Reviews for first half of December

While spending Thanksgiving vacation with my parents in Minneapolis, I went to the Comic Book College, the first comic book store I ever visited. It was my local comic book store until I went off to college. It’s in almost the same location, though it’s moved one door down, and the Nostalgia Zone, which used to share the same space, has moved elsewhere. I was surprised to discover that the Comic Book College had some really good 50-cent boxes, just like the Nostalgia Zone used to. I ended up buying about 50 comics from these boxes, as well as a couple more expensive items. These included:

DAGAR THE INVINCIBLE #13 (Gold Key, 1975) – This was one of about three issues of this series I was missing. “The Sorcerer’s Golem” guest-stars Durak, the protagonist of Spine-Tingling Tales #3, reviewed above. As the title indicates, there is also a golem, which Dagar defeats by the traditional method of erasing the letters on its forehead. This wasn’t my favorite issue of Dagar, but it was fun.

POWER MAN #17 (Marvel, 1973) – This is the first issue under this title, and it has an ugly new logo that only lasted three issues. Len Wein’s Power Man is not as good as Steve Englehart’s Power Man, but this is still a pretty fun early ‘70s Marvel comic. The plot is that an alleged employee of Tony Stark hires Power Man to test his “employer’s” security system by stealing Tony’s new deep-space armor. Tony and Luke get into a fight before teaming up to defeat the employee, who turns out to be a villain.

DONALD DUCK #286 (Gladstone, 1994) – A 64-page special in honor of Donald’s 60th anniversary. It consists of a framing sequence by William Van Horn in which Donald has a series of weird dreams, each of which is a separate story by a different artist. The reason I was willing to pay $5 for this comic is that one of these inset stories is Rosa’s “The Duck Who Never Was,” a duck version of It’s a Wonderful Life. In this story we learn that if not for Donald, Scrooge would have lost his #1 dime to Magica de Spell, enabling Flintheart Glomgold to become the world’s richest duck, and the three nephews would have grown up with Gladstone instead and would have become fat, lazy slobs. Rosa finds a clever way of incorporating Donald’s 60th birthday into the story itself, by having a prospective employer misread Donald’s age as 60. This issue also includes Federico Pedrocchi’s “The Secret of Mars,” which was the first Donald Duck story in comic book form, but is really a heavily Verne-influenced science fiction story whose protagonist just happens to be Donald Duck. Pedrocchi’s “Saturn vs. the Earth” is a classic Italian comic that’s not available in English.

BATMAN #319 (DC, 1980) – The villain of this issue is the Gentleman Ghost, a really cool and underused character. Len Wein effectively creates uncertainty as to whether he’s an impostor or a real ghost. But the actual plot of the issue is forgettable.

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #11 (Marvel, 1977) – This is guest-written by Chris Claremont, but is not one of his better early works. Spider-Man needs to retrieve a serum to save a dying child (which was a clichéd plot even then). But Medusa also needs the same serum to save an old Inhuman named Falzon, who is the only person who can defuse a Kree anti-matter bomb, and the inevitable fight results. Anticlimactically enough, it turns out there’s enough serum for both the child and Falzon, so the central moral dilemma – do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of one child? – is sidestepped. The only reference to other Claremont comics in this issue is that Yon-Rogg was responsible for the anti-matter bomb.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #175 (DC, 1980) – The Red Tornado was a second-rate ripoff of the Vision, and this was rarely more clear than in this issue, where Reddy quits the Justice League because he’s suffering a nasty case of emo. However, the one thing I do like about Reddy is his relationship with Kathy Sutton and Traya, Both of these characters are reintroduced into his life in this issue, and this leads to some fairly effective characterization. There’s also a mostly pointless plot involving Dr. Destiny. Gerry Conway was much worse than his predecessor on this title, Steve Englehart, but he was much better at characterization than most of the Justice League writers before Englehart.

New comics received on November 30, two days late because I was out of town the day they arrived:

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This was perhaps my most hotly anticipated comic since Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #1 (the first one). Besides Astro City #21, it was the only comic this year that excited me so much that I chose to read it before reading the latest issue of Saga. I don’t think this comic is quite as good as USG, but it’s an impressive comic, and Lunella is exactly the hero we need right now – a spunky black 9-year-old roller skater with a pet dinosaur. Reeder and Montclare’s characterization of Lunella and her family is perfect. I think my favorite panel in the issue is during the dinner table scene, just after Lunella has said she never learns anything at school, when her mom says “Lunella” with a knowing smile that expresses the number of times they’ve had this conversation before. Oh, and then there’s the apes and the giant dinosaur. This comic is not as deep or complex or metatextual as Squirrel Girl, and is aimed at a younger audience than Ms. Marvel, but it has the potential to be one of Marvel’s best titles.

SAGA #31 (Image, 2015) – After a hiatus of several months of real time and about two years of in-universe time, the story resumes with Hazel attending preschool in a POW camp. BKV and Fiona have always said that Hazel is the real protagonist of the series, and in this issue she begins to develop a personality, and to act like a character rather than a prop. Indeed, I’m pretty sure this is the first issue of Saga in which neither Marko and Alana appears, and I only noticed this in retrospect, which suggests either that Hazel is an equally strong protagonist or that the universe of Saga is bigger than Marko and Hazel. Noreen, Hazel’s teacher, is the latest in a series of fascinating Saga characters, and I hope this issue isn’t going to be her only appearance.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #2 (Marvel, 2015b) – Another fantastic issue, with all kinds of awesome time travel jokes. This is a highly metatextual and genre-savvy comic (in the TVTropes sense). Both Ryan North and Squirrel Girl are familiar with all the time travel clichés, and the reader is expected to be familiar with them too, and this creates a lot of humor potential. There’s even some clever variations on the basic time travel plot – like, the idea of using a brick as a time capsule is something I hadn’t seen before. I think this series is tied with Ms. Marvel as my third favorite current title, after Saga and Lumberjanes, and it might bypass Lumberjanes soon because I haven’t been impressed with the last few issues of that title. I voted for Squirrel Girl in a surprisingly large number of Comics Alliance’s year-end polls.

KAPTARA #5 (Image, 2015) – After a pretty bad issue which was followed by a three-month hiatus, this series is back to its original level of quality. Everything else in this issue pales in comparison to the last two pages, which make up a two-page spread depicting about 100 completely new and different characters. I shudder to think of the amount of work that must have gone into this – it probably took longer than the rest of the issue combined. And just imagine how much the original art is going to sell for. Looking at this page again, I notice that one of the new characters is a Demotivational Orb that says “Your mother was right about you.”

GROOT #6 (Marvel, 2015) – This has been a really fun series and I’m sad it’s over, though it’s going to be replaced by Rocket Raccoon & Groot. Rocket’s conversation with Groot about Star Wars is awesome. The fact that Groot can “talk” by communicating telepathically is cheating. I know that the variant cover of All-New X-Men #23 is a precedent for this, but that joke is only funny once. I’d rather Groot just didn’t say anything except “I am Groot.” However, the fact that he never talks means that when he does, it has all the more impact (like when Snake-Eyes writes a letter in G.I. Joe #155), and the revised origin story that he tells is fairly touching. It reminds me of The Giving Tree. This origin story blatantly contradicts the one in Guardians of the Galaxy #14, but who cares.

SILVER SURFER #15 (Marvel, 2015) – A disappointing end to one of the best recent Marvel titles. It’s not really surprising that Norrin and Dawn end up choosing reality over fantasy. The best thing about this issue is the last two lines, which make it obvious that this series is the Marvel version of Doctor Who: “We really have no idea where we’re going, do we?” “I do! Anywhere and everywhere! Hang on!”

DC COMICS PRESENTS #55 (DC, 1983) – I read this because I’ve only read four other issues of DCCP (plus one annual) in the last two years. This issue is a Superman/Air-Wave team-up by Bob Rozakis and Alex Saviuk. As you might expect, it’s not particularly good. There’s a plot twist where it turns out that the original Air-Wave saved a time-traveling Superman’s career by keeping him away from gold kryptonite, but who cares.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #9 (IDW, 2015) – I really really like this series, even when it’s not being drawn by Sophie Campbell. The party scene is full of cute and funny moments. I think my favorite moment is the new character Holly Black – named after the author, I guess – who loses her cat in a breakup. Having just adopted a cat myself, I know how much that would suck, although ironically my cat is clawing the hell out of me as I try to write this review.

POWER UP #5 (Boom!, 2015) – With this issue this series finally makes sense, and it becomes clear that this comic has an actual story, rather than just being a series of vignettes. I just wish we’d gotten to this point sooner. But the actual origin of the characters is pretty cool, and the three married aliens are interestingly weird.

SHUTTER #17 (Image, 2015) – This is a fairly effective conclusion to the Leonis story, but it seems a little abrupt. It feels like we’ve missed at least a full issue worth of character development for Kate. And it also seems like Kate knows some characters she hasn’t met yet, like Madam Huckleberry. Maybe the best part of the issue is the scrapbook on the first two pages.

ACTION COMICS #592 (DC, 1987) – This is a Superman/Big Barda team-up, but it’s not the one where Sleez forces Superman and Barda to star in a porno film; I think that’s the next issue. John Byrne’s runs on Superman and Action Comics were his last major works, and 1987 was probably the last good year of his career – I have very little interest in anything he did after that point. The artwork this issue is really quite impressive; at this point, John was still willing to draw the backgrounds rather than just leave them out. However, the writing shows his characteristic self-importance and humorlessness, and Sleez is a regrettable character.

DETECTIVE COMICS #528 (DC, 1983) – In this issue, Harvey Bullock conspires with the mayor to make Commissioner Gordon look incompetent, and also there’s a new villain called the Savage Skull. Both Doug Moench’s writing and Gene Colan’s art are quite effective, though there’s one page (which I shared on Instagram) where the panel structure encourages the reader to read panels four and five in the wrong order. There’s also a Green Arrow backup story by Joey Cavalieri, who was perhaps the worst writer at DC at the time.

NEW MUTANTS #29 (Marvel, 1985) – I believe this was the last Claremont-Sienkiewicz issue I hadn’t read. It’s most notable for being the first appearance of Strong Guy, and it also includes some cute interactions between Sam, Lila and Illyana. Though I’ve always thought Sam and Lila’s relationship was creepy – she seems too old for him. This was at least the second issue of New Mutants that involved a gladiatorial combat.

ARCHIE #4 (DC, 2015) – Annie Wu has had the bad luck to be overshadowed by two better artists, David Aja and Fiona Staples, but her art on this issue is very good and is faithful to the visual style that Fiona established for the series. Also the story is quite effective. Betty tries to be something she’s not, with tragic results. I could have done without the backup story.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #87 (Marvel, 1982) – In this Tom DeFalco/Ron Wilson story, the Thing is abducted by the people of a microworld, and Ant-Man goes to rescue him, and they both get involved in a war between humanoids and lizard people. Notably, the war ends with a truce rather than an actual resolution, and the humans and the lizards are depicted as being equally bad. Probably my favorite part of the issue was the Cassie Lang guest appearance.

ADVENTURE COMICS #445 (DC, 1976) – The Aquaman story in this issue is the beginning of the story where Arthur Curry Jr. dies. At the end of the story, Aquababy gets kidnapped by an octopus and I don’t think he ever gets back to his parents. Besides that, this is a pretty average Aquaman story, with good but not great artwork by Jim Aparo. The Creeper backup story, by Martin Pasko and Ric Estrada, is not very good.

SUPERBOY #150 (DC, 1968) – “The Stranger Who Stalks Smallville” is unusually grim and moody for a Superboy comic. It takes place mostly at night during the rain, and involves a villain who forces the people of Smallville to obey him. According to the GCD, this story is by Frank Robbins, a writer I tend to associate with Batman, which explains its dark tone. (Though it turns out Robbins wrote about 20 issues of Superboy.) The annoying thing about this story is that the villain uses a “secret code” which is obviously just letters replaced by numbers (A=1, B=2, etc.). This shows a lack of respect for the reader’s intelligence.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #98 (DC, 1971) – “Mansion of the Misbegotten,” guest-starring the Phantom Stranger, is a heavily Gothic piece of work. Batman becomes the caretaker of the son of his dead friend Roger Birnam (named after the wood in Macbeth, I guess), but it turns out that the boy’s mother is trying to use him as the reincarnation of Satan, or something like that. The whole story takes place in an old decaying mansion. I’ve read few if any issues of the Phantom Stranger title, and I wonder if they’re all this Gothic-influenced. The issue also includes two reprints that aren’t especially interesting.

TRUE BELIEVERS: PRINCESS LEIA #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I am not a big Star Wars fan, and the only Star Wars comics that interest me are the ones drawn by Al Williamson, and I haven’t even made any effort to collect those. I only bought this comic because it cost less than a dollar. This issue is reasonably well-written and drawn, but unlike Jem and the Holograms or Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, it’s not good enough to overcome my lack of interest in the subject matter.

New comics received on December 5:

THE VISION #2 (Marvel, 2015) – This is just an extremely well-written comic book. I had no idea Tom King was this good – his prose style reminds me of John Rozum or even Neil Gaiman. One thing all three of these writers have in common is the ability to describe horrible, awful things in the most dispassionate language. This series is almost a horror comic, to the extent that it depicts the Visions as alien, inscrutable creatures whose bizarre outlook and speech are at odds with their “normal” suburban environment. This is not the best current Marvel comic, but it probably is the most literary. I didn’t notice until just now that on the cover, the mailbox is floating and the flag has a “you’ve got mail” icon on it.

PAPER GIRLS #3 (Image, 2015) – So I guess I sort of get what’s going on here, at least some of it, but I wouldn’t be able to explain the plot of this series if you asked me. I love the “I’ll keep you safe” scene at the beginning of the issue, and BKV’s future version of English is brilliant. This has the potential to be one of Image’s better series.

MYSTERY GIRL #1 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Paul Tobin is an excellent writer who gets less credit than he deserves and is often overshadowed by his wife Colleen Coover. However, his work is often somewhat unambitious and low-key. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but in the case of this series, maybe it is. Trine is an interesting character, but I’m not sure where this series is going or if it’s going anywhere. Still, I love the idea of a girl who can automatically solve mysteries, and I might as well keep reading this comic.

ROCKET GIRL #7 (Image, 2015) – I’m glad this excellent series is continuing. But it’s been half a year since the last issue, and I can’t really remember what’s been going on in this comic. I hope there’s not such a long gap before issue 8. Probably the highlight of the issue is Dayoung actually getting some recognition for her heroism. There are a lot of great teen girl protagonists in comics right now, and Dayoung is not the worst of them.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #12 (DC, 2015) – Another great comic with two teen girl protagonists – though I think Maps is a more interesting protagonist than Olive. I’m seeing some notable similarities between Olive and Antimony from Gunnerkrigg Court… oh wait, this is the third time I’ve pointed that out. If I see Brendan or Becky at a convention, I need to ask them if they were aware of Gunnerkrigg Court when they created this comic. This issue suggests that Olive has not only inherited Calamity’s powers but has become Calamity in some sense, and it seems like the same thing is going to happen to Annie.

ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS #2 (Marvel, 2015) – This is yet another case where I was exhausted when I read my new comics, and then I waited too long to write reviews of them. Anyway, the best thing about this comic, by far, is Kamala and Sam’s antagonistic relationship, and this issue includes some notable Kamala-Sam scenes. I took the “you’re a jerk” panel and used it to make a meme in which Sam’s face is replaced by the face of Donald Trump.

HARLEY’S LITTLE BLACK BOOK #1 (DC, 2015) – This issue is disappointing because only about half of it is drawn by Amanda Conner, and her artwork is the main reason I’m willing to pay $5 for this comic. Even in the pages drawn by Amanda, there’s nothing spectacular – nothing as good as the IKEA page or the cat-naming page from Power Girl. Still, Amanda does a great job of depicting Harley’s encounter with Wonder Woman.

PREZ #6 (DC, 2015) – As I read this issue, I got increasingly concerned about whether Mark Russell could wrap up all or, indeed, any of his dangling plot threads. As it turns out, this issue doesn’t resolve anything, and it ends with “End of Part One. To Be Continued.” I hope this is true, but I’m skeptical, because I’ve heard nothing about a second Prez miniseries. It looks like this miniseries was scheduled for twelve issues but was cut to six, and DC promised in June that it would be twelve issues, but maybe sales didn’t justify that. On one hand, it would suck if Russell and Caldwell didn’t get the chance to finish their story. On the other hand, I think the best thing about this series was the one-liners (like Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s line in this issue about freedom of religion), and the plot was never as effective as the dialogue.

DOCTOR STRANGE #3 (Marvel, 2015) – Probably the best thing about this issue is the giant magic-eating slugs. This series still hasn’t been quite as good as I’d expect given the level of talent involved, and it’s less effective as a superhero humor title than Wolverine and the X-Men was. But the Empirikul are some really creepy villains.

WHAT IF? #7 (Marvel, 1977) – This issue consists of three interlinked stories in which someone besides Peter Parker is bitten by the radioactive spider. In the first story, Flash Thompson becomes Spider-Man but isn’t smart enough to design webbing, so the first time he fights the Vulture, he falls out of the sky, bringing his career to an abrupt end. In the second story, Betty Brant becomes Spider-Girl, and proceeds to design the ugliest and most exploitative costume ever. It’s vastly more sexist than the Spider-Gwen costume, even though it had to be approved by the Comics Code and Spider-Gwen’s costume didn’t. Anyway, then Betty retires after she discovers that she didn’t stop the burglar who killed Uncle Ben. This is disappointing because I was wondering how the Blackie Gaxton/Bennett Brant story would have happened differently if Betty had been Spider-Girl rather than Peter. In the third story, John Jameson becomes Spider-Man, then dies during the events of ASM #1. Disappointingly, all three stories lead to a single ending, in which Peter duplicates the chemicals in the radioactive spider bite and becomes Spider-Man, and things proceed as they did in the normal Marvel universe.

HOWARD THE DUCK #2 (Marvel, 2015) – The main story in this issue focuses on Dee and Shocket, Howard and Rocket’s female clones. Both these characters are very cute, and their relationship with their adoptive father, a former flunky of the Collector, is sweet. I look forward to seeing how their stories intersect with Howard’s story. There’s also a Gwenpool backup story which is pretty mediocre. Gwenpool has only existed for a month or two, and I feel like people are already getting tired of her.

CHEW #52 (Image, 2015) – This series is in its declining stages. It used to be one of the best comics Image is publishing, but it’s wearing out its welcome. The good news is that this issue suggests that the series is approaching its logical conclusion, because we’re finally about to learn what was going on with the alien sky writing.

RINGSIDE #1 (Image, 2015) – The artwork and lettering in this comic are somewhat crude-looking, and this initially turned me off from reading it. I think I like this comic, though. It’s a sensitive and well-researched examination of professional wrestling, a topic I know nothing about. Joe Keatinge is another excellent and underrated writer (see above comments on Paul Tobin) and I think this series is going to be enjoyable.

PLUTONA #2 (Image, 2015) – Having just read The Underwater Welder, I think Jeff Lemire is a better artist than a writer, but this comic is fairly well-written. However, it’s also quite slow-paced, which was a recurring problem with Lemire’s Animal Man.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #23 (IDW, 2015) – This issue stars Applejack and Fluttershy, two ponies who don’t interact very much, but whose common character trait is their love for nature and the outdoors. In this story they try to protect a legendary flying pig from overzealous cryptozoologists. It’s a fun story. The plot revolves around the fact that Applejack is the element of honesty, and so she can’t lie about whether she’s seen the Pigasus or not. This comic at least suggests a reason why Applejack’s element is honesty and Rainbow Dash’s element is loyalty, but I remain convinced that this was a mistake and that it should be the other way around.

SPIDEY #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This is the latest in a long line of kid-oriented Spider-Man comics, previous examples of which have included Spidey Super-Stories, Untold Tales of Spider-Man, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man. At this point, I’ve read so many stories about the teenage Spider-Man that I didn’t think this comic offered anything new. Robbie Thompson’s version of the young Peter Parker is not a significant innovation relative to the versions of Kurt Busiek or Bendis or Paul Tobin. Of course this comic is intended for readers who haven’t read any other Spider-Man comics, and it’s probably a good introduction to Spider-Man for very young readers. And Nick Bradshaw’s artwork is quite good, and I’m glad that Marvel is publishing a title for younger readers that’s not a TV show adaptation.

NEW MUTANTS #39 (Marvel, 1986) – In this issue from near the end of Claremont’s run, the New Mutants are brainwashed into joining Emma Frost’s Massachusetts Academy, and Empath tries to rape some of his new female teammates. Empath is probably the single most disgusting character Claremont ever created; he’s an awful little rapist. This issue also suggests that Magneto has a drinking problem, which is something I don’t remember ever being mentioned before or since.

USAGI YOJIMBO #6 (Fantagraphics, 1988) – This early Fantagraphics issue includes two stories. In “Kappa,” Usagi saves a young man from a kappa, a cucumber-loving imp, at the behest of the young man’s mother. At the end of the story, it turns out the mother is dead and Usagi was speaking with her ghost. This same plot twist was later used much more effectively in “A Promise in the Snow.” The second story is probably the first Usagi story that pays homage to kaiju movies. In it, Usagi meets a little fire-breathing dinosaur who can only say “zylla,” and this leads to the expected pun about whether Zylla is a god. Oh, I lied before, there are three stories, not two. In the third story, Master Katsuichi is forced to perform a William Tell-like test of skill, by slicing a plum in half while it’s attached to the young Usagi’s nose.

TEEN TITANS GO! #8 (DC, 2015) – There are two stories in this issue, one that’s about Valentine’s Day, and another where the Titans buy a new TV that’s so big that they get mesmerized into watching it constantly. Both these stories are fun but not earth-shaking.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #3 (Action Lab, 2014) – This is a very minor work, but it’s fun. As a new cat owner, I like this series because of Marcus Williams’s highly accurate renderings of cats. The cats in this comic don’t behave like the real thing, but they look like the real thing, and maybe that’s part of the humor.

TRILLIUM #7 (Vertigo, 2014) – I didn’t understand this comic at all; it makes no effort to explain what’s been going on in the previous six issues. Jeff Lemire’s artwork is great, though, and I’d like to read more of this series; I would just need to start from issue 1.

IMAGE FIRSTS: SUNSTONE #1 (Image, 2015) – I normally wouldn’t have read this because it’s a Top Cow comic, but I’ve heard good things about it, and it was the series that established Stjepan Sejic’s reputation as an effective artist of female characters. Overall this comic is pretty good; it’s an interesting depiction of the bondage scene, something that normally doesn’t interest me, and the characters are multifaceted and realistic. The main problem is that this comic has too much text.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE RING OF FIRE #4 (IDW, 2015) – Another typical Atomic Robo story. The new plot twist here is that the resolution of the story is probably going to involve the villain from Ghost of Station X.

ART OPS #2 (Vertigo, 2015) – Maybe I was tired when I read this comic, but I found it bewildering; I had no idea what was going on or who the characters were. Mike Allred’s artwork is as good as ever, but I think when issue 3 comes out, I’m going to need to reread issues 1 and 2 before reading it.

TOTALLY AWESOME HULK #2 (Marvel, 2015) – This comic is exciting because of its (possibly) progressive depiction of Asian-American characters, but I don’t have much confidence in Greg Pak’s writing; I think he was the lesser of the two writers on Incredible Hercules. This comic annoyed me a bit because of its Rabelaisian lack of subtlety – like, first Amadeus Cho eats ten hamburgers at one sitting, and then he appears on panel naked and his groin area has to be censored. But this issue did include some more subtle humor. I keep remembering the panel where Hulk and She-Hulk beat the crap out of Gnasher and Gasher, and then when they’re already beaten, Spider-Man bonks one of them on the head and says “And stay down!” Also, I like the art in this comic a lot, even though it’s an artist for whom I have some personal distaste. I plan to stay with this comic for at least a few more issues.

REVIVAL #35 (Image, 2015) – At some point, I want to collect the entire run of this comic and then read it all in order. It would read better that way. At least with this isuse, I’m finally starting to understand what those yellow ghost things are.

BLACK MAGICK #2 (Image, 2015) – Another good issue, though I’ve mostly forgotten what happened in it. As usual, Greg Rucka is very good at depicting police procedure.

DONALD DUCK #280 (Gladstone, 1993) – Barks’s “Salmon Derby” is a typical Donald-Gladstone story, in which Donald enters a fishing contest but is unpleasantly surprised when Gladstone enters too. There’s a bit of a deus ex machina ending when Gladstone wins the contest, but Donald unexpectedly wins an even better prize thanks to random chance. This issue also includes some very early Donald Duck newspaper strips by Al Taliaferro, in which Donald’s behavior is wildly at odds with his character as it later developed. In these strips, Donald was “a youngster who was mischievous to the point of cruelty, vindictively retaliating against those who didn’t really deserve their fate.”

BATMAN #250 (DC, 1973) – The first two stories in this issue are pretty dumb, even though the Robin story is written by Elliot S! Maggin. What makes this issue interesting is the third story, “The Batman Nobody Knows,” which was reprinted in The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told. When I first read this story in that book, I was not impressed, but on revisiting it, I realize how clever it is. Three inner-city boys are vacationing at Wayne Manor, and each of them describes his own idea of what Batman is like. The black kid’s version is the most interesting; he describes Batman as “one down-to-earth hip dude… Muhammed [sic] Ali – Jim Brown – Shaft – an’ Super-Fly all rolled into one!” As exploitative as this scene is, it’s also kind of revolutionary in that it acknowledges that superheroes are not just for white people – that people of all races and genders need their own heroes to look up to. This is a lesson that Marvel and DC are still learning.

AVENGERS #56 (Marvel, 1968) – “Death Be Not Proud!” is another story I didn’t fully appreciate the first time I read it. In this story, Captain America uses Dr. Doom’s time machine to go back in time and confirm Bucky’s death. The first thing to note about this story is the brilliance of the art. John Buscema was at his absolute peak in 1968, and this story is on the same level as his famous Silver Surfer #4. The splash page, with its depiction of a grim, foreboding castle, is especially memorable. The story itself is quite exciting and emotionally powerful, and it provides perhaps the most detailed account of Bucky’s death. The Fridge Logic issue with this story is that Cap doesn’t actually witness Bucky’s death or see the body, and yet at the end of the story, he’s somehow become convinced that Bucky is really dead.

FANTASTIC FOUR #174 (Marvel, 1976) – This is a much lesser work of John Buscema, from the period when he was being forced to draw like Kirby rather than himself. This issue is from one of the more interesting stories in this period of FF, the one where Galactus eats the planet Poppup. However, it suffers from having too many plotlines running at once, because the FF has split up into three different teams, each of which is on a different planet looking for a way to beat Galactus. On the positive side, one of the three plotlines involves a gorilla in armor.

SKULL THE SLAYER #3 (Marvel, 1975) – This could have been a fun series, but the execution was not good. It’s kind of similar to Warlord or Xenozoic Tales, but with worse writing and worse art. The story never goes anywhere and there’s little to distinguish the characters from each other, except that one of them is a token angry black man.

New comics for December 11. This was a light week, and I was too busy with grading and end-of-semester stuff to do much reading.

STARFIRE #7 (DC, 2015) – This was the best issue yet because of its focus on Kory (who now shares her name with my cat). Dick and Kory used to be my favorite couple in all of fiction, but I’ve lost interest in D… uh, I’d better rephrase that. I’m really only interested in Kory and I think she’s better off without Grayson, especially since DC will never allow them to get back together. But his reappearance in her life creates the potential for some interesting drama, especially because of Kory’s growing passion for Sol. The dolphin scene on page one of this issue is awesome.

MONSTRESS #2 (Image, 2015) – This is almost more of a horror series than a fantasy series. The world of this comic is very dark, and seemingly every character is missing body parts or something. As a result, I almost hesitated to read this comic. But it’s cleraly an important work that raises crucial questions about gender and disability and power relations.

NEW ROMANCER #1 (Vertigo, 2015) – It’s been a while since I read any Peter Milligan comics, but I’m excited about this one. The idea of a computer simulation of Lord Byron is apparently not new, but Milligan seems to have done some actual research on Byron and Casanova, and he depicts their interaction with the modern world in a funny way. This is another in a series of impressive debut issues from Vertigo.

MY LITTLE PONY HOLIDAY SPECIAL #1 (IDW, 2015) – I believe this is the first full-length pony story drawn (mostly) by Katie Cook. I think Katie and Andy together are better than Katie alone, but Katie’s pony versions of classic Christmas stories are fairly well done, and there’s a lot of other miscellaneous funny stuff in this issue Maybe the high point of the issue is Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie’s exchange: “It’s a harrowing tale of friendship, hardship and dedication that will need a full twenty pages to explain.” “Hey! Breaking the fourth wall is my bit!” I would have mentioned this scene in my essay on pony transmedia if I hadn’t already submitted that essay.

GWENPOOL HOLIDAY SPECIAL #1 (Marvel, 2015) – Marvel and DC holiday specials are a mixed bag (though DC’s Christmas with the Superheroes #2 is one of my favorite comic books ever), but this one is pretty good. Thankfully Gwenpool plays just a minor role even though the comic is named for her. Probably the highlight of the issue for me was seeing Charles Soule’s version of She-Hulk again – I’m still annoyed that that series was cancelled so soon. I initially had misgivings about the Ms. Marvel story because I felt like it was trying to exoticize Kamala and her family – especially with the line “What’s got your goat? Speaking of which, are you going to eat the rest of your goat?” However, having been raised Jewish, I can sympathize with Kamala’s Christmas envy. In general, this comic was a pretty satisfying package.

SPIDER-GWEN #3 (Marvel, 2015b) – The word “radioactive” is not part of the official title of this series. This was another good, but not incredible, issue. I was initially very confused as to how Spider-Gwen and Spider-Woman could exist in the same universe, though this was eventually explained, sort of.

GIANT DAYS #9 (Boom!, 2015) – I think this is the first comic I’ve ever read that mentions premature ejaculation. And that’s only one of the plots; the other plot involves some of the other characters exposing corruption in the student council. Having dealt with a corrupt student government during my grad student years at the University of Florida, I thought that this part of the issue was very accurate.

GRUMPY CAT #3 (Dynamite, 2015) – This comic is exactly what you’d expect – it’s 22 pages of Grumpy Cat jokes, held together by a flimsy story. I see that the first issue of the next Grumpy Cat series is by the same writer, so I’m going to cancel my order of that issue.

VALERIAN AND LAURELINE #9 (Cinebook, 2015, originally Dargaud, 1980) – I’m counting this as a comic book. BD albums are halfway between American comic books and graphic novels, and they’re closer to the former than the latter in terms of length. Valerian is one of my favorite French comics, and JM Lofficer lists this as his favorite Valerian album. What stands out to me about it is the artwork – Jean-Claude Mézières’s visual imagination is stunning, whether he’s depicting the rainy nighttime streets of Paris, or a giant alien fire monster. Comparing this album to the first one, The City of Shifting Waters, you can see just how much Mézières’s artwork evolved from 1968 to 1980. The other thing I like about this series is the relationship between the two title characters, who complement each other perfectly; however, in this album Valerian and Laureline are separated from each other and they only communicate by telepathy. I look forward to reading the next volume of this series, and I really need to read more European comics.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #13 (DC, 2015) – This is is the second issue in two weeks. I was initially unexcited about it because it’s a Robin War crossover, but it accomplishes the unusual feat of making me curious about the crossover it’s a part of. I actually kind of want to read Robin War now. However, in the larger scheme of the series, this issue is pretty insignificant, and maybe it should have been called Gotham Academy: Robin War #1 instead of Gotham Academy #13.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #79 (Marvel, 1981) – The guest-star this issue is Blue Diamond, a very minor Golden Age character, and the new villain is Shanga, the Star-Dancer, who is sort of a bizarre Silver Surfer parody. The story this issue is kind of dumb, but I do like the way Tom DeFalco writes the Thing. Like, in this issue the Thing goes fishing in a pair of overalls and a flannel shirt and a hat with feathers attached. It’s a bizarre and silly moment. A curious error in this issue is that the Blue Diamond says he’s almost 73 years old, and then three pages later, in a scene taking place on the same day, he says he’s almost 76 years old. I mean, I guess if you’re 72, then you could claim to be almost 76, but still. Also, the townspeople in this comic seem unusually willing to start a riot with no provocation.

CASTLE WAITING #7 (Fantagraphics, 2007) – Let me quote my review of a different issue of this series: “Besides the cover art, there is nothing in this comic book that’s not also in the hardcover.”

FEAR #25 (Marvel, 1974) – I was surprised to discover that this issue, starring Morbius the Living Vampire, was plotted by Steve Gerber. The previous few issues of Fear are among the few ‘70s Gerber comics I don’t have. The dialogue this issue is written by Doug Moench, but the plot is so convoluted and bizarre that it’s easy to see Gerber’s influence. It involves the cat-demon Balkatar (who later had a one-night stand with Tigra) and blade and the caretakers of Arcturus and a little girl who talks like an adult. I don’t quite get what’s going on here, but I need to read the rest of these Morbius stories.

STRANGE TALES #177 (Marvel, 1974) – This issue is by Mike Friedrich and Tony DeZuñiga, and stars the Golem. It’s fairly mediocre, and the most interesting thing about it is Tony’s wildly inaccurate depiction of the study of an 18th-century Ashkenazi rabbi. Obviously Tony had no idea what such a place would have looked like, so he just guessed. On the letters page, the editor admits that the Golem feature never found its audience and never had a clear direction, and announces that this issue is the last Golem story, even if it ends on a cliffhanger. The next issue, of course, is the first of Jim Starlin’s classic Warlock stories. This issue also includes a very well-drawn reprinted story by Jay Scott Pike, which has some eerie similarities to his most famous work, Showcase #79.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #145 (Marvel, 1984) – This issue is an unsuccessful experiment. It’s nominally a Spider-Man/Iron Man team-up, but it’s told from the perspective of the villain, Blacklash. This character was never more than a dude for Iron Man to beat up, and the writer, Tony Isabella, fails to convince the reader that Blacklash is an interesting character. At the end of the issue, Blacklash goes insane, and the reader is left wondering what the point of the story was.

WHAT IF? #8 (Marvel, 1978) – “What If the World Knew That Daredevil is Blind?” is a fairly boring story because it takes place during the early issues of Daredevil, which were themselves fairly boring. There’s also a backup story by Scott Shaw! which has a distinctly underground sensibility.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #73 (DC, 1984) – Yet another bad story by Cary Bates. This is a Superman/Flash team-up, but there’s much more emphasis on Flash than Superman. This issue was published in the middle of the Trial of Barry Allen storyline, and Cary references that story on numerous occasions. The plot is mostly incomprehensible – all I remember is that the villains were the Phantom Zone criminals. The one redeeming quality of this issue is that the artwork is unusually good for late-period Infantino.

WARLORD #5 (DC, 1977) – “The Secret of Skartaris” consists largely of a massive infodump explaining the origin of Skartaris. The artwork is not Mike Grell’s best.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #34 (Marvel, 1977) – This Thing/Nighthawk team-up is a fairly trite story, an example of the tired old plot in which some ignorant people hound an innocent creature to its death by failing to realize its good intentions. The one thing I like about it is that the alien at the center of the story is fascinatingly weird-looking. The page that introduces the alien is probably the best Ron Wilson artwork I’ve ever seen.

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