These next reviews are for comics I bought at the Cincy Comic Con on September 12. In terms of the dealers’ room, this was by far the worst comics convention I’ve ever attended – it was even worse than Wizard World Atlanta last year. There were literally just three dealers that had anything I wanted, and the dealers’ room occupied less than a quarter of the floor space. This experience really drives home to me the fact that comics conventions are no longer places to buy and sell and trade comics (although Cincy Comic Con did have an impressive guest list of comics artists). This convention, at least, seems to have been intended as a multi-fandom event that catered largely to people with no actual interest in comics, which is odd since it was advertised to me as the more comics-focused alternative to Cincinnati Comic Expo. But honestly, there was so little of anything at this convention that I don’t see why anyone would even want to go to it. At least half the floor space was an artist’s alley full of amateur artists I’d never heard of, and there were very few panels. I ended up leaving after lunch because I’d run out of stuff to do. I certainly won’t plan on attending this con next year, and in the future, before I go to any convention, I’m going to carefully examine the panel schedule and the list of exhibitors as well as the guest list. I can no longer assume that every comic book convention is automatically worth attending, and I feel kind of sad about that. I am glad that comic conventions are becoming more welcoming to a broad public, but that also means that some comic conventions just have no clear sense of their identity anymore.
Also, I am suspending the “best thing in the issue” feature.
AVENGERS #104 – This is Roy Thomas’s last issue and also the conclusion of a storyline in which the Avengers battle Number Two and his Sentinels. This story is a sequel to X-Men #57-59, but is not nearly as enjoyable as that story, thanks to the convoluted and implausible plot and the fact that the artwork is by the fake Neal Adams (i.e. Rich Buckler) instead of the real one. Number Two’s Sentinels are very different from all later incarnations of the Sentinels in that they’re self-aware and self-motivated, and they’re focused on destroying all mutants by blowing up the sun, rather than killing mutants individually. They hardly seem like Sentinels at all, really. Also, this issue is mostly devoid of characterization, which is typically my favorite thing about the Avengers as opposed to the Justice League. Overall this issue ends Roy Thomas’s Avengers run with a whimper rather than a bang.
INVINCIBLE #25 (Image, 2005) – One of the few exciting purchases I made at the convention was Invincible #25, 27 and 29 for $2 each. I have almost every issue of Invincible from #30 up, but it’s becoming hard to find any earlier issues that are within my price range. This series has significantly lost its way (see my review of the latest issue below), but as of this issue, it was still genuinely exciting and new, and was expanding the boundaries of the superhero genre in interesting ways. In this issue, Mark is contacted by an insect alien disguised as Science Dog, who lures him into a meeting with his father. There are also a bunch of backup stories.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #143 (Marvel, 1975) – This issue includes the classic scene where MJ kisses Peter goodbye at the airport, after saying “I call you Tiger because you’re not.” This is a classic scene – Brian Cronin recently voted it the second best moment involving these two characters, after the last page of isue 123 – and it’s also an epic moment of adorableness. Other than that, this is just an average issue of a very good Spider-Man run. The new villain this issue is the Cyclone, a very silly character whose death at the hands of the Scourge of the Underworld was mourned by no one. But that one scene is worth the price of the entire issue.
POWER GIRL #3 (DC, 2009) – This was the only Amanda Conner issue of Power Girl I was missing. Amanda is the best pure superhero artist in the industry – besides her incredible anatomy and action scenes, she also includes all sorts of fun Easter eggs in each panel. It’s like she devotes maximum effort to every single drawing. I’m excited that she’ll be drawing the new Harley Quinn spinoff as well as writing it. This is not her best issue of Power Girl; it doesn’t have anything as classic as the Ikea scene in a later issue, and the Ultra-Humanite is not my favorite villain. But even then, Amanda’s artwork is incredible.
BATMAN ADVENTURES #24 (DC, 1994) – The problem with this issue is that it reproduces all the Japanese stereotypes that were common at the time – it’s about a ninja who tries to kill Batman to redeem her family honor. Besides that, this is a good issue of the defining Batman comic of the ‘90s. Mike Parobeck’s artwork and Kelley Puckett’s writing are as brilliant as usual. Maybe the most striking moment in this issue is Alfred sarcastically telling Bruce “Admitting to one’s insanity is the first step on the road to recovery.” This scene makes me realize that very many aspects in the current Batman franchise – including Bruce and Alfred’s relationship – can be traced directly back to this comic and the TV series it was based on.
WONDER WOMAN #271 (DC, 1980) – This is the last issue with a Huntress backup story that I was missing. Gerry Conway’s Wonder Woman stories from this era were just dreadful; they were devoid of any interest at all. The Wonder Woman story in this particular issue is yet another rehash of her origin, and identifies itself as such. In contrast, the Huntress backup story is a treasure. I’ve lost interest in Paul Levitz’s writing, but in 1980 he was DC’s top writer, largely because of his ability to write female characters. In his hands, Helena Wayne is a three-dimensional, fully realized character, and her dark, grim attitude distinguishes her from her colleague Power Girl. I also think this issue might be the first appearance of DA Harry Sims, though I’m not sure. This is not the most exciting Huntress story – it has a rather inconsequential plot about art theft – but it’s a good introduction to perhaps DC’s best backup feature of the ‘80s.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #306 (Marvel, 1988) – The most exciting bargain I made at Cincy Comic Con was that I got a bunch of Michelinie/McFarlane Spider-Man issues for just a few dollars each. I have no interest in anything else McFarlane has done, but this particular run of issues was the last time that the original volume of Spider-Man was truly great. McFarlane’s rendition of Spider-Man was truly original, and Michelinie’s writing was at its best. And this run tends to be inordinately expensive, especially the issues with Venom. This issue is the one whose cover is an homage to Action Comics #1. The main plot of the issue is rather silly, involving a parody villain called Humbug, but there are a lot of interesting subplots, including Jonathan Caesar’s attempt to steal Mary Jane from Peter.
WEST COAST AVENGERS #11 (Marvel, 1986) – This is one of Englehart’s lesser works, but I’m willing to read it because I’ve read almost all of his greater works. This issue has an overly complicated plot that I barely remember, and unusually, it includes an appearance by three villains from Master of Kung Fu (Zaran, Shockwave and Razor-Fist). It does have some nice characterization of Hawkeye and Mockingbird, whose marriage was still happy at the time.
SILVER SURFER #4 (Marvel, 1987) – This is the only Marvel comic by Englehart that I haven’t read at all, and it may be his last notable work, though based on this issue, it’s only an okay comic. I picked up several issues of it at Heroes Con, but this is the first one that I’ve gotten around to reading. This issue guest-stars Mantis, a character who appears in almost all of Englehart’s comics, including Justice League. His fascination with Mantis is puzzling to me, given that she was a stereotype and had an annoying speech pattern and was not a particularly deep character – I get the feeling that he only liked her because he created her. Since the Surfer himself is also a rather boring character, he and Mantis are not an effective combination. The artwork for this issue is by Marshall Rogers, but at this point he was just a pale shadow of the artist he’d been in the ‘70s.
ADVENTURE COMICS #444 (DC, 1976) – A fairly good Aquaman story by Paul Levitz and Jim Aparo. Returning to Atlantis, Aquaman discovers he’s been dethroned by a usurper, and he and Mera have to defeat both the usurper and Ocean Master. Not an especially innovative story, but good dialogue and brilliant art.
HAWK AND DOVE #5 (DC, 1969) – The high points of this issue are Gil Kane’s exciting action scenes, and the interplay between Hawk and Dove, whose personalities complement each other perfectly. That, of course, is the main attraction of this series. The frustrating thing about the plot is that the villain, Sam Hodgins, is a childhood friend of Hawk and Dove’s father, and Judge Hall is absolutely convinced that Hodgins is innocent of the crimes he’s been accused of. Yet it turns out that Hodgins is guilty, and we never learn what caused such him to become a criminal.
SUICIDE SQUAD #61 (DC, 1992) – This is part three of the story about the Atom and the president of Qurac, and the plot is difficult to understand without having read the first two parts. Otherwise this is as good as any issue of Suicide Squad.
BATMAN FAMILY #19 (DC, 1978) – This issue includes two good stories and three bad ones. It begins with a Batman story with great art by Michael Golden and average writing by Denny O’Neil. Golden only did a few Batman stories around this time, but his work was very high quality; he was probably an even better Batman artist than Don Newton. Then there are a Batgirl and a Robin story, both by the totally undistinguished creative team of Bob Rozakis and Juan Ortiz, and a Man-Bat story by Rozakis and Danny Bulanadi. But it’s almost worth the effort of slogging through this awful material because the issue ends with a Huntress backup by Levitz and Staton. I didn’t initially realize this, but Huntress appeared in this series prior to moving over to Wonder Woman about a year later. This specific story is about arson in South Gotham, and was probably influenced by the epidemic of arson that was occurring in the South Bronx at the time.
LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES ANNUAL #2 (DC, 1991) – This is only barely a Legion story; it focuses almost entirely on explaining how Valor seeded the galaxy. This is the type of story that has to be published for continuity reasons, but that isn’t especially interesting to read. Some of the retcons in this issue are difficult to accept, including the idea that Valor was sent into the Phantom Zone by Glorith. It was necessary for Valor to replace Superboy in the Legion’s history because of John Byrne’s short-sighted and ultimately disastrous decision to get rid of Superboy. However, Giffen and the Bierbaums never managed to convince me that Valor and Laurel Gand were adequate substitutes for Superboy and Supergirl in any way. The only good part of this issue is the end where Valor finally gets rescued from the Phantom Zone and joins the Legion, because Matter-Eater Lad gets to say “Stay back or I’ll… I’ll eat something.” Incidentally, I spoke with Chris Sprouse at Cincy Comic Con (as mentioned in the review of Thors #3 above) and he told me that the regular Legion series had a much darker tone than Legionnaires because of Giffen’s involvement.
DETECTIVE COMICS #437 (DC, 1973) – Both of the two stories in this issue are classics. The issue begins with Archie Goodwin and Jim Aparo’s “Deathmark,” which was reprinted in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. I first read this story a long time ago, and I remembered it as just an average Batman story, though page two – an entirely silent 8-panel page where Batman singlehandedly defeats three burglars – has always stuck out in my memory. Reading “Deathmark” again, I realize that while it’s a fairly low-key story, it’s also a nearly perfect piece of work; it does everything right. It’s only 12 pages and yet it sets up an intriguing mystery and resolves that mystery in a satisfying way, while also developing the character of Bruce Wayne. This story demonstrates that Archie Goodwin was one of the most competent writers in comics history, and it’s also some of Jim Aparo’s greatest work, especially that second page. The backup story in the issue is “The Himalayan Incident,” which is of great historical importance because it’s the first Goodwin-Simonson Manhunter story. I don’t know if this series has aged well, but at the time it was groundbreaking for its use of a visual language derived from manga (at least that’s what an old friend of mine – fly on the wall, I think – used to say). Either of these stories on its own would have been enough to make this issue memorable, but the fact that it contains both of them means that it’s among the most distinguished DC comics of the ‘70s.
Those were all the comics I managed to read before Monday, when my new comics shipment arrived. I expected to get it on Saturday because of the holiday, but it was late.
MS. MARVEL #18 (Marvel, 2015) – What I remember best about this issue is Aamir’s speech to Kamran in defense of Kamala: “If you think … that I’ll blame her for whatever happened between you, while you sashay off into the sunset because you’re a guy and nothing is ever your fault – well, my brother, you are incorrect.” As well as Kamala’s surprise at discovering that Aamir doesn’t hate her. This is a very powerful moment and it makes me ashamed of not being a better big brother to my own sisters. Of course Kamala’s interactions with Carol are incredibly cute, and I look forward to seeing the outcome of Kamala’s discovery that her mother knows her secret identity. Overall, this is another great issue of the best and most important current Marvel or DC comic.
STARFIRE #4 (DC, 2015) – Earlier this month, Donovan Grant wrote an article on The Hooded Utilitarian arguing that Conner and Palmiotti were overemphasizing Starfire’s stupidity. (http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2015/09/ignorance-isnt-bliss/) I’ve been loving this series so far, but I agree that this is a valid critique. Kory is not stupid – quite the opposite, her alien background gives her a unique perspective that some of her teammates lack. The classic example of this is in New Teen Titans #33 where she’s the only Titan who realizes that Trident is three different people. In the current series, her naivete, especially about sexual matters, is starting to overwhelm the rest of her character – the “Orange Crush” page, where she completely fails to notice Sol’s crush on her, is a blatant example of this. Otherwise, this is still a very funny and entertaining comic.
POWER UP! #2 (Boom!, 2015) – Like some other Boom! Box titles, this is a lot of fun but it delivers a rather small amount of storytelling for the price. Here it’s issue 2 already and we’ve barely gotten to know the characters. But I love the concept of this series. Particular highlights of this issue include the goldfish becoming a tiny laser whale, and Kevin’s gender-inappropriate armor.
MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #20 (IDW, 2015) – Yet another enjoyable story by Jeremy Whitley, who has been on fire lately. Luna’s exploration of Discord’s dreams is just as humorously bizarre and disturbing as you would expect. The most surprising thing in the issue is Discord’s line “I’m supposed to be meeting Fluttershy and the kids at the school.” This occurs in the context of a dream, but it’s still surprising because Fluttershy and Discord’s relationship has previously been depicted as totally platonic, although the romantic subtext is obvious.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #14 (Image, 2015) – I need to read this again because I feel like I missed the point. If not for Silver Surfer #11, this would easily be the most formally innovative comic book of the year; it’s an entire issue made up of panels from other comic books, including another series entirely, Sex Criminals. The point of this is to make us see the previous 13 issues in a new light, now that we understand that Ananke is the real villain of the story. The trouble is that I couldn’t remember where most of the panels came from, so most of the references went over my head. I didn’t even realize that some of the panels came from Sex Criminals until I read this information in a review. I kind of want to reread the entire series and then read this comic again and identify the source of each panel.
ATOMIC ROBO: THE RING OF FIRE #1 (IDW, 2015) – The first IDW issue of Atomic Robo is a bit of a letdown because Robo himself doesn’t appear in it, except as a disembodied head. Also, it takes place in the present. So it’s missing two of the best things about the series – its use of alternate history, and Robo’s lovable personality. Otherwise, this issue is a good example of Clevinger and Wegener’s style of humor. I’m glad that IDW picked up this series and I’m excited to read more of it.
LONG DISTANCE #4 (IDW, 2015) – Like the previous three issues, this one is funny and endearing, but in a surprisingly bittersweet way, and the ending is disturbingly realistic. Carter and Lee almost get a chance to live together, but then life happens, and they’re forced to live apart again. And at the end of the issue, which is set some years in the future, we discover that this situation keeps repeating itself – to the point that “we stopped trying to live any one place. Now we live everywhere… We don’t have a long-distance relationship anymore. We have a long-distance life.” This is disturbing because of how plausible this situation is. I know at least two academics who are or have been forced to live apart from their spouses on a semi-permanent basis. It’s as though in late capitalism, no one can have a permanent home anymore because work has become delocalized, and every relationship is long distance. This is a very important and depressing insight, which is not what I would have expected from Thom Zahler.
GOTHAM ACADEMY #10 (DC, 2015) – The surprise this issue was the revelation that Olive’s mother is named Calamity. The other kids act as if this is not new information, but I don’t remember having heard that name before. Possibly it was revealed in an issue of Arkham Manor, which I don’t read. In general, this was a fun story, though I may have been too tired to fully appreciate it. The ham actor Simon Trent is laughably over the top, and the revelation that Katherine is actually Clayface is pretty cool. I don’t think we were told which Clayface she is, but I assume she’s Basil Karlo, who was a professional actor.
BATMAN #472 (DC, 1991) – This Alan Grant/Norm Breyfogle collaboration is part one of “Idiot Root,” in which Batman visits Rio de Janeiro and investigates a series of murders. It’s a fairly exciting story, though it has some disgusting scenes involving the Queen of Hearts’s collection of human hearts, and I assume that it relies to some extent on stereotypes about Brazil.
HELP US! GREAT WARRIOR #6 (Boom!, 2015) – The conclusion to a disappointing series. I was very excited about this comic, but ultimately it never delivered enough story per issue to justify the $3.99 price tag. It would have worked better as a webcomic.
BITCH PLANET #5 (Image, 2015) – I’m glad to see another issue of this series. It’s not my personal favorite, and I have no plans of getting an NC tattoo. But it is a good comic with an extremely important political message. What I find especially striking about this issue is the scene with the old Japanese dude who wants to go to Bitch Planet just to see his daughter. It suggests that at some level, the men in this society have not completely lost sight of their humanity. It’s also interesting that in the sports scene, the female referee (who reminds me of Dolores Umbridge) is complicit in enforcing the rules unfairly to the benefit of the male team.
HARLEY QUINN ROAD TRIP SPECIAL #1 (DC, 2015) – This is a sleazy, exploitative, piece of work, an obvious attempt to appeal to the lower instincts. But I’m fine with that in small doses, especially since a female creator is involved. And besides, this is an incredibly fun comic. There are too many cute and funny scenes here for me to even remember them all, though Catwoman’s various interactions with cats are probably the most memorable. And the scenes detailing Harley’s grief over her uncle are unusually poignant. I only feel a little bit guilty for enjoying this comic.
NEW GODS #7 (DC, 1972) – “The Pact” has always been my favorite Fourth World story, and I don’t think I’ve ever read it in color before. I previously owned it only in the black-and-white TPB version from 1997. Like I mentioned in my review of ODY-C #6, this issue was important. It set a precedent that in a long-running comic (or a comic that’s meant to be long-running) with a serial narrative, it’s okay to do an occasional issue that doesn’t advance the main plot, such as a flashback or a side story. This issue is a distant predecessor to things like the Fables and Reflections issues of Sandman, or the issue of Preacher that explains the origin of Jesse’s lighter. On top of that, “The Pact” is just an incredibly epic and dramatic piece of work. The page where Izaya screams “IF I AM IZAYA THE INHERITOR — WHAT IS MY INHERITANCE!?”, and then the hand writes THE SOURCE on the wall, is the most powerful moment of the entire Fourth World saga. It somehow seems to encapsulate all of Kirby’s grandeur and power in just one towering moment. After that the rest of the story is almost a letdown, but Izaya/Highfather’s first encounter with Orion, who embodies the savage lifestyle that Izaya rejected, is a satisfying conclusion. This issue also contains some other material, including a Manhunter backup that’s pretty stupid – I think Manhunter would be forgotten today if Goodwin and Simonson hadn’t revived him.
HEAD LOPPER #1 (Image, 2015) – This is a very long comic – about 90 pages – but reads very quickly because of Andrew MacLean’s minimalistic art. This artist is an impressive storyteller. Unlike many cartoonists today, he relies on a solid sense of storytelling rather than on spectacular draftsmanship. The silent page where Head Lopper kills the giant wolf is a good example of this. On Facebook, I complained that MacLean was excessively influenced by Mignola – this is especially clear on the pages with Lulach and the old hag. But Pol Rua pointed out that there are other influences at work in his art (specifically Jeff Smith, Paul Grist and Linda Medley). In terms of the writing, this comic is intentionally kind of silly and overblown, but it has an intriguing plot, and the witch’s severed head provides some excellent comic relief.
SHUTTER #11 (Image, 2015) – Another comic I have to come back to later, after I get around to reading the entire series in order. I do like how this issue begins with a funny homage to Little Nemo.
SUPERMAN #223 (DC, 1970) – “Half a Hero” is a complicated, confusing and implausible story full of stupid plot twists. To that extent, it’s similar to many other Silver Age Superman stories. (To me, the Bronze Age of Superman doesn’t begin until “Superman Breaks Loose” in issue 233.) At the beginning of the story, three teenage superheroines called the Galactons try to recruit Superman as the first male member of their club. The parallels between this story and Adventure Comics #247 are so obvious that the writer even points them out, by reminding us that Superman used to be a member of the Legion. But then it turns out that the Galactons are really Kandorians, and they’re playing a trick on him because… honestly, I don’t understand why… and then they vanish from the story after page 18, never to be seen again. Overall, this comic is only memorable because of how strange it is.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #148 (Marvel, 1972) – This issue is by the unexciting creative team of Gary Friedrich and Sal Buscema, and it consists of a formulaic and boring story in which the Red Skull unleashes the Fifth Sleeper to destroy Las Vegas. Also, in this issue Cap and the Falcon team up with the Kingpin, who is written in a way that’s strikingly inconsistent with his later appearances.
BATMAN #463 (DC, 1991) – This story takes place in the Southwest and involves Native Americans, and I’m sorry to say that it shows an embarrassing degree of ignorance of Native American culture. I’m hardly an expert on this topic, but even I know that a Navajo holy man should not be praying to “Manitou” (that word only exists in Algonquian languages, which are completely unrelated to Navajo). The problems don’t stop there. In an article at Blue Corn Comics (http://newspaperrock.bluecorncomics.com/2015/01/spirit-of-beast-in-batman.html), Rob Schmidt points out a lot of other problems with this comic. This issue is a clear case of what TVTropes calls “Did Not Do The Research,” and it’s a discredit to its writer.