s like he’s saying, fine, you hate Robot, well, now he’s won and there’s nothing you can do about it, ha ha.” I don’t even think it’s plausible that Robot is doing such a good job of running the world. Kirkman doesn’t provide us with any examples of things that Robot is doing right, nor does he explain how exactly Robot has fixed all of humanity’s problems. It’s like he’s just decreed by authorial fiat that Robot has turned the world into a utopia, and the reader is expected to believe this without any proof. Overall this makes me as the reader very angry. Also, we now know that this series is going to be rebooted and that Mark will return to the start of the series but with his memory intact. This feels like an admission of failure to me – it’s as though Kirkman is admitting that the story has reached a dead end. I’m going to continue reading this comic but I’m not enjoying it nearly as much as I used to.

Now we get to some comics that I can remember more clearly because I read them after returning from Canada.

IT WILL ALL HURT #2 (Study Group Comics, 2015) – As with the first issue, this is a beautifully drawn and attractively packaged comic, but I still have no idea where this story is going or what it’s even about. It’s starting to come together a little bit, but I remain mystified as to who the characters are and what they’re doing. Maybe this will become clearer if I read The Wrenchies first. I was going to start reading it but other books got in the way.

THE ISLAND #1 (Image, 2015) – I love the idea of this comic – it’s an attractive anthology of original work by good creators, it’s a nice-looking package, and it even fits inside a longbox. However, the quality of the actual comics is uneven. I was initially annoyed by the Emma Rios story because I thought the dialogue was terrible and the plot made no sense. As I continued to read, I eventually figured out that the characters were participants in some sort of full-body transplant program, but I wish that had been clearer from the start. Confusing plotting appears to be a hallmark of Emma Rios comics. The clear highlights of the issue are the two Brandon Graham stories. Brandon may be my favorite current artist in American comic books, and it’s exciting to see new work from him again, although 30 pages of his artwork are a lot to take in at one sitting. The plot of Multiple Warheads is going nowhere, but that’s fine; Brandon’s comics are more about worldbuilding and sight gags than about plot. The Ludroe story suffers by comparison to the other material in the issue because the artwork is much looser, the story takes much less time to read, and the lettering is ugly. Brandon’s two-pager at the end is maybe the best thing in the issue; it’s not really a full-fledged work of poetics, more like a series of statements about his creative process, but it’s interesting anyway. I especially like his point about deliberately trying to show that there are other stories going on in the world of the story, besides the main plot. Fictional works often create the impression that the entire world revolves around the protagonist, and Brandon tries to avoid that. In the next panel, he mentions that “you can approach a comic with clarity of the setting as one of the main goals,” which maybe explains why his comics, as I just mentioned, are more about worldbuilding than plot. I’m just sorry that the next issue of this anthology isn’t going to have any more work by Brandon.

LONG DISTANCE #1 (IDW, 2015) – I was frustrated by this comic on my first read, but I found that I kept thinking about it and remembering it fondly. This comic is a romantic comedy, a genre that I don’t enjoy, and it’s also about two very privileged people (well, the female protagonist is a postdoc, but her lack of job security is not treated as a major issue). Both of these things were also true of Love & Capes, but I enjoyed that comic anyway for other reasons, including the superhero angle and the four-panel structure. In this comic, though, there are no superheroes, just romantic comedy. As a result, it was hard to ignore the fact that the whole story was a lot of #firstworldproblems – the biggest problem Carter and Lee have is that one of them lives in Chicago and the other lives in Columbus, and they can’t see each other as often as they like. Though as I write this, I realize this is not an uncommon problem for people in my field – I know at least two different academics who had to live on the other side of the country from their spouses for job-related reasons.

But as I mentioned, despite all of the above, I kept thinking about this comic after I read it. I think this is because Thom is so good at what he does. His characters are funny and endearing, he writes brilliant dialogue, and his artwork is appealing. As an exploration of a realistic relationship, this comic is not comparable to Sex Criminals and I’m not sure it’s even comparable to True Story, Swear to God, but it’s funny and heartwarming, and that’s all it’s trying to be. So this comic passes one of the two tests of literary criticism – it succeeds at what it’s trying to do. I’m not so sure if it passes the second test, which is whether the thing it’s trying to do is worthwhile.

Now for the new comics from the week of August 3.

SEX CRIMINALS #11 – This is the first new issue since February, and it feels almost disappointingly short considering how long I’ve waited for it – well, I was doing other things in the meantime, but you know what I mean. Though I forgot about the extra page after the letter column, which contains the shocking revelation that the doctor’s lover is a member of the Sex Police. Which I forget if we knew that already or not. The other surprising development this issue is that Jon and Suzie fail to recruit Jazmine St. Cocaine. But I think the highlight this issue is Douglas D. Douglas, with his adorable combination of innocence and anime fetishism. The scene where Matt explains why Chip can’t draw the interior of the Asian food mart is the funniest thing in this comic. The gimmick of this issue is that it was shipped inside a wrapper, and you had to open the wrapper in order to discover whether your copy was “secretly a sketch variant.” Mine was not, of course. I wish the wrapper had been designed to be resealable, because it’s well-designed and has text on it, and I don’t want to just throw it out, but what else can I do with it?

MS. MARVEL #17 (Marvel, 2015) – It’s been a while since I’ve been truly impressed by an issue of Ms. Marvel, but I was truly impressed by this issue. And that’s not just because of the cover, which is probably my favorite cover of 2015 – it’s adorable and it perfectly depicts Kamala’s adoration for Carol. Beyond that, Kamala’s meeting with Carol is a pivotal moment in this series, and it’s everything it should be. Just like when she met Wolverine, Kamala acts like the starstruck fangirl she is, but she also behaves in a way that’s worthy of Carol. Offhand I can’t remember another comic book that depicted the relationship between a teenage superheroine and her female mentor in such an effective way, and I hope Carol will show up in this series again after this story arc is over.

KAPTARA #4 (Image, 2015) – This was the worst issue yet and it was a significant drop in quality from the last three. Half the issue is devoted to a flashback involving Dartor’s last visit to the Hexamen, and while this sequence is funny, it could have been covered in significantly fewer pages. The rest of the issue moves the plot along effectively, but lacks Chip Zdarsky’s characteristic humor. Probably the best thing about the issue is Kagan McLeod’s art, especially the establishing shot of the Hive.

GROOT #3 (Marvel, 2015) – Easily the best issue yet. Groot’s team-up with the Surfer and Dawn is extremely fun because these characters are so different, yet they get along so well. The funniest thing in the issue is Dawn’s use of the term “Surferizing” to describe the Surfer’s endless monologues, but there’s a lot of other fun stuff here, and Brian Kesinger’s art is excellent – his scary aliens and his cute aliens are appropriately cute and scary, and he draws a very attractive Dawn. It occurs to me that Groot is kind of like Gerber’s Man-Thing because he’s a protagonist who can’t talk intelligibly, but unlike Man-Thing, Groot is not an unthinking, animalistic monster – he has thoughts and motivations, he’s just not good at expressing them.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #13 (Image, 2015) – “Commercial Suicide” doesn’t do much to advance the plot, but it’s a powerful and very timely story about a woman who’s driven to suicide by Internet harassment. The two-page spread of misogynistic Twitter comments is effective because it’s so believable; if anything, it’s probably less harsh than the stuff people really do say on Twitter. I applaud Kieron for being willing to take on the problem of Internet hate speech in such a direct way, although I suppose this issue is open to criticism because Tara chooses to kill herself rather than respond to her harassers in a more proactive way. (Though she was going to die anyway.) Tula Lotay’s artwork in this issue is not bad, but she’s no substitute for Jamie McKelvie.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #5 (IDW, 2015) – Another fun issue. I like this series enough that I’m going to keep reading it even after Sophie Campbell leaves – or is she just going on hiatus? I’m not sure. Even though Sophie’s artwork is the main attraction of the comic for me, Kelly Thompson’s characterization and dialogue are really good. The most memorable thing in this issue for me is probably the giant Sunset Shimmer plush toy, but all the carnival scenes are excellent.

LONG DISTANCE #2 (IDW, 2015) – See above. Until I reread the comic, I didn’t realize that all the Chicago scenes are brown and all the Columbus scenes are green. The “I don’t want you to come in” scene made me wonder if Thom was being overly puritanical, but the end of the issue removes that impression.

BATGIRL #42 (DC, 2015) – Babs Tarr has become the primary attraction of this comic. It’s surprising that she had essentially no comics experience prior to this series, because she’s already developed a distinctive and unique style of both drawing and page design. The story in this issue, though, is rather forgettable. I still think that Batgirl’s relationship with Gordon is similar to Spider-Gwen’s relationship with Captain Stacy, but less interesting.

WE STAND ON GUARD #2 (Image, 2015) – Steve Skroce’s artwork in this issue is fairly impressive, especially his drawings of giant machines. But in terms of the story, this comic is failing to generate the same level of excitement in Saga. The primary emphasis of this issue is on the awfulness of the U.S. military. The part of the issue devoted to the American soldiers are both disturbing and plausible, especially the scene with the invasion of the old couple’s house. But I still haven’t been given much reason to care about the protagonist.

GIANT DAYS #5 (Boom!, 2015) – Like other issues of this series, this is a hilarious depiction of college life. I guess this comic is a romantic comedy, just like Long Distance, but the emphasis is more on the comedy than the romantic. I don’t have much else to say about this issue specifically.

LAZARUS #6 (Image, 2014) – I’m more than a year behind on this series, and I finally decided to get caught up on it. On Facebook, I explained that I stopped reading this comic “because it’s relentlessly grim and depressing, with no humor or hope. That’s not what I look for in my entertainment.” This series takes place in a completely dystopian world where an ultra-rich oligarchy oppresses everyone else and there’s no hope of anything getting any better. I get enough of that in the news. I enjoy Greg Rucka’s writing, but I prefer his stories set in the present day.

LAZARUS #7 (Image, 2014) – More of the same. In this issue, Joe and Casey and their family have a moment of peace and tenderness, suggesting that some hope remains even in this downtrodden world where 99.9% of the people are horribly oppressed. And then one of the kids gets shot and killed, because that’s the sort of thing that happens in this comic. I don’t mind when characters die, but this scene felt emotionally manipulative.

DETECTIVE COMICS #756 (DC, 2001) – I read a different Greg Rucka comic in order to get the bad taste out of my mouth. This is a crossover story in which Superman and Batman team up to steal President Luthor’s Kryptonite ring. The interactions between Batman, Superman and Lois in this issue are very well-written, but the problem with this story is the artwork. Coy Turnbull (now Koi Turnbull) is one of the worst artists I’ve ever seen on a DC comic. He draws his characters in the most ridiculous and outlandish poses, and he has no sense of subtlety. He’s even worse than Shawn Martinborough, which is a difficult feat. It’s also worth noting that this issue has the same striking two-color scheme as the Shawn Martinborough issues though actually it’s a three-color scheme, because the Kryptonite is green but everything else in the issue is gray or red. Apparently this coloring was Greg’s idea.

SAVAGE DRAGON #205 (Image, 2015) – Let me quote myself again: “[Savage Dragon has] always been in very poor taste, but lately it reads like the work of a dirty old man fantasizing about what he wishes his teenage sex life had been like.” In this issue, Erik reveals that Malcolm is not just a sex machine, he’s also a super-stud, because he’s succeeded in knocking up all three of his girlfriends. Maxine’s reaction to learning of her pregnancy is especially annoying: she’s completely happy about it, despite the fact that 1) she’s still in high school and 2) she knows that having a baby with Malcolm’s powers could kill her. I suppose this sort of reaction isn’t completely implausible, but it feels like the reaction of a character in a porn film, rather than a real person. This underscores how Maxine is essentially just a fantasized sex object rather than an actual character. The rest of the issue makes up for this a little bit. Angel has an abortion, and although Erik only devotes one page to this, he depicts it in a sensitive way. And we find out that Tierra was never pregnant at all, so the reports of Malcolm’s super-fertility may have been exaggerated. Still, this is a very frustrating comic. I’ve had it up to here with Erik and I think #207 might be my last issue.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #19 (IDW, 2015) – This story does exactly what MLP: FF is supposed to do: it brings together two characters (or three in this case) who don’t interact much, and bounces them off each other. This time around, Rarity goes into partnership with Mr. and Mrs. Cake. These two characters are not an obvious pairing since the Cakes are part of Pinkie Pie’s supporting cast, but Christina Rice comes up with a plausible reason why they should interact with each other: they both make things for weddings. So they go into business as partners, and of course Rarity proceeds to run the business into the ground thanks to her excessive ambition and her inability to take advice. This story ultimately reveals more about the Cakes than about Rarity; we already know Rarity has megalomaniac tendencies, but we didn’t know that the Cakes have fantastic organizational skills thanks to being parents of twins. Christina Rice and Brenda Hickey are not among the more prominent pony creators, but they did a great job with this comic.

THE SPIRE #2 (Boom!, 2015) – The problem with this issue is that I had trouble remembering what this series was supposed to be about. Even though issue 1 came out just last month, this comic has a very complicated setting with lots of specialized terminology. A recap on the inside front cover would have been very useful. I also suspect this comic might read better in collected form. All of the above was also a problem with Six-Gun Gorilla. Otherwise, this was another quality piece of work, though there’s nothing that significantly distinguishes it from the previous issue.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #10 (Image, 2015) – I’m getting annoyed at how long it’s been since we were introduced to Earl Tubb’s daughter. She’s supposed to be the protagonist of the series, but it’s been ten issues now and we hardly know anything about her. Besides that, this was another good issue. Ezekiel is a very simplistic character who seems to be motivated entirely by rage at his own powerlessness. But that alone makes him interesting, because he seems like a perfect example of a certain type of white American masculinity. The other main character in this issue is the preacher, who turns out to be a surprisingly admirable character, a Christian who actually follows the teachings of Christ. The funniest scene in the issue is the page where everyone knows more about football coaching than Ezekiel does. This issue also includes Jason Latour’s essay on the Confederate flag, but unfortunately this essay is typeset in a font that’s very cumbersome to read.

PHONOGRAM: THE SINGLES CLUB #7 (Image, 2010) – I read some of this series when it came out, but I stopped buying it before this issue, which I bought last summer. I never liked Phonogram as much as Gillen and McKelvie’s other stuff, because I have no interest in the subject matter – I’m a fairly unmusical person and I don’t especially like Britpop. Still, the first story in this issue is cool because it’s experimental – it’s a nearly silent story, with some radical page layouts that remind me of some of the stuff that Jamie did in Young Avengers. This issue also contains a backup story, but I hardly remember anything about it at all.

LAZARUS #8 (Image, 2014) – See above. This issue was so grim and dark that after reading it, I felt I had to wash my brain out by reading some fun comics.

AQUAMAN #16 (DC, 1964) – The main draw of this issue is the stunning Nick Cardy artwork. The things I love most about his art are his page layouts and his beautiful women, but he was also extremely good at drawing action sequences. However, the plot of this issue is forgettable and the characterization is almost absent – Mera gets jealous of Aquaman because she thinks he’s fallen in love with an alien woman, but then she forgives him after the alien leaves Earth. It turns out this story was written by Jack Miller rather than Bob Haney, which may explain the lack of narrative complexity.

AVENGERS #75 (Marvel, 1970) – I’ve read this before as a Marvel Super Action reprint, but I don’t remember it well. This issue is the first appearance of Arkon, who currently stars in Weirdworld; in this story he invades Earth in order to trigger a massive nuclear explosion that will provide power to his homeworld. Arkon himself is not a particularly deep character yet, but otherwise, the characterization in this issue is vastly superior to that in Aquaman #16. Reading one of these issues after the other results in a powerful demonstration that Marvel’s superior characterization was perhaps their biggest advantage over DC in the Silver Age. This issue also has some spectacular art, from the period when John Buscema was allowed to draw like himself rather than like Kirby. Also, Tom Palmer is perhaps my favorite inker, and this issue is a good demonstration of why.

LAZARUS #9 (Image, 2014) – One of the surprises in this issue is that Forever chooses to let her instructor live, instead of killing her, as seemed inevitable. But this would have been a more powerful moment if I’d been given more reason to care about these characters. Also, let me quote myself yet again:

“Reading Lazarus (which I still don’t like), I realize it’s in part an exploration of what happens when capitalism fails but no alternative system replaces it. Most of the people in the world are unemployed “waste” because they don’t perform any useful function for the Families. The Families have no need for these people and don’t feel any social responsibility to provide them with subsistence, so the Waste are literally waste product.

I know people have predicted that this is going to happen or has happened in the real world — that in the globalized economy, there will be insufficient jobs to go around, and it will be necessary to find an alternative system for supporting people. But in Lazarus, no such system has been created because there’s no government to create it.”

LAZARUS #10 (Image, 2014) – This issue reintroduces Jonah, who hadn’t appeared since #4, and it shows us the territory of the Hock family. The trouble is, I don’t care about any of this stuff. The two principal characters in this issue, Jonah and Jakob Hock, are both horrible monsters, just like all the members of the Families except Forever herself. And it’s difficult for me to get involved in a story when I hate all the characters and wish they would die. I suppose it is mildly amusing to see Jonah get his comeuppance.

LAZARUS #11 (Image, 2014) – In this issue Forever finally starts investigating the e-mail that claimed she wasn’t really a Carlyle. But she received that e-mail in issue 4, and I think this is the first we’ve heard of it since. As of issue 4, I was expecting that Forever would gradually start questioning her own identity and upbringing, and that she would realize that she was the pawn of an oppressive dictatorship. If that’s where her character arc is going, though, then it’s getting there very slowly, and the last five or six issues were effectively wasted in that they did nothing to advance Forever’s character arc. As for the main plot of this storyline, involving the conclave between the families, I don’t care about it at all.

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #2 (Marvel, 2015) – Disappointing. Ramón Pérez’s art continues to be very effective, but this story seemed like it was over too quickly. I do like how Jeff Lemire is setting up a parallelism between Hawkeye’s own upbringing and that of the three mutant kids.

CASTLE WAITING #6 (Fantagraphics, 2007) – I already have the hardcover book that contains this issue, and I read it mostly because I was curious as to whether it read differently in single-issue form. The answer is yes, and specifically, this series is less effective in single-issue than in book form. The artwork in this issue is reproduced too large, with the result that it loses the ultraprecise feel of the artwork in the collection. And this issue includes no extras of any kind, not even a letters page. As for the story, I can’t really evaluate it without having read the previous five issues, though I generally like this series a lot.

8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT #2 (Image, 2015) – I didn’t realize at first that this comic was written by Brandon rather than Marian Churchland. As I probably said before, this issue is very similar to an issue of Prophet in that the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but the setting is fascinating and deeply alien. It’s annoying to have to keep decoding the alien runes, although they’re a lot easier to read than Doopspeak. It doesn’t say who drew the gorgeous two-page spread at the end of the issue; I guessed Ulises Farinas but I was wrong, it was Xurxo G. Penalta, who I have not heard of before.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #43 (IDW, 2015) – This was probably my favorite issue yet because I actually understood it. The plot is deeply bizarre and convoluted but it’s explained in a way that makes sense. Basically, Swerve goes insane due to an injury and creates a holographic projection of an alternate Earth that’s based on sitcoms, and the other Autobots have to visit this Earth to rescue him. The hilarious part is that this alternate Earth operates by sitcom logic – e.g. the characters never go to work and they constantly get involved in bizarre situations – and there are all kinds of other funny jokes. Overall this is one of the best examples I’ve seen of James Roberts’s incredible sense of humor.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #32 (IDW, 2015) – This, however, did not impress me. In this issue, Ponyville is invaded by evil apples who quickly conquer the entire town and set up a dictatorship. This franchise generally has a very low level of realism, but even then, the idea of sentient warlike apples is impossible to take seriously, and it’s not even all that funny. Also, I’m not convinced that the apples could have taken over the entire town in one night. This story feels like an experiment that didn’t succeed.