Five weeks of reviews

10-23-15

I’m about three weeks behind on these reviews.

LUMBERJANES #19 (Boom!, 2015) – Part two of the mermaid story arc is fun, though rather predictable. As expected, April makes a lot of trouble for everyone and discovers that “getting the band back together” won’t be as easy as she thinks. Kat Leyh seems to have a good understanding of the distinctive Lumberjanes dialogue style. “THE SEA IS GOING TO TAKE ME JUST LIKE I ALWAYS KNEW IT WOULD!” is a particularly impressive line.

ASTRO CITY #28 (Vertigo, 2015) – The Wolfspider story is not one of the better issues of this series; it just reads like a standard superhero comic, without anything specifically Astro Citian about it. I do like that the Wolfspider has such a positive relationship with his mother, and the reference to the Loony Leo machine is a nice callback to an old story.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN – THE PIRATE PRINCESS #4 (Action Lab, 2015) – Another excellent issue. I’m enjoying this spinoff even more than the parent series. The most memorable scenes in the issue are the interplay between Cookie and Jayla, and the panel with the blood-soaked Ximena asking Raven for a hug. I like that this series has such a large and diverse cast consisting mostly of women of color.

SHUTTER #16 (Image, 2015) – This is the first time I’ve read a new issue of this series without being confused as to what’s going on. At this point in the story, all of the characters have arrived in the kingdom of Shaw’s mother, and most of the issue is setup for the inevitable confrontation between Kate and her friends and the cat people. My Facebook friend Andrea Gilroy is mentioned on the letters page.

USAGI YOJIMBO #149 (Dark Horse, 2015) – “The Distant Mountain” is probably the best issue since the series restarted, though it’s not one of Stan’s greatest works. This is the latest in a long line of Usagi stories that introduce the reader to some aspect of traditional Japanese culture, which in this case is suiseki, the art of stone appreciation. In this story, Usagi teams up with another samurai who’s delivering a supposedly valuable stone to his lord, but in a battle with agents of a rival stone collector, the samurai is killed and the stone is destroyed. Usagi substitutes another stone that he finds on the ground, and the samurai’s lord is completely fooled, while also being totally ungrateful to the people who died to bring him the stone. It’s not clear who the joke is on – is Stan making fun of the lord for being a philistine, or is he making fun of the whole idea of treating stones as art objects?

GOTHAM ACADEMY #11 (DC, 2015) – In this issue, Kyle goes to downtown Gotham for a tennis tournament, and the other kids take the opportunity to come along and look for records referencing Olive’s mother. And then Maps, my current favorite DC character, encounters Tim Drake, my former favorite DC character. It’s a really fun and exciting story, and though there are multiple artists, their styles blend together very well.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #35 (IDW, 2015) – Part two of “Siege of the Crystal Empire” is another exciting adventure story. It ends with the Mane Six trapped in a cage and Celestia and Luna transformed into statues. I have no idea how they’re going to get out of this one, but I look forward to finding out. Pinkie Pie’s “Attica!” line is an example of a reference that’s clearly intended for fans who are even older than me.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #141 (Marvel, 1971) – This is one of an unfortunately small number of issues with John Romita artwork. It’s a shame that Jazzy Johnny more or less stopped drawing comics after he became Marvel’s art director. He was an incredible artist, and because of his small body of work, he has a lesser reputation than some of his contemporaries like Kane and Ditko. The story in this issue is pretty boring – it’s just a series of fights between Cap and his allies and the Grey Gargoyle – but the artwork is a perfect example of ‘60s Marvel at its best. This issue is one of the handful of early ‘70s Marvel comics that used blank spaces instead of exclamation marks at the ends of word balloons; this was an unsuccessful and thankfully short-lived experiment.

THE SPIRIT #1 (DC, 2007) – I missed this when it came out and I don’t think I had ever read it before. This issue is a somewhat surprising introduction to Darwyn Cooke’s Spirit revival because it’s mostly a humor story, in which the Spirit saves a reporter who’s been kidnapped by the mob, but gets really annoyed at her antics. Humor was a substantial part of the appeal of the classic postwar Spirit stories, but most recent Spirit stories have focused on the grim and gritty aspect of the character, possibly due to the influence of Frank Miller. Still, this is a really well-crafted story. Darwyn has, obviously, been one of the top writer-artists in mainstream comics over the past two decades, and he may have been the only person working in comics in 2007 who deserved to write and draw the Spirit.

CLEAN ROOM #1 (DC, 2015) – Another of the flagship titles of the new Vertigo. I haven’t always been impressed by Gail’s writing, but this issue is a reasonably creepy horror story. And Jon Davis-Hunt’s artwork is worth the price of the issue. I haven’t heard of him before, but his draftsmanship is impressive and he draws some horrible monsters.

BATMAN #334 (DC, 1981) – This is part three of “The Lazarus Affair,” perhaps the most famous early ‘80s Batman story. However, this story is impossible to follow without having read issues 332 and 333. I need to get #335 and then read the entire story at one sitting. This issue also includes a backup story with some nice Dan Spiegle artwork.

INVINCIBLE #124 (Image, 2015) – “Reboot?” is the clearest evidence yet that Robert Kirkman doesn’t have any clear destination in mind for this series and that he’s just spinning his wheels. It’s literally just a retread of the first Invincible trade paperback with new dialogue. I’d like to see some evidence that this story is actually going somewhere.

YOUNG JUSTICE #50 (DC, 2002) – In this story, a whole army of teenage heroes invades Zandia to avenge the death of Empress’s parents. This is a double-sized issue and it includes a lot of good stuff, such as Impulse interpreting a “systems check” as a request to get software for the plane’s games system and pizza for the team’s digestive systems. The shock ending, where Arrowette’s mom kills Agua Sin Gaaz, is fairly effective. Yet somehow this issue does not feel like an effective conclusion to the first 50 issues of the series, especially since it doesn’t conclude the Zandia storyline.

FLASH GORDON #8 (Dynamite, 2015) – My copy of this issue is signed by Doc Shaner. The conclusion to Parker and Shaner’s Flash Gordon story arc is fairly well done, but annoyingly, the main story of the issue ends on the left-hand page of the centerfold, and the rest of the issue consists of previews of Dynamite’s King Features comics.

BATMAN: LI’L GOTHAM #8 (DC, 2014) – This was the only issue of this series that I hadn’t read. It’s pretty much the same as any other issue of the series, but that’s not a bad thing. This comic deserved to last longer than just 12 issues.

BLACK CANARY #5 (DC, 2015) – Pia Guerra’s second issue is another good one, though at this point I barely remember anything about it. Ditto’s tiger costume and Byron’s reunion with her family are both very cute. I wouldn’t mind if Pia Guerra became the regular artist on this series and Annie Wu didn’t come back.

BIRDS OF PREY #47 (DC, 2002) – I bought this because it’s one of Amanda Conner’s earliest works for DC. Amanda’s artwork here is not as jaw-dropping as her later work, but her eye for detail and her realistic yet sexy female anatomy are both on display. The problem with this issue is Terry Moore’s writing. The issue begins with a racist depiction of a Latino criminal, and then it continues with a main plot that’s stupid and scientifically implausible. I stopped reading Terry Moore’s comics when I was about 14, and this issue does not encourage me to start reading his work again.

SPACE USAGI #2 (Mirage, 1992) – I bought this at Heroes Con last year but never read it, partly because I also bought and read the first issue and it wasn’t all that exciting. This comic is well-drawn, but has a somewhat formulaic plot that doesn’t effectively take advantage of its science fiction setting – this same story could have taken place in medieval Japan with only cosmetic changes. There is a cute love triangle involving Space Usagi and the woman his lord is betrothed to.

ATOMIC ROBO/DRONE/WE KILL MONSTERS FCBD 2009 (Red 5) – These Atomic Robo FCBD issues are sometimes better than the regular Atomic Robo comics. “Why Atomic Robo Hates Dr. Dinosaur” is awesome because it involves two of the funniest characters in recent comics, and it also has a brilliant shock ending, in which Dr. Dinosaur tricks Robo into opening a box full of grenades. The other two stories in this issue are awful. Besides Jay Fosgitt’s Bodie Troll, none of the other Red 5 comics seem to be any good at all, and I’m glad that Atomic Robo is now being published by a better company.

SUPERMAN #256 (DC, 1972) – The first story in this issue has some good Swanderson artwork, but yet another ridiculous and nonsensical Cary Bates story, about a talking transforming plane. The backup story, “Brother for a Day,” is by the same creative team and is neither notably better nor worse. The “tigerwoman” depicted on the cover turns out to be just a circus performer who’s been hypnotized into thinking she’s a tiger. This was the 1000th comic I read this year.

GIANT DAYS #7 (Boom!, 2015) – I love this series, though it’s difficult to review because every issue is pretty much the same thing. This one is interesting in that it explores the academic side of university life. Exams are an even bigger deal in British universities than in American universities.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #4 (Marvel, 2012) – This is part of the World War II time travel story arc. It’s not that exciting, and I have trouble understanding how it fits in with the timeline of the rest of this storyline.

WEIRDWORLD #5 (Marvel, 2015) – This issue is a fairly satisfying conclusion to a series that was a lot of fun, but not as fun as it could have been. It reintroduces all the characters from the previous issues, which wraps up the series nicely. Mike Del Mundo’s art is as beautiful as always. I’m glad he’s coming back for the ongoing series. I don’t remember if we ever saw the Eyemazons before, but I hope we see them again.

A-FORCE #5 (Marvel, 2015) – This issue is an unsatisfying conclusion to a series that squandered its revolutionary potential and was not worthy of the talent involved. Singularity’s death is a disappointing moment, though the last page shows that she’s still alive somewhere, and I expect we’ll be seeing more of her. I wish Marguerite and G. Willow had spent less time trying to tell an epic story, and more time letting us get to know the characters. They could have taken lessons from Princeless: Raven – The Pirate Princess.

THIS DAMNED BAND #3 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Pretty much the same thing as the last two issues. This is a reasonably fun series but it’s nothing spectacular.

DR. SPEKTOR PRESENTS SPINE-TINGLING TALES #3 (Gold Key, 1975) – I was excited to find this at NYCC because it’s a Don Glut/Jesse Santos comic that I hadn’t known about, and I’ve already read most of the work of this team. Glut and Santos were not necessarily on the same level as Gerber and Ploog or Wolfman and Colan, but their stories had a lot of energy and humor. This issue includes three interlinked stories about Durak the barbarian, who is almost the same character as Dagar the Invincible except he doesn’t have a steady girlfriend and is something of a womanizer. Jesse Santos’s artwork is somewhat loose and seems to have been drawn at a very large size, but it’s still fairly impressive. Whether to file this comic under D or S is a difficult question.

UNCANNY X-MEN #204 (Marvel, 1986) – I read the X-Men Classics version of this issue, but so long ago that I don’t remember it. “What Happened to Nightcrawler” is a solo story in which Kurt rescues a woman, Judith Rassendyll, from Murderworld, and it turns out that she’s the heir to the kingdom of Ruritania from The Prisoner of Zenda. It’s a fun story about one of my favorite X-Men, but it’s not nearly as fun or exuberant as the Nightcrawler miniseries (which is referenced at the start of the issue). At this point Kurt is suffering from depression because the Beyonder has shaken his faith and because he didn’t get invited to Battleworld, and he takes out his frustrations on Amanda. The adventure with Arcade and Judith is just a way for Kurt to distract himself from his problems. Reading this issue also made me realize that offhand, I can’t think of anyone who Arcade actually managed to kill with Murderworld.

REVIVAL #11 (Image, 2013) – In this issue, Em rescues Cooper, who’s been kidnapped by black market organ dealers. It’s an average issue of a good series.

REVIVAL #12 (Image, 2013) – This is one of the highlights of the series because it contains a two-page sequence that retells the entire story from Cooper’s perspective. This sequence is drawn in little-kid style by Art Baltazar, and even includes a guest appearance by Action Cat and Adventure Bug. And then the issue ends with another similar but much creepier sequence that depicts Cooper’s perception of Em as both a hero and a monster.

IRON MAN #85 (Marvel, 1976) – I don’t have much interest in Iron Man from prior to the Michelinie/JR Jr/Layton run. My perception is that the first 115 issues of Iron Man were not especially distinguished. This issue does not disprove that. It has a complicated plot involving Happy Hogan becoming the Freak, but it’s not especially well-written or well-drawn. The most notable thing about this issue is that Tony makes himself a new mask without a nose. He comments that “in order for the mask to retain its symmetry, the nose had to go – but somehow I don’t think I’ll miss it,” and I don’t think the readers missed it either.

2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY #5 (Marvel, 1977) – This was one of Kirby’s last great works, though its greatness is disputable. It begins with what appears to be a superhero story, but turns out to be a virtual reality video game. This sequence almost seems like Kirby parodying himself. The issue also includes a dystopian depiction of New York in 2040.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #54 (Marvel, 1977) – This is a team-up between Spidey, the Hulk and Woodgod, who seems to have been one of Bill Mantlo’s pet characters. The story is of no particular interest, although it does explain how Spidey ends up on the moon, where he meets Adam Warlock next issue. The only redeeming quality of this issue is the John Byrne artwork, which unfortunately is not well served by Mike Esposito’s inking.

PREZ #3 (DC, 1974) – The original Prez is a rather silly comic, a story about youth by two aging creators past their prime. It’s not nearly at the same level as the current Prez miniseries (which ironically has now lasted longer than the original ongoing series). Still, this issue is fun in a stupid way. It’s also eerily prophetic: it depicts an attempted coup d’etat by right-wing domestic terrorists who see themselves as the heirs to the Founding Fathers. Jerry Grandenetti was a clone of Will Eisner, but he at least did a good job of imitating Eisner’s dynamic splash pages.

SUPERGIRL #59 (DC, 2001) – I was inspired to read this after seeing the first episode of the TV show. Peter David was probably the best Supergirl writer, which is honestly kind of sad. The character herself is better than most of the talent that’s’ worked on her comics. Like many issues of PAD’s Supergirl, this issue is highly inaccessible and is tough to understand if you haven’t read the whole series.

SUPERGIRL #80 (DC, 2003) – This is the last issue of the series, and it’s even more incomprehensible than #59. There is some interesting stuff going on here, but I don’t understand it. I’m especially perplexed as to why there are two different Supergirls. Ed Benes’s artwork here is surprisingly non-offensive.

ACTION COMICS #564 (DC, 1985) – This issue includes two boring stories by poor creative teams (one about the Master Jailer and another about an “underground railroad” for runaway aliens). At this point Curt Swan was no longer drawing Action Comics, and the series seemed to lack any kind of focus or distinctive identity.

That’s everything for the week of October 23. Next are the comics I received on October 30.

11-14-15

Getting seriously backed up. Going to try to write shorter reviews. Not sure if I can.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL vol. 2 #1 (Marvel, 2015) – As the cover indicates, this is the second comic book with this title and issue number this year. This is another brilliant issue. Doreen’s mom is as wonderful as her daughter. I don’t know if Brain Drain is a preexisting character or not, but I hope so. There are so many brilliant inside jokes in this issue that I can’t remember them all, although the metatextual reference to Doreen being “medically AND LEGALLY distinct from being a mutant, and I can never take this back” is a highlight.

MANIFEST DESTINY #18 (Image, 2015) – This was a somewhat disappointing conclusion to the Vameter/Fezron story arc, until the last five pages, which were the most disturbing scene in the whole series. Thanks to their actions here, Lewis and Clark have irredeemably crossed the moral event horizon, and it’s going to be hard to sympathize with them again. What makes this scene even more heartbreaking is the knowledge that the real Lewis and Clark would probably have behaved in exactly this way.

PREZ #5 (DC, 2015) – This continues to be the best-written current DC title. I love the idea of Prez going on an actual apology tour. However, I have grave concerns about the fact that this is only issue 5 and so far nothing has been resolved. I can’t imagine how Mark Russell is going to wrap everything up in just one more issue. I suspect he may be better at writing dialogue than at plotting.

POWER UP #4 (Boom!, 2015) – This, on the other hand, is a six-issue miniseries that seems to have about four issues’ worth of content. At least in this issue we finally get to meet the Big Bad, but this issue suffers from a common problem with Boom Box titles, namely too much decompression.

CHEW #51 (Image, 2015) – The first issue in quite a while. I wasn’t sure where this series was going to go now that the Collector is gone, and I think Layman and Guillory may be confused about that too. This issue seems like a collection of jokes with no plot. I am glad that we may finally be getting some answers about that alien writing, but I think this series may have run its course.

BATGIRL #45 (DC, 2015) – Which features perhaps the first same-sex wedding in a Marvel or DC comic. As many other people have noted, this represents a sea change from DC’s recently announced policy of not letting heroes get married, although only to a limited extent, since it’s not the hero who’s getting married. The wedding in this issue is very cute, but Dick Grayson’s behavior made me furious. Reading this issue makes me realize that I have very little use for this character now that he’s no longer Starfire’s boyfriend.

REVIVAL #34 (Image, 2015) – Like many issues of Revival, this was entertaining and dramatic but also very confusing. I guess Dana’s dad conspired with the mayor to conceal the fact that Dana’s dad was responsible for killing his wife, but I get the feeling I was supposed to have known that already. As for the other stuff in the issue, the only thing I clearly understand is that Ramin is some sort of assassin or something. This seems like one of those series that makes more sense if you read the whole thing in order (see also Shutter and Mind MGMT).

AMAZING ADVENTURES #12 (Marvel, 1972) – This is the second appearance of the furry version of the Beast. Issue 11 may be outside my price range, but who knows. This issue has some excellent horror-flavored art by Tom Sutton, with inking by another master of horror comics, Mike Ploog. This artwork is appropriate since the major theme of the story is Hank’s revulsion at his new appearance, though he quickly came to grips with being blue and furry. (Unlike Nightcrawler. It’s odd that there are two blue furry X-Men but that they’re such distinct characters.) The plot in this issue is also interesting, especially the character of Linda, Hank’s girlfriend who’s secretly a spy.

TEEN TITANS GO! #12 (DC, 2015) – Like most of Sholly Fisch’s work, this is an insubstantial but fun piece of work. In this issue, Starfire and Raven sign up for an online dating site, and Cyborg and Robin conspire to keep all their prospective boyfriends away from them. There are a bunch of Easter eggs here for adult fans, including Prince Karras and the ‘70s Sandman (along with Brute and Glob). The backup story, about Opposite Day, is much less interesting, but I would gladly read more issues of this series if I could find them for a dollar or less.

GREEN LANTERN #70 (DC, 1969) – This John Broome/Gil Kane story, about a lifesized alien toy, is really kind of stupid. The ‘60s Green Lantern is more interesting for the worldbuilding and the plotting than for Hal himself, who was boring at best and a boorish jerk at worst. Probably the best thing about this issue is the bizarre gravity-eater creature on page 2. I don’t think of Gil Kane as a Lovecraftian artist, but this creature is very Lovecraftian.

BLACK MAGICK #1 (Image, 2015) – This seems like a much higher-profile and more ambitious work than Greg Rucka’s other current series, Stumptown. This story is about a policewoman who is also a Wiccan, and who turns out to have actual magical powers. I think this series might have been more interesting without the magical element – if it had just been a police procedural about a cop who belongs to a nonstandard religion, that would have been exciting enough. But I do look forward to seeing where this goes.

ODY-C #8 (Image, 2015) – Christian Ward’s artwork this issue is as gorgeous as usual, especially the grotesque sequence showing Hyrar and Zhaman slaughtering the women and their lovers. This is a retelling of a scene from the Arabian Nights, but it does effectively bring out the horror that the original text sort of glosses over. Despite all that, I still think these last three issues have represented a significant drop in quality, and I wish we’d get back to Odyssia.

MERCURY HEAT #1 (Avatar, 2015) – I’d heard some harshly negative opinions about this series on Facebook, and I stopped ordering it and didn’t bother reading the issues I already had. I decided to return to this series when Alan Moore praised it in his Goodreads Q&A. This comic is not nearly as impressive as Kieron Gillen’s other current series, but it doesn’t feel like Kieron completely phoned it in, either. It’s a reasonably exciting science fiction story with a well-thought-out world. I’m kind of sorry I didn’t order issue 3.

MERCURY HEAT #2 (Avatar, 2015) – See above.

USAGI YOJIMBO #35 (Dark Horse, 2000) – Part two of “Mystery of the Demon Mask” is one of the less impressive Usagi stories I’ve read lately, although possibly that’s due to fatigue and/or Usagi overload. I can’t remember much about it. Also, this is part two of a three-part story and it’s been a long time since I read either of the other two parts.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #311 (Marvel, 1989) – Not one of the better Michelinie-McFarlane issues. In this story, Peter suffers a major personal crisis when he thinks he’s allowed some innocent people to be killed, but their deaths turn out to have been an illusion engineered by Mysterio. The trouble with Mysterio is that every story in which he appears has the same plot: Spidey experiences something bizarre and inexplicable, then he realizes it’s an illusion created by Mysterio, and at that point the story is over, because Mysterio is a complete pushover as long as Spidey knows he’s the villain. It’s hard to come up with an original take on that formula. At least this story gives Todd a chance to draw some bizarre alien monsters.

YOUNG JUSTICE #51 (DC, 2003) – This is part two of the story arc in which YJ invades Zandia. I wonder why this story began in issue 50 instead of ending there, as would have been more typical. It continues the plot of the previous issue, and ends with the bizarre revelation that Empress’s parents have been turned into babies.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #183 (DC, 1969) – This Leo Dorfman/Ross Andru story is a bunch of ridiculous nonsense. Some time travelers with gorilla faces accuse Superman and Batman of committing crimes in the 41st century, but the time travelers turn out to be Luthor and Brainiac in disguise. This is just stupid and not even in a fun way. By far the best thing about this issue is the Neal Adams cover.

ART OPS #1 (Vertigo, 2015) – Another exciting new Vertigo debut. This reminds me of The Unwritten because of its metatextual nature. It begins with a scene where the Mona Lisa is liberated from her painting and pulled into the third dimension, and then there’s a scene with graffiti coming to life, and the main character’s arm is made of squiggles of color… it’s hard to describe all this, but it’s intriguing. I look forward to seeing where this goes. Mike Allred’s art is as impressive as usual, although his style never changes much.

THE SPIRE #4 (Boom!, 2015) – Somehow I didn’t have the energy to read this sooner; it seems to require more mental effort than other comics. As with earlier issues, Simon Spurrier’s writing is highly creative, Jeff Stokely’s artwork is Miyazaki-esque, and the plot is difficult to follow. I really like the two-page spread that begins with the caption “duty calls,” where the fart-propulsion dude is chasing an assassin through a cross-section of the city.

THE INFINITE LOOP #3 (IDW, 2015) – I have serious problems with this comic. The message of the whole series is about tolerance, but the creators seem to think this message is much more revolutionary and radical than it actually is. All they seem to be arguing is that it’s okay to be a lesbian, and that’s preaching to the converted. Elsa Charretier’s art is potentially very interesting, but her pages are too cluttered. I don’t look forward to reading the other three issues of this series.

SAVAGE DRAGON #208 (Image, 2015) – This is the best issue in months, but that’s only because it’s average and unobjectionable, whereas most previous issues have been positively offensive. Even then, this issue is all about the final defeat of Angel and Mr. Glum, two characters who used to be depicted quite positively. I’m done with this series after the next issue.

Next up, the comics I received on November 7. I hope it won’t take me two whole weeks to finish reviewing them.

(Written almost two whole weeks later:)

Here are the reviews for November 6. This was kind of an unimpressive week.

HOWARD THE DUCK #1 (Marvel, 2015) – Like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1, this is the second comic with its name and issue number this year. I was not feeling well when I read this comic, and looking at it two weeks later, I barely remember anything about it, though there’s a lot of funny stuff here – the cyborg cat and squirrel are particularly interesting. I think this is my least favorite of the three titles Chip Zdarsky is currently writing, though there’s not much difference in quality between the three.

PAPER GIRLS #2 (Image, 2015) – There was a deliberate lack of advance publicity about this series, and I still don’t know what to make of it. I love Cliff Chiang’s artwork, the tween girl characters are entertaining, and the series does a good job of evoking the atmosphere of the ‘80s. But the plot makes no sense at all yet.

KLAUS #1 (Boom!, 2015) – This was my favorite Grant Morrison comic since… well, it turns out I can’t remember the last one I really liked, although some of the issues of Multiversity were all right. Most of Grant’s late work is pseudo-intellectual and incomprehensible. This series is better because it has a simple and funny premise and avoids excessive complication for its own sake. “In the hands of a child, anything can become a toy” is a classic line.

THE VISION #1 (Marvel, 2015) – Probably my favorite comic of the week. The Vision has always been a somewhat creepy and disturbing character, and this story highlights that aspect of his character, by juxtaposing him with a suburban American setting. Tom King’s deadpan writing style does a perfect job of highlighting the contrast between the Vision family’s weirdness and the normality of their surroundings.

MONSTRESS #1 (Image, 2015) – This was one of the more hotly anticipated comics of late 2015, and it mostly lives up to the hype. The extreme length of this issue is a bit puzzling, but as I said on Facebook, it “has the epic scope of a graphic novel.” The world of this series is deep and detailed and compelling; it feels like a world where actions have consequences, where characters can and do suffer lasting damage. One of my Facebook friends described this comic as “trad fantasy,” but I don’t agree. I think Liu and Takeda are not trying to create a standard epic fantasy world, they’re trying to use fantasy to address difficult questions of gender and sexuality. This is going to be an important comic.

DOCTOR STRANGE #2 (Marvel, 2015) – There is a lot of brilliant weirdness in this issue, including the unexplained catcalling snakes, and the bizarre tentacled creature Wong prepares for lunch. But I feel this comic could be even weirder, and I still have concerns about Doc’s characterization. This is still pretty fun, though.

HARLEY QUINN AND POWER GIRL #5 (DC, 2015) – Another insubstantial but fun comic. Harley’s trip into the Harvester of Sorrow’s head is a bizarre scene – it almost reminds me of one of Chip Zdarsky’s dream sequences from Jughead. I was expecting that the wedding would happen this issue, but I guess we’ll have to wait for it until next issue. This series has been okay but I’m much more excited about Harley Quinn’s Little Black Book.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #22 (IDW, 2015) – A lackluster issue. It follows the usual formula where the primary characters try to do something, fail to do it in a way that teaches them a lesson about friendship, and then try again and succeed. The problem is that in this case, I don’t understand what exactly the lesson was. Why was Celestia and Pinkie Pie’s last cake any different from any of the others? The most memorable thing about this issue is that when I read it, I assumed that the cherpumple was made up, but I later discovered that it really exists.

SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #258 (DC, 1979) – A terrible effort from the worst Legion writer (Gerry Conway). There’s a potentially touching scene in this issue where R.J. Brande refuses to reclaim the fortune that was stolen from him by the former UP President, but this scene is so histrionically written that it’s silly rather than sad. The best unintentional humor moment of this issue is when Superboy orders the Legionnaires to execute “option B – all-out attack against enemy forces!” What the hell is option A then?

GREEN LANTERN #129 (DC, 1980) – This was Denny O’Neil’s final issue. I think he was right to leave when he did – he had already written Green Arrow out of the series for some reason, and without Ollie and Dinah, the comic was much less interesting. This issue has a convoluted plot which I’ve mostly forgotten, involving Star Sapphire and a Qwardian warrior masquerading as a child. The issue ends with a cute moment where Hal and Carol agree to forget their differences and pretend to be friends for one night, which reminds me of the ending of Denny’s final Ra’s al Ghul story (Detective Comics #490).

ATOMIC ROBO: THE RING OF FIRE #3 (IDW, 2015) – Until this issue I didn’t realize that this series was a parody of Pacific Rim – the obvious clue I missed is that the Pacific rim and the Ring of Fire refer to the same area. Now that I know that, I have a better sense of what the point of this miniseries is, though it’s still not my favorite Atomic Robo comic. Scott Wegener is pretty good at drawing kaiju.

USAGI YOJIMBO #47 (Dark Horse, 2001) – This is the second part of a two-parter in which Usagi and Gen team up to defeat two feuding crime bosses. It’s an average Usagi story, which means it would be significantly above average if it was an issue of any other series. Maybe the most memorable moment of the issue is the last-minute cameo appearance by Shizukiri, a very deadly assassin. Shizukiri’s appearance is a deliberate anticlimax because he shows up after the plot has already been resolved, but I was left wondering whether he would show up again. And it turns out he did appear again in issue 95, and then in issue 102 where Usagi killed him, but just barely.

GROO THE WANDERER #92 (Marvel, 1992) – Part one of “The Fountain of Youth” is a pretty good Groo story. Like many recent issues of Groo: Friends and Foes, it has a complicated and silly plot, but unlike those issues, it’s funny and it makes logical sense. This issue also includes two backup stories.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #36 (DC, 1981) – This is one of Paul Levitz’s rare issues of DCCP. The guest star is the Prince Gavyn version of Starman, who is a pretty forgettable character, but Paul provides a satisfying resolution to his story. The artist this issue is Jim Starlin, which is appropriate since I think the Prince Gavyn character was created by Ditko. There is an obvious visual similarity between Mongul, the villain in this issue, and Starlin’s other major villains Thanos and Papal.

ACTION COMICS #421 (DC, 1973) – The Superman story in this issue is the first appearance of Captain Strong. It’s not the best story with this character, but it’s funny. The Green Arrow/Black Canary backup story by Elliot Maggin and Sal Amendola is genuinely impressive. Sal was never able to fulfill his obvious potential (which was most notably displayed in “Night of the Stalker” in Detective Comics #439) but this story is very well drawn, and it’s also notable for portraying a very early stage in Ollie and Dinah’s romance.

18 DAYS #1 (Graphic India, 2015) – My friends have varying opinions on this comic: Corey Creekmur likes it, but Phil Sandifer thinks Grant just did it for the money. My opinion is somewhere between theirs. I really like the idea of a Kirbyesque take on the Mahabharata, but the artwork in this comic is completely generic and unimaginative, and seems to have been designed solely for the purpose of being displayed on a screen. Literally every panel is a horizontally formatted rectangle, which is the shape that’s easiest to display on a mobile device. So this comic is disappointing for its lack of visual creativity.

XOMBI #6 (DC, 1994) – In the aftermath to the first major storyline, David Kim tries to cope with the death of his friend and colleague Kelly Sanborne. It’s a very touching story that deals with death in a respectful way. Too many comics just gloss over the death of minor characters, but this one demonstrates the devastating impact that an accidental death has on the friends of the deceased .

INVINCIBLE #44 (Image, 2007) – This was the most enjoyable Invincible comic I’ve read lately, though I’m not sure why exactly. It includes a bunch of good scenes, including a significant conversation between Mark and Eve, and Ryan Ottley’s depiction of an enormous monster attacking an ocean liner is awe-inspiring.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2015 (AVENGERS) 1 (Marvel, 2015) – Only one of the four stories in this issue is any good at all, but that story is very good. The Avengers story features Kamala Khan prominenly, and involves her and her teammates learning an important lesson about what it means to be an Avenger. I don’t understand why Kamala thinks the Radioactive Man sounds smarter than he used to, considering that Chen Lu has always been depicted as a brilliant scientist.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #192 (DC, 1970) – The lead story in this issue, “The Prison of No Escape,” is poorly written but has some excellent Andru/Esposito artwork. I don’t know why this comic is so much more visually effective than the previous WFC I read, #183, which was by the same artistic team, but it is. Andru’s action sequences are effective and his page layouts take advantage of the entire height and width of the page; some of these pages even remind me of Gene Colan. As usual, the reprinted backup story in this issue is worse than nothing at all.

GREEN LANTERN #171 (DC, 1983) – The first story this issue is by none other than Alex Toth. Eric Nolen-Weathington explains that Toth did this story as a break from Bravo for Adventure, because he was suffering from artist’s block. “Shelflife” suffers from a terrible script, but in the hands of the master, this stupid story turns into a masterpiece. Toth invests every panel and every page with excitement and emotional subtlety. I don’t have the same religious reverence for this artist as some other people do, but this story demonstrates his phenomenal storytelling ability. This issue also includes Todd Klein and Dave Gibbons’s “Deeter & Dragons,” which is an adorable story with excellent art, though Gibbons is not very good at drawing dragons. Klein and Gibbons’s Green Lantern Corps stories are underrated, and I’m sorry we never saw Deeter again.

Now the comics I received on November 13.

ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS #1 (Marvel, 2015) – Mark Waid has been in one of his occasional slumps lately; see my recent reviews of Daredevil and Empire Uprising, which I decided to give up on. But this issue is his best work in a while, and it suggests that he was the appropriate choice to write one of Marvel’s flagship titles. The first story in this issue is only average, though the scene where Tony’s car transforms into a giant Hulkbuster suit is impressive. The second story, though, is amazing. Mark writes Kamala Khan very well; he knows what makes her tick and he realizes how awesome she is. And her encounter with Nova is both disturbing and completely believeable. Sam seems to believe that he’s entitled to a romance with her just because they’re the same age and they’re teammates, but he doesn’t realize how uncomfortable Kamala feels around him – to her, he’s creepy instead of charming. But Mark also shows understanding of why Sam would behave in this disturbing way. This story shows sensitivity to real-world gender politics and it also engages in characterization on a much deeper level than we typically find in superhero comics.

THE GODDAMNED #1 (Image, 2015) – I was looking forward to this because I like the caveman genre – Anthro is one of my favorite Silver Age comics. But I have to admit I’m disappointed this comic wasn’t sexier; when I read a caveman story, I want sex as well as violence. The artwork in this comic turned out to be far more exciting than the story. I’ve only read one previous R.M. Guera comic and I didn’t realize how talented he was. He’s clearly influenced by European artists, though I don’t know who exactly, and he draws action sequences in a very European style. (In interviews, he’s named Franquin and Jijé as influences; the latter is probably the most important European cartoonist whose work is completely unavailable in English.) The nearly wordless sequence where Cain singlehandledly kills a whole bunch of dudes is the highlight of the issue.

STARFIRE #6 (DC, 2015) – Another good issue, though it’s the exact same thing as every other issue, and there’s still too much of the supporting cast and not enough of Kory herself. I look forward to seeing Kory’s reunion with Dick next issue, though if Dick behaves the way he did in Batgirl #45, then it will not be a happy reunion.

SPIDER-GWEN #2 (Marvel, 2015) – Another comic I don’t remember particularly well because I was exhausted when I read it. Mostly this is just a typical Spider-Gwen story, but I love the black female Captain America’s origin story. Jason Latour surprisingly comes up with a plausible way in which a black woman could have become Captain America in the ‘40s, and the fact that her origin involves Devil Dinosaur and “Dimension Nazi” is an added bonus.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #16 (Image, 2015) – I need to read this entire series at one sitting after it’s finished, because this was yet another issue that I didn’t fully understand. At least Leila del Duca’s artwork is nice, and I love the line about falafel.

ZODIAC STARFORCE #3 (Dark Horse, 2015) – I’d be enjoying this series more if I had any familiarity with the magical girl genre. I’ve never watched Sailor Moon or Magic Knight Rayearth, so I don’t understand how this series is innovating upon or playing with its genre. Even then, this is a fun comic with cute art and writing, though it’s not Lumberjanes or Rat Queens.

DESCENDER #7 (Image, 2015) – Dustin Nguyen’s artwork here is as beautiful as usual, but this comic is rather formulaically plotted and there’s nothing all that exciting about it – until the last page, which delivers an effective shock ending. I do think Tim is a very effective character; with his loyalty to Bandit and Driller and his refusal to leave without them, he (again) reminds me of Astro Boy.

NEW MUTANTS #10 (Marvel, 1983) – I bought this at Heroes Con but didn’t read it earlier because it contains sooooo much text. Claremont’s New Mutants stories were wordy even for him. Also, this issue is part of the boring Nova Roma story – for that matter, most of the stories in this series were pretty boring, at least until the Demon Bear saga. What makes this comic interesting is the characterization, though I think the only New Mutants I really like (among those appearing in this issue) are Sam and Rahne and possibly Dani. Bobby is a spoiled little brat, and Amara, who is the central character in this issue, has no personality to speak of. My favorite moment in this issue is where Sam tells Rahne to mind her elders, and she replies that she’ll do no such thing.

ROWANS RUIN #2 (Boom!, 2015) – This was a bit less exciting than the first issue, but it’s still an effective horror story. I continue to think that the most interesting thing about this comic is not the horror, but the exploration of cultural differences between America and England.

AUTUMNLANDS #7 (Image, 2015) – The “Tooth and Claw” subtitle seems to have been abandoned. I’m sorry to say that this is my least favorite Kurt Busiek comic in a long time. The worldbuilding and the two protagonists (the dog kid and the Champion) are reasonably interesting, but the story is failing to generate any excitement. I’m going to keep reading this comic out of loyalty to Kurt, but I wish it was more exciting. It is nice that we finally know what the title Autumnlands means.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #12 (Image, 2015) – We still haven’t seen Earl Tubb’s daughter again. I guess maybe I was mistaken when I thought she was going to be the new protagonist. This issue was frustrating because I can’t remember who Tad Ledbetter is – I thought he was the friend of Earl who was beaten to death, but I assumed that character was dead. And Materhead isn’t that interesting of a character, compared to the protagonists of the last few issues. On the positive side, the dream sequence in this issue is wonderfully bizarre.

DONALD DUCK #278 (Gladstone, 1990) – “Land of the Totem Poles” is a classic work of Barks. Donald and the nephews travel to a village of uncontacted Native Americans to try to sell stuff to them, and hijinks ensue. It’s an exciting and beautifully drawn story. Barks was an incredible artist of nature; some of the landscapes in this story are as good as anything by Hal Foster or whoever. And this story is full of funny bits, like the hermit who’s completely covered in hair and who randomly happens to want exactly the thing that the nephews are selling. The problem with this story, of course, is its representation of Native Americans. Gladstone censored some of the original dialogue in this story – Geoffrey Blum writes on the letters page that “what seemed harmless enough in 1950 skates close to objectionable ethnic humor these days, so at the request of the Walt Disney Company, we’ve cleaned up the Indians’ dialogue.” The portrayal of the Native Americans is mildly offensive even in the version of the story that appears in this issue, so you have to wonder how much worse the original version was. On the other hand, Barks did make at least some attempt at cultural accuracy. The village in this story looks like an actual Northwest Coast First Nations community, and Barks was clearly aware that Native Americans from British Columbia are not the same as Plains Indians. I wonder if the original uncensored version of “Land of the Totem Poles” has ever been reprinted. There’s also one other Barks story in this issue, in which Donald and the nephews investigate the Loch Ness monster. This story contains a(n unintentionally?) funny panel where a Scottish shopkeeper offers the nephews some medicine that will make Donald brave, but it turns out the medicine is haggis, not whisky.

MARVEL FANFARE #6 (Marvel, 1983) – This issue begins with Mike W. Barr and Sandy Plunkett’s “Switch Witch,” which is nominally a team-up between Spider-Man and the Scarlet Witch. I say nominally because Wanda doesn’t get to do anything; for the entire story either she’s mind-controlled or she’s a helpless hostage. This story should have remained in the inventory drawer. The backup story is more interesting because it’s an early work of Charles Vess. In general this is a pretty dumb story that doesn’t give Charles an opportunity to showcase his talent, but it does contain some impressive drawings of otherworldly landscapes.

VAMPIRELLA #44 (Warren, 1975) – The highlight of this issue is Victor Mora and Luis Garcia’s “Love Strip,” a possibly autobiographical story about a writer who goes insane from wasting his talent on bad romance comics. The story here is interesting, although maybe a little histrionic, and Luis Garcia’s artwork is utterly breathtaking. It makes extensive use of photoreference and it looks more engraved than drawn; there’s a scratchy quality to the linework that seems impossible to achieve with a pen. The panels depicting the protagonist’s comic book stories are traditionally drawn, and in these scenes, Garcia does a great job of imitating the standard style of Spanish comics at the time. There’s even one panel that appears to be an explicit reference to Carlos Giménez’s Paracuellos, a comic that’s finally scheduled to come out in English next year. I really wish IDW or some other company would reprint all of Mora and Garcia’s collaborations, because these comics are amazingly good and are currently available in English only in old Warren comics, which are hard to find. Also, Warren’s translation was probably not great. For example, this story is clearly set in Barcelona (all the signage is in Catalan, and the Sagrada Familia is seen in one panel), yet the dialogue describes the story as taking place in Paris. The second best story in the issue – a very distant second – is Bruce Bezaire and Ramon Torrents’s “Troll.” This is a fairly touching story about a social misfit, but it’s most interesting for its accurate depiction of the University of Windsor and the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit. Bezaire was an adjunct faculty member at that university, and coincidentally, my fellow comics scholar Dale Jacobs works there now. The Vampirella and Pantha stories in the issue aren’t nearly as good, and the Pantha story includes a rape scene that’s clichéd to the point of offensiveness.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #96 (Marvel, 1971) – This was one of the most important Marvel comic books of the ‘70s because it was published without Comics Code approval due to its references to drug use, which helped lead to a liberalization of the Code. This is also a really impressive comic book. I hadn’t read this story in years and I’d forgotten that nearly the entire story is devoted to character drama. Most of the issue depicts Peter and his friends’ trip to Mary Jane’s theatrical debut, and the Green Goblin only shows up on the last page. This is maybe my favorite kind of Spider-Man story – one where the superheroic action takes a back seat to the human drama.

TWO-FISTED TALES #15 (Gemstone, 1996, originally EC, 1952) – All the stories in this issue are highly impressive, although two of them have ineffective tacked-on shock endings. Probably the best is Johnny Craig’s “Lost Battalion,” which is narrated by one of a group of WWI soldiers who are trapped in a pocket. When the other soldiers are finaly rescued, the narrator doesn’t accompany them: “The boys will go back but I’ll stay here… covered with branches and why not… I’m dead!” This sort of black humor is something EC was really really good at. Wally Wood’s “Hannibal” and Jack Davis’s “Silent Service” both have beautiful artwork but no story to speak of. Joe Kubert’s story about Navy signalmen is an unimpressive early work.

CONVERGENCE: HAWKMAN #2 (DC, 2015) – Like much of Jeff Parker’s work, this issue is an exciting adventure story but it’s nothing groundbreaking, and that may explain why Jeff doesn’t always get the recognition he deserves. The best thing about the story is the appearance by a bunch of animals from Kamandi’s world, though Kamandi doesn’t appear himself. Tim Truman’s art is quite good although his draftsmanship seems to have gotten very crude. I’d be willing to read an ongoing Kamandi series by Parker and Truman.

DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS #4 (DC, 2015) – My enthusiasm for this series is waning. The Wonder Woman segment in this issue was easily the best thing in it; the Harley Quinn and Stargirl segments just didn’t grab me. I suggested on Facebook the other day that Marjorie Bennett should just be the regular Wonder Woman writer, because a Wonder Woman title written by Bennett would be better than either this series or the current Wonder Woman series.

FROM UNDER MOUNTAINS #2 (Image, 2015) – I regret to say that this is not a professional-quality comic. The story is confusing and unoriginal and proceeds at a glacial pace, and the artwork is crude. I didn’t order issue 3.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #120 (Dark Horse, 1997) – Appropriately, “One Last Job” seems to have been Al Williamson’s last published work, and it’s about a bounty hunter who keeps breaking his promise to retire. It’s only four pages, but each page is a small masterpiece. I’ve said before that after Frazetta, Williamson was the greatest draftsman in the history of American comics, and this story is further proof of that. Of the other three stories in the issue, the only good one is the Hectic Planet story by Evan Dorkin, but I’ve already read that because it was reprinted in the Bummer Trilogy one-shot.

DAREDEVIL #24 (Marvel, 2013) – I skipped this when it came out. This issue is brilliantly drawn, as I expect from Chris Samnee, but the story is not impressive. It touches on the ongoing plots with Foggy, Kirsten and Bullseye, but doesn’t advance any of those plots significantly.

SUPERMAN ADVENTURES #2 (DC, 1996) – I haven’t read this series before (no, that’s not true, I reviewed #25 previously), but it’s almost comparable in quality to Batman Adventures. Rick Burchett’s visual storytelling is masterful, and Scott McCloud’s writing lacks the over-serious ponderousness of much of his post-Zot work. Just so I don’t forget, the story in this issue involves Metallo kidnapping a woman who falsely claims to be Superman’s girlfriend.

XENOZOIC TALES #8 (Kitchen Sink, 1989) – I think this was the lsat issue of this series that I hadn’t read. As usual, Mark Schultz’s artwork here is phenomenal. His black-and-white seascapes and landscapes are as good as similar pages by Al Williamson, and that’s about the highest praise I can give. The only thing Williamson drew significantly better than Schultz was faces; Schultz’s facial expressions are not bad but they don’t have the compelling realism of his backgrounds and animals and objects. The plot in this issue is that Jack and Hannah nearly die from inhaling poison gas, and the high point of the issue is Schultz’s depictions of their hallucinatory dreams.

Now for the new comics I received on Friday.

MS. MARVEL #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This month, Kamal battles a villain deadlier and more vicious than any she has yet faced: gentrification. The scene where Kamala discovers what’s happened to Jersey City in her absence is the most memorable moment of the issue, because it directly confronts a serious social problem. But there’s other good stuff here too, including the lightning golems, the unexplained evil ten-foot-tall frog, and the love triangle between Kamala and Bruno. Ms. Marvel is the best comic currently being published by either Marvel or DC, and this issue is a great introduction to her new series.

USAGI YOJIMBO #150 (Dark Horse, 2015) – I was looking forward eagerly to this one, and it’s good, though it’s not what I expected. In “Death of a Tea Master,” Usagi meets his first European, a Spaniard named Rodriguez, who turns out to be a cruel, vengeful little monster. After Rodriguez forces an innocent, saintly friend of Usagi’s to commit seppuku for no reason, Usagi kills him in a duel, and the reader feels very happy to see him gone. This is perhaps the darkest and most bitter Usagi story I can remember, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. One thing that strikes me is how different Rodriguez looks from a modern European, whereas Usagi’s clothing, for example, looks quite similar to the modern Japanese national costume. Although that might just be because I can’t tell the difference between Edo period and contemporary Japanese clothes.

ASTRO CITY #29 (DC, 2015) – “The Menace from Earth” is an example of a type of story that Astro City does very well: a superhero story from a reverse perspective. The protagonist of this story, Zozat, is a member of an alien race whose leader is an enemy of the First Family, and as the title indicates, this story is about the First Family’s “invasion” of his planet. The aliens in this story are not really all that alien, considering that they go to school, live in nuclear families, etc., but they are strange enough to be interesting; for example, they eat Azzarian jelled dodecapod for dessert. It’s also disappointing that the aliens are not the “good guys” (see review of We Stand on Guard #5 below) even by their own standards. We see that their society is aggressive and colonialist and that they’ve all been brainwashed into obeying Korzinn unquestioningly. Still, this is a really interesting story and I look forward to seeing what happens when Zozat meets Karl Furst.

 

LUMBERJANES #20 (Boom!, 2015) – This was the worst issue since #10, and possibly the worst issue period, because it was too predictable. Obviously the Lumberjanes manage to both get the band back together and attend the Bandicoot Bacchanal, and April learns a valuable lesson in the process. None of this is surprising at all. There are some cute scenes in this issue, including Riley dancing with Bubbles, but I expect more from this comic, and I hope the next storyline will be more original.

RAT QUEENS #13 (Image, 2015) – This is the best issue since the series came off hiatus, mostly because it’s extremely fun. There are funny and bizarre moments involving each character – Betty’s encounter with the old inventor dude, Hannah’s visit to her professor, etc. And the issue is full of funny throwaway lines and sight gags, like the tea-drinking “king bear.” Probably my favorite scene in the issue is the page where Dee starts reading a book, and tentacles start to appear out of nowhere, and she doesn’t notice until they’re almost tickling her. That happens to me sometimes when I read.

JUGHEAD #2 (Archie, 2015) – This may be the best current title written by Chip Zdarsky. I would normally not have much interest in this character, but Chip writes this series in such a beautifully weird style, making it more of a comedy than an Archie comic. It helps that both issues so far have included a dream sequence that’s a parody of a famous pop culture text. After this issue I’m pretty much convinced that Chip is the best humor writer in the industry, with the possible exception of Katie Cook.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #36 (IDW, 2015) – Part three of “Siege of the Crystal Empire” is the darkest, grimmest pony story I’ve yet read, besides Fiendship is Magic #1, which was a prequel to this story. The surprise this issue is that the Umbrum are not cute cuddly fairy things, but awful monsters that want to destroy all of Equestria. I guess this isn’t the first time the series has shown us creatures that are totally evil and unredeemable, but it does seem very strange that Sombra, because of his Umbrum heritage, is unable to be good even if he wants to. That doesn’t seem consistent with the overall tone of this franchise. It’s also a weird experience to be reading this comic at the same time as I’m watching season 5 of the TV show, which obviously has a completely different and unrelated storyline. I wonder how long it’ll be before the new plot developments in season 5 start to appear in the comic.

THE MIGHTY THOR #1 (Marvel, 2015) – The opening sequence of this issue was widely acclaimed, and with good reason. It’s the most realistic and harrowing depiction of cancer in any Marvel comic book. It has more in common with Our Cancer Year than with The Death of Captain Marvel, where Mar-Vell’s cancer seems to cause him no physical discomfort at all. The rest of the issue is also impressive. Particular highlights include all the scenes with Volstagg, and the crazy Senate delegates from Muspelheim.

INVINCIBLE #125 (Image, 2015) – Ho hum. A lot of stuff happens in this issue, but it’s all stuff that already happened earlier in this series. I still don’t understand what Kirkman was hoping to accomplish by rebooting the series. I don’t know why I’m still reading this comic – I guess because of how good it used to be. I didn’t realize that the original Global Guardians were such an obvious parody of the Justice League.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #48 (DC, 1993) – This is the conclusion to a multipart story about Mordru. Especially when read out of context, it’s too heavy on plot and doesn’t have enough characterization. The only memorable moment is Veilmist trying to get Devlin to become her new owner, although Veilmist is probably the most sexist character in the entire history of this series, and that’s saying a lot.

GROO THE WANDERER #49 (Marvel, 1989) – In “The Protector,” Groo tries to protect a town from some bandits, but does it so poorly that the bandits leave the town alone because they’ve already stolen everything worth taking. It’s a fairly funny story, especially when Groo adopts a series of increasingly ridiculous strategies to distinguish the bandits from the townspeople. First he has the townspeople wear red bandannas, then when the bandits start wearing red bandannas too, he tells the townspeople to wear blue shirts, then pink polkadotted pants, and finally nothing at all.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #2 (Image, 2015) – This comic is a pure guilty pleasure with no redeeming value. It’s a brutal self-parody of Skottie Young’s typical work, with a ridiculous level of violence. I expect this is going to get tiresome very quickly, but in small doses it’s fine.

HARLEY QUINN #22 (DC, 2015) – I don’t understand the plot of this issue because it’s based on events from issue 6, but otherwise, this is a typically funny issue of Harley Quinn, if not particularly edifying or artistic. This issue has the Looney Tunes cover with Harley styling Gossamer’s hair.

GIANT DAYS #8 (Boom!, 2015) – In this issue, Esther has a new boyfriend who’s a teaching assistant, and he takes her to dinner with his professors, who turn out to be much less snooty and appearance-conscious than he is. Besides that, this issue has all sorts of other gags. I actually found myself wondering if it might originally have been a webcomic because of the way it’s structured as a series of short vignettes. I think most of what I know about university student life in England is based on this comic.

DETECTIVE COMICS #574 (DC, 1987) – “My Beginning… and My Probable End” is the best Mike Barr/Alan Davis Batman story I’ve read, and it’s also a sequel to another great Batman story, “There is No Hope in Crime Alley.” It even uses the opening monologue from that story. The plot is very simple – Bruce brings a severely injured Jason to Leslie Tompkins’s clinic for treatment – but it’s a fairly deep exploration of Bruce’s screwed-up psychology, and Alan’s artwork is brilliant. This issue includes one puzzling scene where the young Bruce recovers the gun that Joe Chill used to kill his parents. I initially didn’t see the point of this, but then I realized it was intended to explain why Bruce still has that gun in “Year Two,” which begins in the next issue.

INVINCIBLE #29 (Image, 2006) – This issue mostly consists of a bloody, brutal fight between Mark and Nolan and the Viltrumites who have massacred the insect people. The violence in this issue is really excessive. It was this sort of excess violence that drove me away from this comic when I first tried to read it, around issue 60, and I almost stopped reading it around issue 112 for the same reason. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot in this issue.

WEIRD FANTASY #4 (Russ Cochran, 1993, originally EC, 1950) – Confusingly the issue numbers of these reprints do not correspond to the numbers of the original issues, because Weird Fantasy continued the numbering from an earlier series rather than beginning from #1. As another random note, my copy of this issue is kind of brittle and doesn’t quite pass the double fold test, and I may have to replace it someday. Anyway, easily the best story this issue is Kurtzman’s “The Mysterious Ray from Another Dimension,” in which television sets spontaneously begin to transport people to a utopian alternate dimension, and the only person who gets left behind on Earth is a radio executive who hates TV. This story is interesting for what it reveals about attitudes toward the new medium of TV in 1950. None of the other stories in this issue really qualifies as a story – each of them is just a vignette with an ending that doesn’t resolve anything. Of these, the one with the best artwork is Wally Wood’s “A Trip to a Star!”

PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #4 (Image, 2015) – This was maybe my favorite Phonogram issue yet because I actually understood what it was referring to. This comic is an affectionate parody of Scott Pilgrim, and uses O’Malley’s characteristic style of lettering and page design. I still don’t quite get who these characters are or how this issue fits into the overall story arc, but I was delighted when I realized what this comic was doing.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #46 (IDW, 2015) – By the time I read this, I was falling asleep but I still felt compelled to read three more comics before I went to bed, so that I could reach a total of ten for the day. If that doesn’t make it obvious, it’s getting really late in the semester and I’m really stressed, and I’m finding that even activities like reading comics don’t help me relax. Anyway, this issue is a rather confusing story about the Scavengers and Grimlock. I thought Iable to follow the plot of this series, but now I’ve gone back to not being able to follow it. There is a lot of funny stuff in this comic, and I especially love the last scene with all the robot animals.

THORS #4 (Marvel, 2015) – This concludes Jason Aaron and Chris Sprouse’s bizarre mythological police procedural. I’m not sure this series really needed to last four issues, because this conclusion is rather predictable and doesn’t add much to what we already know about the Thors, but this issue was a fairly entertaing comic.

WE STAND ON GUARD #5 (Image, 2015) – This is not a major work of BKV, and I won’t be sorry when it ends. I’d rather he spend his time on Saga and Paper Girls. The most notable thing in this issue is the dying American soldier’s reference to his side as “the good guys.” I find that this simplistic division of the world into good guys and bad guys is very typical of American conservatives. Otherwise this is a pretty average issue, though I look forward to seeing the smug American general get her comeuppance.

Teaching Comics: It’s Not as Hard as You Think (But It’s Different From Teaching Literature)

Here is the lecture I just gave as part of Miami University’s Comics Scholars series. The accompanying Google Slides presentation is here:

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1wWm1bV74H7npykf5OyO7-mddEIIL9uBsFfT-dGhJ7RA/edit#slide=id.gd33fb9f88_0_396

This talk is about teaching comics and it’s designed to encourage you to use comics in your courses and to address some of the concerns you may have about your ability to do that. I’m specifically directing this at people who are interested in using comics in their courses because of the McComb Undergraduate Conference in Creative Writing next semester, but who don’t know where to start. And this talk is primarily going to focus on the context of undergraduate college literature and composition courses, because that’s my area of expertise, but I’m hoping that some of my recommendations will be applicable to people who are interested in teaching at other levels. Also, I’m going to be giving a fairly broad overview of comics pedagogy, and I’m not going to make a lot of specific recommendations about how to use comics in particular courses. However, if you do want to know about comics that might be appropriate for the particular class you’re teaching, I’d be happy to talk about that during the Q&A session or after the lecture.

To explain my personal stake in this, I’m a visiting assistant professor in rhetoric and composition at Miami University, and I previously taught at Georgia Tech and I received my Ph.D. from the University of Florida. One of the primary reasons I became an academic in the first place is because I have a lifelong passion for comics and I always wanted to read and write about comics as a profession. SLIDE 2 Since getting my Ph.D., I’ve taught primarily composition, ENG 111 and 112, and I’ve used comics in nearly every course I’ve taught, and most of my publications have been about comics in some way. I also have a book manuscript currently under review which is about comics and the future of the book. And across the various institutions at which I’ve taught, I’ve met a lot of people who are interested in teaching comics but who don’t know where to start, and that’s why I think a talk like this might be useful.

The way I’m going to proceed is to address some common misperceptions that teachers often have about comics, and that create barriers to entry for teachers who are new to comics. Many of these worries are especially common among English teachers whose primary expertise is in text-based literature, but others are common to non-comics readers in general, and many of them apply to students as well as teachers. I want to talk about both how you can overcome these misperceptions yourselves and how you can get your students to do so. There are six of these misperceptions that I want to address, and they can be put into three complementary pairs: SLIDE 3

  • Comics Are Literature
  • Comics Are Not Literature
  • Comics Are Frivolous
  • Comics Are Serious
  • Teaching Comics is Hard
  • Teaching Comics is Easy

 

  1. Comics Are Literature (SLIDE 4)

This first point is specifically addressed to teachers who are coming to comics from a literary background. In the American academy, comics are typically taught in English departments because that’s where the initial interest in comics came from, and also, I think, because comics look more like literature than anything else. Comics are typically published in the form of books SLIDE 5, and they often include a lot of text, and this leads to the obvious perception that comics are a form of literature. And even comics scholars often describe comics in this way. An example is that one of the central works of comics studies is Charles Hatfield’s Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature SLIDE 6, although in the book itself Hatfield extensively discusses the difference between reading literature and reading comics.

The problem is that if you think about comics as a form of literature, you’re missing the point, because comics include an element which is typically absent from literature, namely pictures, and the pictures are just as essential to comics as they are to movies or video games. Comics are not literary texts with illustrations, they are graphic narratives. The function of the pictures is not just to amplify the text, but to tell the story. In an illustrated novel, you can remove the pictures and still understand the novel, and indeed, novels by authors like Thackeray and Dickens SLIDE 7 are usually reprinted without the original illustrations. If you take a comic and just reprint the text without the pictures, it ceases to make sense. And if you read a comic and ignore the pictures, you miss half the point. There is such a thing as a comic book with no pictures SLIDE 8 but even then, the arrangement of the panels is important. Let me show you an example of this, and this is an example I like to use at the beginning of the semester. This is a Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson. SLIDE 9 To understand why this cartoon is funny, we have to read the words and the pictures together, we have to understand the relationship between them. The caption tells us that there’s a missing culture of amoebic dysentery that’s been switched with lemonade, and the image tells us what happened to the culture.

Here’s a more sophisticated example that I like to use next. This is a comic strip from Mad Magazine by Antonio Prohias. SLIDE 10 What’s happening here? The fortuneteller looks in her crystal ball and he sees the man standing behind bars. Although this is a confusing image because he’s in prison and yet he’s smiling. So then we continue reading and we discover that when we looked in the crystal ball the first time, we misinterpreted it – the cop is actually outside the bars looking in, not inside the bars looking out, and he’s smiling because he’s gloating that the fortuneteller is in jail. We do have to bring in some contextual knowledge here – we have to know that he arrested her because in New York, where this magazine was published, fortune-telling is a crime. But this is a story that’s told exclusively with pictures. The only word in it is “police” and that word is not even necessary to understand the story, because the shape of the badge already tells you that the man is a policeman. Now this is a very short comic, but it’s possible to tell an even longer story using just pictures with no words. The wordless novel in woodcuts is a genre that goes back to 1918 and a famous example of this genre is the work of Lynd Ward. SLIDE 11 And even in a more typical comic, the pictures still cannot be ignored because half of the point of comics is interpreting how each picture relates to the words and the other pictures, and I’ll explain this below.

  1. Comics Are Not Literature (SLIDE 12)

However, the reverse of that is no less false because even if comics are not exactly the same thing as literature, they do have a lot in common with literature, and if your background is in the interpretation of literary texts, a lot of the skills you already have are translatable to teaching comics. Comics have plots and characters and themes and messages, which are often similar to those of literary texts, and it can be productive to teach comics and literature together in order to explore both the similarities and differences between them. And many of the comics that are most frequently taught in university and high school classes, like Maus, Persepolis and Fun Home, which I’ll discuss later, are popular teaching tools because they’re similar in many ways to literary texts.

Furthermore, and this is kind of the argument I make in my book that’s currently under review, comics help us understand how literature in general is a multimodal phenomenon, especially in the 21st century. For most of the twentieth century we’ve had this notion that books with pictures are only for children and that serious books for adults have no pictures. This is a historically recent phenomenon. In Victorian times, it was common for novels to be illustrated, and Thackeray, for example, was both a skilled novelist and a skilled illustrator, and he did the illustrations for his own work. SLIDE 13 Even before that, pattern poetry, like the work of George Herbert, is a significant tradition in English literature. SLIDE 14 And if you go back far enough, in premodern times, literature was almost always a multimodal phenomenon, because manuscripts were illustrated SLIDE 15 and because readers tended to read out loud even when they were alone, so reading was typically accompanied by visual or auditory input or both. The notion that literature is a purely mental, nonvisual and nonsonic experience is a recent invention. And this notion is gradually becoming less valid. It’s becoming increasingly common for literary works to include photographs or drawings or creative typography or publication design. Examples of this include the work of Mark Danielewski SLIDE 16 or Jonathan Safran Foer or Jennifer Egan, who won the Pulitzer Prize. SLIDE 17 The basic argument I’m making in my book is that the future of the book is multimodal, and to that extent, comics are sort of the paradigm for what literature in general is becoming.

  1. Comics Are Frivolous (SLIDE 18)

But the perception that comics are not literature is also related to another misconception, which is that comics are not serious, that comics are a frivolous entertainment medium. In America, comics have traditionally been seen as a source of lighthearted entertainment. There are valid historical reasons for this. Both in America and elsewhere in the world, comics originated as a mass entertainment medium. The genres of comics that most people are familiar with are superhero comics SLIDE 19 and newspaper comic strips SLIDE 20, and when we think of comic books specifically, we think of genres like superheroes and humor, which are not the sort of literary genres that are typically taught in university English courses. A more specific version of this prejudice is the notion that comics are specifically an entertainment medium for nerds. As I discussed in my lecture in this lecture series last semester, superhero comics are typically seen as a genre specifically targeted at adult straight white male nerds SLIDE 12, and to the extent that the superhero genre tends to be seen as coextensive with comic books in general, there’s a perception that comics are only for nerds. Now all of this means that both teachers and students might have a certain amount of resistance to comics if they don’t belong to the demographic to which comic books are typically marketed. I discovered this myself when I moved from Miami to Georgia Tech. At Georgia Tech the majority of my students were people who could be categorized as nerds or geeks – they were majoring in science and engineering and even if they didn’t already read comic books, they were interested in related hobbies like anime and video games, and English was often not their favorite subject, so they were excited to have the opportunity to read comics in an English class. Many of my Miami students are the opposite: they don’t consider themselves nerds, they enjoy studying literature and they expect that in a college English class they’re going to be reading Milton or Chaucer or Shakespeare SLIDE 22 or whatever, and they may be somewhat surprised to discover that they’re going to be reading comics instead, a medium of which they do not have a high opinion. SLIDE 23

So the important move to make here is to realize that you probably read comics already and your students do too. You just may not realize it. If you ask a random domestic Miami student what his or her favorite comic is, the most likely answer will not be a comic book like Superman or Batman or Watchmen, but a comic strip like Calvin & Hobbes or Peanuts or Fox Trot. SLIDE 24 It’s just that students don’t always identify comic strips and comic books as the same thing – they don’t realize that Calvin & Hobbes is a comic book in the same way as Superman is. Also, they believe that comic strips like Calvin & Hobbes are only for kids, even though empirically this is not true. And I think this is a common cultural prejudice. SLIDE 25 In Raina Telgemeier’s autobiographical YA comic Sisters, she includes a scene where she at fourteen years old is talking to her cousins Josh and Jeremy, and she says she likes comics, and Josh asks “Yeah? Like Batman, Hulk, X-Men?” and Raina says, “I like Calvin and Hobbes, For Better or for Worse, Fox Trot” and Josh replies “Pssh. Those aren’t real comics.” So her cousin believes that only superhero comics like Batman and Hulk are “real” comic books, and comic strips like Fox Trot or For Better or for Worse are fake comic books, they’re just for girls. And many people have internalized this mentality, which is an example of a fairly widespread mentality which says that only the types of popular culture that appeal to men are truly valid. This is the same logic that says that chick lit and chick flicks are not “real” literature or “real” films, as Elana Levine discussed in her Cupcakes, Pinterest and Ladyporn lecture earlier this semester. SLIDE 26 I think this perception is going to change because currently young adult comics are extremely popular, and in a few years, many students will have grown up reading YA comics by authors like Raina Telgemeier and Kazu Kibuishi and Cece Bell. SLIDE 27 And even superhero comics are becoming much more diverse, as I’ve talked about elsewhere. SLIDE 28 But for now, there is still this prejudice that “comics” only means superhero comics which are only for boys. So the important thing to do here is make students realize that they already read and enjoy comics, and that the comics they already read are just as valid as what they think of when they think of comics. And that the analytical skills they already have from reading Calvin & Hobbes or Garfield can be applied to longer examples of comics. Similarly, lots of students read webcomics like xkcd or Cyanide & Happiness SLIDE 29, or websites like The Oatmeal or Hyperbole and a Half that blur the lines between comics and other kinds of texts. SLIDE 30 I would guess that far more students read webcomics than printed comics, and even if they don’t intentionally seek out webcomics, it’s basically impossible to avoid seeing webcomics on social media. And again, these students need to realize that those are just as valid examples of comics as anything else, and as I was just discussing, the skills that it takes to analyze a cartoon on an office door are the same as the skills that it takes to analyze a more sophisticated graphic novel.

  1. Comics Are Serious (SLIDE 31)

It’s important to realize that the comics you and your students already read on your own are not qualitatively different from the comics you’ll be reading in class, because this helps you avoid another pitfall. Because what some people do instead in order to counteract the first prejudice, that comics are frivolous, is to go too far in the other direction and insist that comics are serious. The most popular comics for university courses are graphic novels like Art Spiegelman’s Maus SLIDE 32, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis SLIDE 33, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home SLIDE 34. If you are not a comics expert and you’re just starting to teach comics, these are the comics you’re most likely to start with, because they’ve become the academic comics canon, they’re the books that are most frequently taught and written about. There are valid reasons for this. Each of these books is a brilliant and complicated work of art that rewards careful study and that engages with difficult issues – respectively, the Holocaust, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and gay and lesbian identity. These books are also highly accessible to scholars who come from a literary background, because they’re very heavy on text and they address topics that are already of interest to literary scholars, including trauma and identity and memory and autobiography. And personally I’ve taught Fun Home three times, including this semester, and I’ve published a peer-reviewed essay about it.

But the trouble is that these books only represent a very narrow subset of the comics medium. All of them are autobiographical graphic novels that engage with issues of family relationships and trauma. And the fact that these books have become the center of the academic comics canon has given people the false impression that comics are only about topics like memory and trauma and parental relationships, and this is just as false as thinking that all comic books are about superheroes. Comics are a broad and diverse medium, as I was just trying to explain. There are comics about practically everything, and it’s worth exploring comics other than Maus, Persepolis and Fun Home.

A related misconception is that “graphic novels” are qualitatively different from comics – that there’s a difference between a graphic novel and a comic book. The term “graphic novel” was invented for marketing purposes. In the ‘70s, Will Eisner had the idea of publishing serious literary comics about realistic topics, but book publishers at the time were not interested in publishing comic books because of the stigma attached to them, so Eisner said, well, this isn’t a comic book, it’s a “graphic novel.” SLIDE 35 That’s an oversimplified account, but it’ll do for now. The term “graphic novel” was designed as a means of circumventing the stigma attached to the term “comic book,” but it gives the incorrect impression that graphic novels and comic books are two different media. If there is a difference, it’s a difference of format rather than medium. A graphic novel is just a longer-form version of a comic book, and the skills that you learn from reading comic books or comic strips are also applicable to reading and teaching graphic novels.

 

  1. Teaching Comics is Hard (SLIDE 36)

But I think the most basic difficulty that some teachers have in terms of approaching comics is just not knowing where to start. First, there is an extraordinarily wide variety of comics available, and it’s hard to know what comics may be appropriate for a particular class, or even who to ask for recommendations. But at a more basic level, I think teachers sometimes have a belief that the interpretation of comics is a special skill that requires extensive practice, and in particular, a teacher who has spent his or her career teaching prose writing or prose literature may feel that he or she is not qualified to teach texts that incorporate images in addition to text.

I think if you are in this position, the first thing to do is to realize that you probably read comics already. If you just walk down the hallway of any office building on this campus and look at the doors, every other door has some sort of cartoon on it. SLIDE 37 Moreover, we all encounter comics every day on social media, or at least I do. If you’ve looked at Facebook or Twitter today, you’ve probably seen at least one webcomic. SLIDE 38 Interpreting these cartoons requires the same type of skills that are required to interpret a more sophisticated piece of graphic narrative. To read a comic, all you essentially have to do is look at two or more images that are next to each other and understand the relationship between them. This is a skill that takes some practice, but in a way it’s more basic than reading words – I know lots of people who learned to read from comics, because interpreting sequences of pictures takes less specialized knowledge than reading words. And this is also why comics are often used to teach foreign languages, because the images give you a clue to what the words are saying.

So at bottom, reading comics is a simple process of interpreting pictures together with words or other pictures or both, and figuring out the relationships between them. Again, if we go back to the amoebic dysentery cartoon, in order to get why it’s funny, we have to understand the relationship between the words and the pictures. SLIDE 39. Or if we go back to the cop and fortuneteller cartoon, to understand this, we have to interpret the relationships between multiple images. SLIDE 40 Now when we look at this comic, we sort of instantly interpret it and realize why it’s funny, without realizing the acts of interpretation that we’re performing. But there’s a complex mental operation involved here. To understand this comic, we sort of have to mentally piece together a story of which we only receive the most important pieces. This is the operation that Scott McCloud calls closure, by which he means the mental act of filling in the gaps between panels, of figuring out what happened between the panels. In order to do this we sometimes have to make massive interpretive leaps, we have to fill in a lot of information that the creator doesn’t give us. SLIDE 41

These are all fairly simple comics. In a more sophisticated comic, it might be more difficult to interpret the relationship between words and images or between one image and another, but relating images to words and to other images is still the basic operation that we’re performing when we read any comic, and this is an operation that’s not difficult to master. And to develop a critical vocabulary for describing how words and images relate to each other, I’d recommend looking at Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics SLIDE 42, which is an excellent introduction to the medium although some other comics theorists have problems with it.

So teaching comics does require a certain adjustment, especially if you primarily have experience teaching prose texts or poetry, and I’ll talk about that later, but at bottom it involves skills that you probably already have.

  1. Teaching Comics Is Easy (SLIDE 43)

At the same time, because comics are such an accessible and user-friendly medium, they also lend themselves to the opposite misconception, which is that teaching comics is easy. I’ve often heard people say that they want to use comics as a gentle introduction to some difficult topic, as a way to get students interested in some topic so that they can then read more advanced and serious prose texts discussing that topic. SLIDE 44 There is a related misconception on the part of students. Some students probably believe that a class on comics is an easy A because reading comics is easier than reading Milton or Shakespeare or Proust. The reason this is a misconception is because it underestimates the difficulty of comics. Anyone can read comics, but making comics is harder than it looks – to create an effective comic requires a series of difficult rhetorical decisions. I regularly hear artists say that comics is just a very difficult medium. To understand how a comic works can also be a difficult task, because you not only have to pay attention to the words, which is hard enough, you also have to pay attention to the pictures and to the relationships between the pictures and the words and even things like the typography and the publication design. And some comics, like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home or Chris Ware’s Building Stories, require just as much interpretative effort as any literary novel.

What I sometimes do to illustrate this is to ask the students to take a page from a comic book of their choice and redraw it, and then write a formal analysis of the page that takes into account what they learned by redrawing it. I haven’t always articulated this clearly, but the idea behind this assignment is to get the students to understand the rhetorical and design decisions that went into the original page. I want them to realize that everything about the page – the number of panels, the shape and arrangement and size of the panels, the camera angles, the linework, even the typography – is important, that the artist made all these decisions consciously in order to achieve a particular rhetorical goal. This can be a good way to get your students to realize that comics are not easy, that reading comics and making comics can be an intellectually rewarding experience.

A related difficulty is that not all students come to comics from the same backgorund. This semester I’m teaching a significant number of international students all of whom are from China, and these students also have preconceptions about comics, but those preconceptions are completely different from those of domestic students. My impression is that in China there’s not a lot of domestic comics production but comics from Japan are extremely popular. And Japanese comics are radically different from American comics in a lot of ways, including the narrative strategies they use SLIDE 45 and the publication formats SLIDE 46 and the audiences they appeal to – in Japan there are comics for every demographic from small children to teenage boys to adult women. So it’s important to be aware that in some cases, when your students think of comics, they may be thinking of something very different from what you think of as comics. This is also true if you happen to have students from European countries like France and Belgium, where comics are a much more respected art form than in America. SLIDE 47 On the other hand, it’s also important not to draw too much of a distinction between national traditions of comics, because comics are a global phenomenon, just like literature and cinema, and each national tradition of comics is just a variation on the same basic art form. In my Popular Literature course next semester, I’m going to try to demonstrate this by having my students read a Japanese comic and a French comic, although we’re going to primarily focus on American comics just for reasons of scope and expertise.

So to sum up, there are a lot of reasons why teaching comics may seem like a scary and difficult task, but if you’re coming to comics as a teacher for the first time, you do have resources to draw upon that you may not be aware of. And I think the most important thing is to approach comics with an open mind, because while teaching comics may require different skills from teaching literature, comics are an extremely useful pedagogical tool.

Post-NYCC reviews

After writing the previous reviews, I went and read two more comic books:

THIS DAMNED BAND #1 and #2 (Dark Horse, 2015) – I ordered these because they’re written by Paul Cornell. This series is not a major work, but it’s fairly entertaining. It’s basically This is Spinal Tap, but slightly less parodistic and with demons and magic. Cornell and artist Tony Parker do a good job of capturing the drug-soaked atmosphere of the ‘70s.

And then I went to NYCC, which was an awesome convention, though I don’t want to write a long essay about it. Of the comics I bought at NYCC, the first one I read was Usagi Yojimbo #73, but it turns out that I already had that issue, even though it was not listed in my database. The only other comic I read while I was still in New York was:

HERO FOR HIRE #9 (Marvel, 1973) – I couldn’t find an affordable copy of this issue at Heroes Con, but I was able to get it for about two dollars on the Sunday of NYCC. This is the one where Cage says “Where’s my money, honey?”, which is one of the great lines of ‘70s Marvel comics. And there’s even more to this comic besides that one line, because this issue also has an exciting story. When Cage arrives in Latveria to demand the $200 that Doom owes him, he gets involved in a local revolution, and unintentionally saves Doom’s life and earns his respect. Cage and Doom have an interesting dynamic and I wonder if Englehart ever used these characters together again. I’m glad to finally have this issue in my collection.

On coming home from NYCC, I found a package of comics waiting for me, and I felt obligated to read a few of them right away:

PAPER GIRLS #1 (Image, 2015) – BKV’s third current series seems closer to We Stand on Guard than Saga in terms of quality. I really like the protagonists, a bunch of spunky ‘80s early-teen girls, and the plot is intriguing, though it’s not clear yet what exactly is going on. Cliff Chiang’s artwork is excellent, especially the panel depicting the bizarre biomechanical Apollo capsule.

GROOT #5 (Marvel, 2015) – “Groot: Alone” is a funny story that offers a satisfying resolution to the entire series. I can’t even remember all the funny moments in this issue, but there are a lot of them. A particular highlight is Mantron falling in love with the other robot. It’s too bad there’s just one more issue of this series, because it was better than the second half of Skottie Young’s Rocket Raccoon run.

DOCTOR STRANGE #1 (Marvel, 2015) – On Facebook, I wrote: “I mostly liked Dr. Strange #1, but I prefer my Dr. Strange to have more dignity and less ego. Jason Aaron writes him as if he was Tony Stark.” In a reply to this, Jack Ayres made the insightful comment that the original Lee/Ditko Dr. Strange had no personality to speak of, and that the artwork mattered more in those stories than the writing, and that this is true of Dr. Strange stories generally. I think he’s probably right, and I think Jason Aaron’s characterization of Dr. Strange tends to detract from this series rather than add to it. However, the art in this comic is excellent, and I love the idea of a Lovecraftian approach to Dr. Strange.

At this point I finally had time to start reading my new comics from NYCC:

DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #37 (Disney, 1993) – This was one of the first comics I bought at NYCC, and also the only Rosa duck comic I was able to find – nobody had Uncle Scrooge #292, for example. “The Duck Who Fell to Earth” is only a ten-pager, and it’s not as dense or as innovative as some of Don’s other works, though it’s still better than an average duck comic. The other stories in the issue are just filler.

DETECTIVE COMICS #476 (DC, 1978) – This was one of my most exciting finds at the show. This copy has some water damage and a large crease in the upper right corner, but it’s a complete and readable copy of an all-time classic issue. “The Sign of the Joker” is the final Englehart/Rogers issue and the conclusion of probably the greatest Joker story ever. Englehart’s Joker is insane in a truly terrifying way, and what makes this story especially disturbing is that Batman doesn’t manage to defeat the Joker – he only “wins” because the Joker lets himself get struck by lightning. This issue also offers an effective resolution to the plotlines involving Rupert Thorne and Silver St. Cloud, although it does so by writing them both out of the series, which is a shame. At this point I have all the Englehart/Rogers issues except #475.

FRESH ROMANCE #1 (ComiXology, 2015) – This was one of several free exclusive variants that were distributed at the ComiXology table, each of which was a print edition of a digital comic published through ComiXology Submit. I think I got all of these variants, and this was the one I was most excited about, since it’s an attempt to revive the moribund genre of romance comics. Each of the three stories in this issue is interesting. Perhaps the best is the last one, about a Cupid-esque alien who’s trying to earn passage back to her homeworld by making mortals fall in love with each other. I vastly prefer reading paper comics to digital comics, and I hope that the future issues of this series will be published in print form eventually.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #198 (DC, 1970) – This and the following issue are the third of three classic stories in which Superman races the Flash. The first two appeared in Superman #199 and Flash #175. Until now I hadn’t been able to find any of these four issues. The plot of this particular issue is highly farfetched, and it’s hard to believe that Superman could ever outrun the Flash (because if he could, then what would even be the point of the Flash?). But this story does have an impressive sense of epic-ness. The reprinted Johnny Quick story in this issue is ridiculously sexist, even taking into account that it’s from 1952. A woman named Joanie Swift accidentally says 3X2(9YZ)4A and gains superspeed, and Johnny Quick tricks her into forgetting the formula and losing her powers, because “a girl partner would never do.” I don’t understand why anyone thought this story was worth reprinting.

AMAZING ADVENTURES #16 (Marvel, 1973) – This is one of a number of ‘70s Marvel and DC stories that took place at the Halloween Parade in Rutland, Vermont and that included guest appearances by real-world comics creators. In this issue, Len Wein, Glynis Wein, Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart visit Rutland and get caught in the middle of a fight between the Beast and the Juggernaut. This issue is also the beginning of an unannounced cross-company crossover that continues into Justice League of America #103 and Thor #207, in which the same creators appear. So this issue is not just a fun comic, but also a nice piece of ‘70s nostalgia, with a bunch of in-jokes. One of these jokes is so obscure that its meaning may have been lost to history. On page 22, Roy says “Anyway, Jeanie, I said, that’s the first time I ever saw the Invisible Girl with dimples” and there’s a footnote that says “You remember Roy and Jeanie what’s-their-name from Avengers #83 and Feature #2 (Jim Warren, take note).” Why Jim Warren’s name is mentioned here is a mystery. Andrew Kunka went to the trouble of asking Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart to explain this, but neither of them was able to remember what this footnote was referring to.

AVENGERS #93 (Marvel, 1971) – This is quite possibly the best Marvel comic of the 1970s. In particular, the “Journey to the Center of the Android” sequence is one of the great moments in Marvel history, and one of Neal Adams’s crowning artistic achievements. It’s too bad that my copy of this comic isn’t in better condition – it’s complete and readable, but it’s literally held together with tape. Maybe someday I can afford a higher-grade copy.

MS. MARVEL #22 (Marvel, 1979) – Another excellent ‘70s Marvel comic. This story is part of Claremont’s larger X-Men universe because it includes an appearance by Deathbird. Claremont created Deathbird one year after Lilandra, and I wonder if he always intended for them to be sisters or if he only came up with that idea later. But there’s a lot of other stuff going on in this issue. On page one, Carol gets fired from Woman magazine, and surprisingly, her first reaction is to smile – she’s proud that she got herself fired rather than be the kind of editor Jonah wanted her to be. Later in the issue, Carol’s former coworkers throw her a going-away party, and Michael Barnett exhibits some creepily possessive behavior toward her. He says to himself that he loves her and wants to take care of her, but what he really wants is to control her. Reading this issue, I realize that Kelly Sue’s portrayal of Carol as a strong and independent individual is very much indebted to Claremont’s version of the character.

JUGHEAD #1 (Archie, 2015) – I didn’t know quite what to expect from this, but it’s a wonderfully strange piece of work, and another demonstration that Chip Zdarsky is probably the best humor writer in the industry. The “Game of Jones” dream sequence is amazing, especially the line “He died for burgers and there is no greater death.” But the rest of the story also obeys the same sort of bizarre humor logic – like when Jughead realizes for the first time in his life that it’s possible to make food, and instantly becomes the best cook ever. I can’t wait to see what else Chip and Erica can do with this series.

ATOMIC ROBO: THE RING OF FIRE #2 (IDW, 2015) – In this issue Robo comes back to life, which is good because his absence from the last issue was frustrating. But other than that, this issue is mostly plot and it’s not all that exciting. I much prefer the Robo stories that are set in the pre-WWII period.

YOUNG JUSTICE #44 (DC, 2002) – This is a very atypical issue, and not necessarily in a good way. It’s part of the “World Without Young Justice” crossover, so it takes place in an alternate universe, and the main characters either don’t appear at all, or they appear in weird alternate-universe forms. There’s no explanation of why this is happening, and the other parts of this story were published in other comics that aren’t worth reading.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #21 (IDW, 2015) – Spike and Zecora are an interesting pair of characters, but Ted Anderson is maybe the most boring pony writer, and this story is just mediocre. The best thing about it is Zecora’s rhyming and Spike’s attempts to imitate it.

MARVEL FEATURE #6 (Marvel, 1972) – Mike Friedrich was not one of the better writers of his generation, but I’ve always liked this Ant-Man/Wasp series, especially because of the excellent art by Herb Trimpe. This issue is a fairly exciting story in which Hank and Jan battle Whirlwind (though it seems odd that they don’t recognize him immediately), and it includes some cute characterization.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS #1 (Marvel, 2007) – This series was much better than the comics it was based on. The original X-Men, prior to Neal Adams’s arrival, was perhaps the worst ‘60s Marvel superhero comic, but Jeff Parker approaches these stories with a modern sensibility and invests these characters with the excitement that they originally lacked. In this first issue of the ongoing series, Professor X realizes that Jean Grey needs a positive female role model, so he assigns her to work with Sue Richards. This is such a simple premise that it’s amazing no one else ever thought of it before – I guess the reason why not is because these characters are from separate parts of the Marvel universe. And it turns out that Sue and Jean have a lot in common; meanwhile, Jean’s temporary absence from the team helps the male X-Men realize how much they need her.

LEGENDS OF THE LEGION #2 (DC, 1998) – Each issue of this miniseries was the origin story of one particular Legionnaire. The “Archie Legion” was my favorite comic when I was in junior high, and Spark, who stars in this issue, was one of the best characters in that series, and Jeff Moy, who drew this issue, is the artist who’s most identified with that period of the Legion. So this issue is a nice piece of nostalgia. It’s also one of the few solo stories about this character, along with LSH v3 #6. One notable thing about this issue is that it explores Winath’s twin-focused culture, including the discrimination faced by Winathians who are separated from their twins.

DALGODA #5 (Fantagraphics, 1985) – This completes my run of this series, a mostly forgotten minor classic. This series is one of the best works of Jan Strnad, an excellent writer who tends to be overshadowed by his collaborator Richard Corben. The artist, Dennis Fujitake, had very little style of his own that wasn’t borrowed from Moebius, but his art is nice-looking at least. The main thing I remember from this issue is the Canidan version of “love is blind”: “love can’t smell.” The backup story, “Grimwood’s Daughter,” is not as well written but is a notable early work of Kevin Nowlan.

I need to write shorter reviews because I have about 80 more of these to get through.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #11 (Image, 2015) – We still haven’t seen any more of Roberta Tubb, which is very annoying. This issue is a spotlight on another minor character, Deacon Boone, who lives way out in the country and prides himself on how country he is. What makes this character both disturbing and plausible is that he’s proud that he has no education and lives a premodern lifestyle and engages in superstitious religious practices and lost his mother in childbirth. It’s people like him who vote for Donald Trump. But this issue offers some penetrating insight into the psyche of a man who has very little in common with me.

ROWAN’S RUIN #1 (Boom!, 2015) – I ordered this because it has the same creative team as Lucifer. Coincidentally I ran into Mike Perkins at NYCC while he was talking to Eric Nolen-Weathington, and I realized who he was when he mentioned that this issue had just come out. This comic is open to some criticism for having a rather trite horror premise – it’s just a standard haunted-house story – but Mike Perkins’s art is excellent, and the story is interesting because it’s an exploration of cultural differences between England and America.

WE STAND ON GUARD #4 (Image, 2015) – I was surprised to learn that this is a six-issue miniseries, not an ongoing series. I’m not going to miss it much when it ends. It’s okay but it’s not Saga. I do like how this issue shows us what’s been going on in America during the war with Canada. I assume the satirical point here is that in this series, the U.S. government has started a war with an alleged foreign terrorist state as a distraction from its failed domestic policies, only this time that state is Canada and not Iraq.

At this point I received my new comic shipment for Friday, October 16, and as usual, I was too exhausted that day to really enjoy any of the new comics.

SEX CRIMINALS #13 (Image, 2015) – This issue introduces a new character, Alix, who is asexual. Like many of the best Sex Criminals stories, this issue is important because it explores the unstated assumptions and prejudices about sex that exist in American society. The teenage Alix has no interest in sex, but her so-called friends pressure her into having sex anyway, and make her think that there’s something wrong with her because she doesn’t enjoy it. I especially like the one guy who claims he’ll have to go to the doctor if he can’t get blowjobs – I’m sure there are people who literally believe this.

MS. MARVEL #19 (Marvel, 2015) – I wanted to read this first, but I felt obligated to read Sex Criminals first instead, I don’t know why. This is such a perfect conclusion to the first volume, and it may be the best issue of Ms. Marvel yet. This issue was full of powerful moments, including Kamala’s reconciliations with Zoe and with Nakia, but the final scene with Kamala and Bruno is one of the high points of the entire series. “I’m not ready to be anything else” is such a perfect line – it acknowledges that Kamala does love Bruno, but that she knows her limitations and is not ready for an adult relationship yet. In some way that’s hard to explain, this scene makes me admire Kamala more than I already did.

LUMBERJANES: BEYOND BAY LEAF #1 (Boom!, 2015) – If I was tired when I read the previous two comics, I was exhausted when I read this one, and I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have. I generally love Faith Erin Hicks’s writing, but this series has a very distinct style of dialogue, and for part of the issue I felt that Faith was not writing in that style. I also felt that the story in this issue was a little too simple. On the positive side, at least this issue is a spotlight on my favorite Lumberjane, Ripley. I ought to read it again when I’m not falling asleep.

STARFIRE #5 (DC, 2015) – This continues to be the best guilty-pleasure comic on the market, but I think the writers are aware of the silliness and frivolity of this comic, and they’re doing it on purpose. Jimmy Palmiotti’s Mary Sue interview suggests that Kori is consciously acting more naïve than she really is – he said “She knows what she’s doing, but she’s kinda playing with it.” High points this issue are Kori (I guess I have to use that spelling) being able to talk with dolphins, and her facial expression when she says “work sucks, life is unfair” etc.

SPIDER-GWEN #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I was way too tired when I read this. It was fun, but I don’t remember much about it at all, and even when I flip through it again, the only thing that sticks out to me is the panel with the cat sleeping on Gwen’s face. I think it’s cute when cats sleep on people’s faces, but I expect it wouldn’t be much fun for the person involved.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #1 (Image, 2015) – Another one I barely recall. It looks promising, though. It’s a funny parody of Skottie’s own earlier work on Marvel’s Oz adaptations, and it also has some funny interactions between the protagonist and the narrator, and perhaps the best Blambot lettering I’ve ever seen.

DEVIL DINOSAUR #1 (Marvel, 1978) – I’ve never collected this series heavily, since there are so many other Kirby comics out there. But I expect it’s going to go up in price once the new series comes out, so I’m glad I got a cheap copy of #1 when I had the chance. This issue is very light on plot even for a Kirby comic, but has some typically beautiful Kirby-Royer artwork.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #93 (DC, 1971) – “Red Water, Crimson Death” is the only B&B story by O’Neil and Adams. I’ve read this story before in reprinted form, but I was initially unimpressed by it and I barely remembered anything about it, so it was worth coming back to. Coming to this story right after reading a Kirby comic helped me realize just how innovative Adams’s artwork was back then – compared to Kirby, his draftsmanship was far more realistic and his page layouts were more dynamic and varied. This is not to criticize Kirby, I just forget sometimes what an innovator Adams used to be. The plot is also pretty good; the issue is set on a remote island in Ireland, so I assume it draws upon Denny’s Irish heritage, and the relationship between Batman and the young boy at the center of the plot is rather touching.

THE TWILIGHT CHILDREN #1 (Vertigo, 2015) – Probably the flagship title of the newly revived Vertigo line, this series is a collaboration between two of the greatest cartoonists in America, Gilbert Hernandez and Darwyn Cooke. I have to wonder how Vertigo was able to attract such high-profile talent, because I know that recently they’ve been having trouble competing for talent with Image. I assume they must have started offering better deals to creators, or something. Anyway, some reviewers have said that this issue is a disappointment considering the creators involved, and I can’t disagree. Darwyn’s artwork is fantastic, but besides that, this comic reads like a typical recent work from Beto, and like much of Beto’s recent work, it lacks the sophistication and depth of his Palomar and Luba sagas.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #8 (IDW, 2015) – If nothing else, this is certainly not the worst Jem adaptation that was released this month. I hope the awful performance of the movie doesn’t somehow have a negative impact on this comic. This is a good issue that progresses the storyline effectively, though there’s nothing particularly special about it.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #15 (Image, 2015) – This is another comic I don’t remember particularly well, and I’m having trouble remembering all the characters in this comic – it would really help if each issue began with a character guide. But this issue, which focuses on Amaterasu, raises some very interesting questions about ethnicity and cultural appropriation, and I love how the future Amaterasu has a keychain that represents the character of the same name from Okami. A section of my dissertation was on Okami but I never got around to publishing it.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #14 (Marvel, 2014) – This is the first Bendis comic I’ve read in several years. When I was in college, there was a point when I was reading three or four Bendis comics at once, but it wasn’t long before I got tired of his dialogue, and now I avoid him like the plague. The main story in this issue is a typical example of why I don’t like his work, and I’m sorry that Nick Bradshaw’s talents were wasted on it. The reason I bought this comic is because of the backup story, which tells Groot’s origin. I’ve already seen some of the best panels from this, including the adorable panel with the maintenance mammals climbing on Groot’s outstretched arms. But this story is worth owning because it’s a cute and unexpectedly poignant piece of work, which explains both Groot’s exile from Planet X and his affection for Rocket.

SHE-HULK #13 (Marvel, 2006) – At some point on the first or second day of NYCC, I bought a couple other issues of She-Hulk, as well as Astonishing X-Men #15 and some early issues of Astro City, for a dollar each, but I must have misplaced those comic books somehow because they didn’t make it home with me. It was embarrassing, though luckily I didn’t pay much for those comics and they won’t be hard to find again (I even bought another copy of AXM #15 later in the convention). Anyway, much of this issue is devoted to an exploration of Thanos’s past history and Eros’s possible role in turning Thanos into a villain, but it also advances Jennifer and John Jameson’s relationship in an interesting way. I wouldn’t like to see Dan Slott write She-Hulk again because this series was directed exclusively at hardcore fans like me, and was not appropriate for the sort of new readers that Marvel is trying to attract. It was a fun series, though.

ASTONISHING TALES #1 (Marvel, 1970) – The first story in this issue must be one of the last Marvel comics by Lee and Kirby, and I assume it’s also the first encounter between Kraven and Ka-Zar. It’s less interesting than the Dr. Doom backup story, which has beautiful Wally Wood artwork as well as fairly intriguing writing by Roy Thomas. I wondered if this issue was the first reference to Dr. Doom’s lover Valeria, but that character was introduced the previous year in Marvel Super-Heroes #20. This story does introduce Rudolfo, the rightful heir to the Latverian throne, whose brother Zorba was the villain of a memorable story by John Byrne.

INFINITE LOOP #2 (IDW, 2015) – I met Elsa and Pierrick at NYCC, and I was surprised to learn that they were primarily inspired by American comics and that this comic was always intended for the American and not the French market. The artwork does seem to have been drawn for the comic book format rather than the album format, though it has a level of detail and complexity which is more characteristic of French comics. As for the actual comic, though, on the one hand, I enjoyed Elsa’s art, and I obviously sympathize with this story’s politics. On the other hand, I thought that the artwork was sometimes overly complicated, there was too much text, and the story made its points with a sledgehammer. I haven’t yet felt motivated to read the other four issues of this miniseries.

A-FORCE #4 (Marvel, 2015) – This continues to be the most disappointing Marvel comic of the year. It has not lived up to the hype. Marguerite and Willow keep telling us how wonderful Arcadia was before Loki screwed everything up, but I wish they had shown us that rather than just telling us.

ALL-STAR SECTION EIGHT #4 (DC, 2015) – This is worse than the previous issue, and that takes some doing. This comic has no redeeming value whatever. I’m ashamed of owning it. I’m just glad that I didn’t order issue 5.

HARLEY QUINN #21 (DC, 2015) – An average issue of a fun series. The interplay between Harley and Deadshot was fairly effective, though I don’t know anything about the New 52 version of Deadshot.

USAGI YOJIMBO #29 (Mirage, 1991) – “Circles, Part 2” is a powerful piece of work. I think this issue represents Usagi’s first meeting with Mariko since Jotaro’s birth. At this point Usagi doesn’t know he’s Jotaro’s father, and I assume the reader isn’t supposed to know either until a couple issues later. The story takes on added poignancy when read with the knowledge of Jotaro’s parentage – especially the scene where Usagi wishes he could have given Mariko something better to remember him by, and she bursts into tears.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #7 (Dark Horse, 2015) – I’ve allowed myself to get several issues behind on this series. This issue is better than some of the previous ones – there are some funny jokes involving Groo’s obsesssion with Chakaal. It does seem odd that we don’t learn Chakaal is the queen Groo is fighting until halfway through the issue, even though we can already guess this because she appears on the cover.

GROO: FRIENDS AND FOES #8 (Dark Horse, 2015) – The Weaver and Scribe issue is disappointing considering that these characters have been involved in some of the best Groo stories, such as “The Book Burners.” Reading this series, it’s hard to avoid thinking that either Mark is losing his touch, or Sergio is, or they both are. These stories just don’t have the same level of humor or narrative complexity as earlier Groo comics. “The Hogs of Horder” may have been the last great Groo story.

MS. MARVEL #7 (Marvel, 1977) – This issue is mostly a series of fights between Ms. Marvel and Modok, with rather little characterization. That makes it disappointing compared to the last issue of this series that I reviewed. Still, Carol is a really impressive character.

WONDER WOMAN #190 (DC, 1970) – I liked this one. Mike Sekowsky’s no-costume Wonder Woman stories are primitive by modern standards, but they were a vast improvement over what preceded them, in terms of both storytelling quality and politics. In this issue, Diana tries to visit Paradise Island but gets transported to an alien planet instead, where she teams up with a bearded barbarian dude to battle the local female tyrant. It’s not incredibly great, but at least it depicts Diana in a non-sexist way, showing her as the equal of her male ally.

DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS #3 (DC, 2015) – Like A-Force, this series is not quite living up to the hype. Also, some of the stories in it are far more interesting than others. The Batgirl section is the highlight of the issue, especially the art, which I assume is by Marguerite Sauvage although this is not clearly stated.

INVINCIBLE #14 (Image, 2004) – This is the earliest Invincible in my collection. To extend my collection any further back, I’ll have to either get lucky or spend a lot of money. The letter column describes this issue as “the Big One,” but it’s a lot less dramatic than many later issues. However, there is a lot of interesting plot progression here, including the last scene, where Debbie breaks down in tears and asks Mark why he had to drive Nolan away.

ACTION COMICS #387 (DC, 1970) – “Even a Superman Dies” is a weird story in which Superman has to travel thousands of years into the future for reasons I can’t recall, and then has to relive his entire life starting from infancy. The villain of this issue is the Time Trapper, one of DC’s most confusing and wildly inconsistent characters; in this story he’s just a common criminal rather than the embodiment of entropy or whatever he later became. The Legion backup story, “One Hero Too Many!”, is very cute. It’s written by E. Nelson Bridwell, I think, but is very much in the spirit of Shooter and Hamilton’s Legion stories. In this story, the Legion has to get rid of one member to prevent their taxes from going up dramatically (which raises the obvious question of why R.J. Brande couldn’t have just paid the higher taxes, but ENB seems to have forgotten that that character existed.) About half of the Legionnaires volunteer to resign, each of them claiming to be the most useless Legionnaire, and Karate Kid and Brainiac 5 come up with various unsuccessful solutions to decide who to get rid of, until Superboy himself volunteers to quit for unexplained reasons. I’m not sure what the point of this story was, since I’m pretty sure that Superboy didn’t actually quit yet, but it’s a fun read.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR #1 (Archie, 2015) – I hadn’t gotten around to reading this yet because the Archie house-style artwork kind of repelled me. Alex de Campi’s writing here is pretty good and more sophisticated than the writing in a typical Archie comic, though I can’t recall any specific examples of this offhand. The one-page backup story in which Sabrina meets Hellboy is better than the main story.

THE FLASH #109 (DC, 1996) – Part 2 of “Dead Heat” is most significant to me because of the guest appearance by XS, my favorite minor Legionnaire who’s probably never going to appear again. (Paul Levitz was supposedly going to use her in the most recent Legion volume, but she only ever appeared in one backup story.) Jenni’s role in this story is rather limited, and most of the issue is devoted to an explanation of the origin of Savitar, a villain who never appeared again after “Dead Heat.”

HELLBLAZER #42 (DC, 1991) – “A Drop of the Hard Stuff” is the story where Constantine tricks the First of the Fallen into drinking holy water in order to save his friend’s soul. I knew the plot of this story but had never actually read it, and it lives up to my expectations. The context is that Constantine visits an old friend, Brendan, in search of a spell that can cure his cancer. But it turns out that Brendan himself is about to die of cirrhosis thanks to a lifetime of alcoholism, and has sold his soul in exchange for an unrivaled collection of wines and spirits, and so Constantine has to save Brendan’s soul instead of vice versa. Brendan is an interesting character because his drinking is the dominant passion of his life, yet it’s also killing him. To the extent that this story is about Irish drinking culture, it reminds me a lot of Eddie Campbell’s Alec and Bacchus. This issue is also a significant moment in the overall Dangerous Habits story arc, because it’s the point where Constantine reaches his lowest ebb of despair, but then decides that now is the time to get serious.

BACCHUS #51 (Eddie Campbell, 2001) – Like the last issue of Bacchus I read (#46), this issue is misnamed because the title character doesn’t appear in it. At this point Bacchus had turned into just an anthology title collecting miscellaneous work by Eddie. The highlight of this issue are Eddie’s two short autobiographical stories, including one that describes his childhood passion for Marvel comics. There are also some lesser works by other artists, and some reprinted strips that also appeared in the King Canute Crowd volume.

THE FLASH #301 (DC, 1981) – I’ve said before that The Flash was the only series that Cary Bates was ideally suited to write, because he was bad at characterization, but Barry Allen had no character to speak of. Reading this issue, though, I realize that Cary’s Flash stories weren’t necessarily any better than his other work. This period of The Flash was convoluted and confusing and ultimately led to the cancellation of the series, and it also suffered from terrible artwork by Carmine Infantino, who was long past his prime. This issue has a confusing plot in which Barry gets fired for chronic lateness, but gets his job back by saving his boss from a micro-nuclear warhead.

PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #3 (Image, 2015) – This is a good one. In this issue, Emily enters a music video, and this is visually represented by showing her climbing on top of Theban lettering and album covers and caption boxes. This sequence is a fascinating demonstration of Jamie McKelvie’s visual imagination. It turns out that the Theban writing can be translated into English, but I don’t have the energy to decode it, so I’ll take Kieron’s word that “if you needed to know it, we’d have written it in English.” Oh, also, the backup story with the werewolf dancer dude is pretty cool.

USAGI YOJIMBO #34 (Mirage, 1992) – In this story Usagi encounters an old former noblewoman, Lady Asano, who was driven into poverty after her husband was assassinated by his retainer Councilor Oda. Lady Asano is a convincing character because of the contrast between her great dignity and her impoverished state. The trouble with this story is its excessive reliance on coincidence. No sooner has Lady Asano finished telling her story than Councilor Oda himself shows up out of nowhere, and also it turns out that Gen’s father was Lord Asano’s chief general. This is a little too much to swallow.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #12 (Marvel, 1975) – This Iron Man-Thing team-up is by the unimpressive team of Bill Mantlo and Ron Wilson, and the villain is Prester John, perhaps the worst character who first appeared between Fantastic Four #40 and #60. It’s not quite as bad as you’d expect, though. At least Ben gets some good dialogue.

XOMBI #1 (DC, 1994) – John Rozum had a unique sensibility which was significantly ahead of his time, and it’s too bad that he didn’t have a more successful career. On the very first page of this comic, we encounter a bunch of “Nomatoads” that are “pulled from place to place by certain teleportation spells” and that speak in quotations from obscure old books. That’s the sort of comic this is. And the villains of this issue, the Rustling Hulks, are as creepy as anything from Morrison’s Doom Patrol. Not only that, this issue is full of witty dialogue and effective characterization, and it has a horrifying shock ending. I don’t know why John Rozum didn’t become a superstar.

That takes me up to October 23 when I received my next shipment of new comics, so I’ll stop here for now.