Comics reviews for the last week of August


LUMBERJANES #17 (IDW, 2015) – This is a very important issue on several levels. First, it’s the last issue by Noelle Stevenson. This series is a team effort with no single dominant auteur figure, but if there was one creator who was more responsible for its success than the others, it was Noelle. I expect that Kat Leyh will be an effective replacement, but it will be tough for her to fill Noelle’s shoes. The other important thing about this issue is the conversation between Jo and Barney at the end. I initially read this scene as just a strong hint that Jo was transgender, but in a Comics Alliance article, Charlotte Finn makes a convincing case that this scene is not just a hint but an explicit confirmation. Transgender representation is not an issue in which I have a personal investment, but in principle, it’s a good thing that transgender readers of this series have a character to identify with. This scene also explains a lot about Jo, who was previously the most enigmatic character in this series. Best moment of the issue: the Jo/Barney scene.

NEW MGMT #1 (Image, 2015) – This was a very quick read – I was able to read the whole thing while taking a five-minute walk – but it offers a satisfying conclusion to one of my favorite ongoing series of the decade. This story takes place an unspecified amount of time after Meru defeats the Eraser, and reveals that Meru has recreated MIND MGMT as an organization with a positive social purpose, which is organized around groups of exactly two agents. But the ending reveals that the Eraser is still alive, so there’s potential for a sequel (NEWER MGMT I guess) at some point. As expected, Kindt does some impressive things here with formatting and publication design. Best moment of the issue: the words “This is your field guide” appearing on Meru’s head, in the same font used for the field guide. This indicates Meru has taken over the field guide and made it part of herself, and I’ll have to think more about the implications of that.

ZODIAC STARFORCE #1 (Dark Horse, 2015) – I never watched Sailor Moon as a kid, but I had to order this comic because the idea behind it is awesome. However, the execution is maybe a little disappointing. The characters don’t particularly interest me, and the story seems rather generic. I feel like the creators could be doing more with the idea of grown-up magical girls. Best moment of the issue: nothing comes to mind, but I like Kim’s hair.

PREZ #3 (DC, 2015) – This continues to be a very effective piece of satire, and it’s probably the best comic DC is publishing at the moment. Pretty much everything in this comic seems like a completely plausible extrapolation from what’s going on in America right now, whether it’s the open-carry advocates at the president’s inaugural address, or the warehouse worker being timed on his bathroom break and then fired, or the vapid debate over the predatory pork act. This is effective satire because it’s funny in an uncomfortable way. Best moment of the issue: the barely-disguised version of Zizek lecturing his little daughter on Marxist readings of the smurfs.

HARLEY QUINN #19 (DC, 2015) – I was barely awake when I read this comic – I read it on the Friday afternoon of the first week of class, after an extremely long day – and I don’t remember much about it. Like most recent Harley Quinn comics, it was funny but insubstantial. Best moment of the issue: the scene with the quintuplets’ mother.

PRINCELESS: BE YOURSELF #3 (Action Lab, 2015) – Another comic I barely remember. I didn’t like it nearly as much as Raven: The Pirate Princess, which I will review later. Best moment of the issue: Angoisse’s creepy public display of affection with her creepy boyfriend.

BATGIRL #43 (DC, 2015) – A significant improvement over the last couple issues. The idea of people being killed by targeted tiger attacks is horrible yet strangely funny, and Babs Tarr is very good at drawing giant kitties. Also, this issue has some surprising narrative density. I don’t know if it’s because of the number of panels per page or what, but this issue seems to offer much more story per issue than an average Marvel or DC comic. Best moment of the issue: every scene involving the tigers.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #136 (DC, 1971) – I think I read this on Kirby’s birthday. This entire run is obviously an incredible classic. One of the first Superman comics I ever read was Jerry Ordway’s Superman #41, which mentions many of the concepts from Kirby’s early Jimmy Olsen run – Project Cadmus, the Zoomway, Habitat, Mokkari and Simyan, etc. Even then I thought there was something compelling and strange about all these names and ideas, and this issue and the issues around it are the original source for many of them. I still don’t think any later writer has fully explored the potential of all the ideas Kirby came up with in these few issues. This story is also interesting for its depiction of cloning, which must have been a fairly new idea at the time. It’s weird how all the characters in the story are completely okay with the idea that they’ve been cloned without their knowledge. Best moment of the issue: the map showing Habitat, the Zoomway, and the Project. Surprisingly this doesn’t seem to have appeared on Aaron King’s Comic Cartography blog. Also the letter column response saying that Al Plastino had to redraw the Jimmy Olsen and Superman faces in earlier issues because Kirby just wasn’t sufficiently familiar with the characters.

DESCENDER #5 (Image, 2015) – This is another excellent issue, but I have little to say about this series that I haven’t already said. Best moment of the issue: the shocking splash page with Dr. Quon getting his hand cut off.

BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #6 (DC, 2013) – After reading one Dustin Nguyen comic, I felt motivated to read another one. I’ve probably said this before, but it’s impressive that he has the range and versatility to do two comics that are as radically different in tone as Li’l Gotham and Descender. Also, the fact that I associate him with Li’l Gotham makes Descender even more poignant, because of the visual resemblance between Tim the robot and Damien. The first story in this issue guest-stars Colin Wilkes, a character I’ve never heard of before; it seems he was co-created by Dustin in Detective Comics. The end of the story suggests that Colin is actually Damian’s twin brother. In the second story, Babs and Commissioner Gordon go out for a Father’s Day dinner and get seated next to Ra’s al Ghul and Talia, and hilarity ensues. Best moment of the issue: “The service here is to die.” “I believe you meant to say, it’s ‘to die for.’” “No, I was correct the first time.”

DETECTIVE COMICS #431 (DC, 1973) – The early ‘70s was a very good period for Batman, but “This Murder Has Been Censored” is a boring, formulaic whodunit story, with equally boring art by Irv Novick. The Jason Bard backup story is only marginally better. Best moment of the issue: there was none.

NEW GODS #2 (DC, 1971) – I’ve always been puzzled as to why this issue’s story title: “O’ Deadly Darkseid,” contains an apostrophe. This issue is of course another classic work by Kirby, but I also feel that New Gods is the most unfocused of the Fourth World titles. The story goes all over the place, and there are a bunch of minor characters in this issue who never end up doing anything important. Best moment of the issue: the splash pages depicting characters from other Fourth World series.

YOUNG JUSTICE #49 (DC, 2002) – I’m trying to write these reviews quickly because I don’t remember most of these comics very well and I don’t have a whole lot to say about them. This issue is part two of “AWOL,” in which Empress seeks revenge for the death of her father. Most of the issue consists of a series of weird dreams that Empress has. Best moment of the issue: the metatextual conversation in which Ray, Superboy and Impulse complain about their comics being cancelled.

BACCHUS #46 (Top Shelf, 1999) – Bacchus does not appear in this issue. It begins with some short one-page vignettes, then there’s a Joe Theseus/Eyeball Kid story and some unimpressive backup stories by artists other than Eddie Campbell. Best moment of the issue: the one-page story about Anne removing a leaf from the cat’s butt.

THOR ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2015) – The first story in this annual is by Jason Aaron and Tim Truman, and takes place far in the future when Thor has succeeded to Odin’s throne. It’s fun but kind of forgettable, and the art is not Tim Truman’s best. Unsurprisingly the best story in the annual is the one by Noelle Stevenson and Marguerite Sauvage, in which the new Thor “proves herself” to the Warriors Three. The best moment in this story and in the issue is the scene where Thor obtains a lock of the Elf Queen’s hair by just asking her for it. The CM Punk story was the focus of most of the hype for this issue, but it’s probably the worst of the three, and the artwork by Rob Guillory is better than the writing.

CASTLE WAITING #9 (Fantagraphics, 2007) – Another issue that I read as part of the hardcover volume (see the review of Castle Waiting #8 in the previous post). Besides the cover art, there is nothing in this comic book that’s not also in the hardcover. Best moment of the issue: the shock ending where Simon falls out the fake door.

STRANGE DAYS #1 (Eclipse, 1984) – This is an anthology of three longer stories and two one-pagers by Peter Milligan, Brendan McCarthy and Brett Ewins. I assumed all this work had been previously published in the UK, but it looks like I was wrong and it was all created specifically for this comic. Maybe the best of the stories is the first one, “Freakwave,” which makes no logical sense at all, but has a powerfully evocative, surrealist logic to it. All this material is quite good, though, and I will be looking for the other two issues of this series. Brendan McCarthy’s draftsmanship is reminiscent of that of Alan Davis or even Dave Stevens, but his methods are far more radical – he uses a lot of photographs and mixed media, especially in the first story – and he’s a brilliant colorist. Best moment of the issue: the line “Doughnuts of syrup melt from my eyes / all the king’s biscuits and all the king’s pies” stands out to me somehow.

RAGNAROK #5 (IDW, 2015) – This series does not have the humor or the narrative depth of Simonson’s Thor, but the artwork is incredible, and the story is exciting. In this issue, Thor visits Mimir’s well and plucks his eye out in exchange for advice on what to do next. Best moment of the issue: the vision scenes, which appear to be reproduced directly from pencils.

RAGNAROK #6 (IDW, 2015) – Thor finally makes it to Asgard and defeats a giant fire demon. Also, Drifa and Regn show up again. Best moment of the issue: Thor’s funeral for Sif and his children, who don’t exist in the Marvel universe.

DESCENDER #6 (Image, 2015) – Another good issue, but again, nothing about it particularly stands out to me, nor can I think of a particularly memorable moment from it.

THORS #2 (Marvel, 2015) – More thoughts on this series later. The artwork in this issue strongly reminds me of Simonson for some reason, especially the two-page splash with the Thors fighting the Hulks. Thrr, the werewolf/dog Thor, is an awesome new character and I hope to see more of him. Best moment of the issue: “Thrr, go get him boy!” “RAWF RAWF RAWF!”

ELFQUEST #21 (Marvel, 1987) – After reading this issue, I think that Elfquest itself is a fine comic; the premise is not irreparably flawed. The problem with Elfquest: The Final Quest is just that Wendy and Richard have declined in quality over time. When it began, Elfquest was an exciting, well-written and well-drawn comic with interesting characters. This issue has a very convoluted plot that I don’t quite understand, but it does provide a clear and understandable summary of Wolfrider history, including the revelation that Wolfriders are not immortal because of crossbreeding with wolves. And Cutter didn’t know this because Wolfriders never die of old age. Best moment of the issue: Cutter learning that his wife concealed the fact that she’s immortal and he’s not, and being okay with this.

DETECTIVE COMICS #514 (DC, 1982) – I generally like these Detective Comics issues with Don Newton artwork, but this one was kind of dumb. While chasing after Maxie Zeus, Batman encounters Haven, a giant bearded dude who lives in the wilderness, avoiding human contact, and cares for wild animals. I guess this makes him sort of a male version of Fluttershy. Also like Fluttershy, Haven flies into a rage when Maxie Zeus’s henchmen kill one of his animals, and this leads to his death, because he was too good for this world. The main problem with this story, I think, is Haven’s ridiculous appearance; he looks like a younger version of Santa Claus, dressed in a lumberjack’s outfit. The Batgirl backup story, by Cary Burkett and José Delbo, is even worse. Best moment of the issue: the panel where Haven is holding a raccoon and preventing it from catching a nearby bird.

KAMANDI #36 (DC, 1975) – This is one of the last issues that Kirby wrote and drew, and it shows some signs of fatigue; the artwork is not quite as amazing as in earlier issues. Also, for some reason the sentences for the first two-thirds of the issue end in periods instead of question marks, which is very odd for a Kirby comic. But the plot is inventive and funny. In this issue Pyra takes Kamandi and Doctor Canus to a hotel inhabited by crocodiles, tigers and humans, all of whom are trying to evict each other. Kamandi has to battle the wolves for possession of the second floor, and he wins by spraying the wolves with sewer water, forcing them to wash it off in the swimming pool, where the crocodiles attack and defeat them. This is the best moment of the issue.

GRIMJACK #17 (First, 1985) – This is the first Grimjack comic I’ve read in a long time, but it’s the conclusion to a multipart storyline involving Dancer’s conspiracy to take over the Cynosure city council. As a result, the plot is somewhat difficult to understand and lacks the impact it would have had if I had read issue 16 recently. In the Munden’s Bar backup story, which is drawn by Barry Crain, Bob the Lizard saves the city from a sentient sludge monster. This story includes all kinds of Easter eggs, including appearances by the Three Stooges, Space Ghost, Nexus and Badger. Best moment of the issue: the scene where Goddess displays her full power. “I am daughter to the storm, birthed by the sea… so you better think twice ‘fore messing with me!” This character is obviously extremely powerful but was usually depicted as just Blacjac’s girlfriend. We also learn in this scene that she’s the daughter of Shango and Olokun, two deities in the real-world Yoruba religion.

SAVAGE DRAGON #206 (Image, 2015) – I’ve ordered the next three issues of this series, but I think I’m done with it after that. This comic has jumped the shark. This issue doesn’t have any of the disturbing sexual implications of the last few issues, but on the other hand, it’s just not very good. About half the issue is an unnecessary fight scene, and much of the other half is navel-gazing metatextual commentary. The first page, where Malcolm and Maxine are complaining that Oscar’s is going to close, should have been a blog entry instead of a page of the actual comic book. Also, the backup story is awful and the artwork is a series of blatant swipes from Jim Starlin.

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