Penultimate reviews of 2015

I’m going to try to write reviews every Thursday. Obviously this is going to be much much easier during the break than during the semester.

LUMBERJANES #21 (Boom!, 2015) – I had pretty low expectations for this issue because I was severely underwhelmed by the mermaid storyline. But this issue turned out to be better than I expected. Seafarin’ Karen is a great new character, though the fact that she’s a werewolf as well as a pirate is a bit much. I think my favorite line this issue is “the rhyming aspect is important.” I do wonder if the creators have any long-term plot trajectory in mind for this series, because both this and the previous story have been entirely self-contained. Several issues ago, we learned that time seems to be moving slower for the Lumberjanes than for the outside world, but this has not been mentioned again.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #3 (Marvel, 2015) – This is tied with Ms. Marvel as my third favorite current comic, after Saga and Lumberjanes. Ryan North writes Dr. Doom very well – I like Dr. Doom’s selectively edited version of his original encounter with Squirrel Girl. And the gag with the rooftop pool is brilliant. Oh, and then there’s the flashback where Doreen gets confused about who said what. In general, one of the things I love about this series is that practically every page, if not every panel, has something wonderful in it.

MS. MARVEL #2 (Marvel, 2015) – The most memorable panel in this issue is the one where Tyesha is confronted by the Hope Yards dude and his two security guards. I know this scene is not specifically about Islamophobia, but the sight of a brown, visibly Muslim woman being surrounded by three much larger white men is powerfully resonant in the current political climate. G. Willow Wilson is one of America’s most prominent Muslim entertainment figures, and I hope she’s going to take advantage of her position to speak out against Islamophobia. Other than that, this was another good issue. I was surprised when the villain turned out to be Dr. Faustus because I assumed it was the Purple Man. The other high point of the issue was Kamala’s conversation with her mom.

KLAUS #2 (Boom!, 2015) – Another good issue. The central scene this issue is the one where the local kids finally get to play with toys, and then the guards cruelly confiscate the toys. This is very effective. And the pampered noble heir at the center of the story is also an effective character – I don’t know whether to be mad at him for being an ungrateful little brat, or at his parents for making him what he is.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS HOLIDAY SPECIAL (IDW, 2015) – This has become one of my favorite current comics, despite my previous lack of interest in this franchise. Kelly Thompson’s dialogue is witty and cute, and her characterization is good, although not all the characters are equally well developed. By building this story around a Secret Santa event, Kelly is able to spotlight all the characters at once. Obviously my favorite thing in this issue is Kimber’s Rainbow Dash costume.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #17 (Image, 2015) – Reading this issue, I realized that Brandon Graham is my favorite current artist in American comics. This is partly a matter of personal preference. One of the things that fascinates me most about comics is the way they blur the lines between image and text, and Brandon’s artwork is all about that: his visual style is heavily influenced by graffiti, and his artwork is full of text, sometimes readable and sometimes not. He creates a world where everything is simultaneously picture and text. This issue is a departure from Brandon’s usual style because it takes place in the real world and not in a bizarre fantasy world, but it’s still clearly a Brandon Graham comic. Brandon was a good choice for this issue because of his love of cats, and Sekhmet is a perfect depiction of a cat in human form – she’s lazy, sociopathic, and murderous, but also adorable.

WEIRDWORLD #1 (Marvel, 2015) – Another case of “only our second #1 issue this year.” Brian Hibbs points out that this sort of renumbering is very confusing to new readers, and I have to agree. This comic is probably better than the original Weirdworld #1, because Becca is a far more exciting character than Arkon, who was just Conan minus the sense of humor. The same criticism can be applied to Goleta the Wizardslayer (though obviously she’s more like Red Sonja than Conan), but at least she has Becca to interact with. “I HAVE SLAYED TEN HUNDRED WIZARDS!” is a great line.

POWER UP #6 (Boom!, 2015) – I thought there was an exclamation point in this comic’s title, but there’s not. There should be. This was a very satisfying conclusion to a fairly good miniseries. I hope there will be a sequel, because I want to keep reading about these characters as they fight new enemies and gain confidence in their powers.

ALLEN, SON OF HELLCOCK #1 (Z2, 2015) – Z2 Comics is an exciting new publisher because of their high production values, their impressive lineup of talent, and the diversity of the material they offer. The problem is that their comics are buried in the back of Previews. If I recall correctly, I left this comic off my order form at first, but I went back and added it after I saw the preview of the first issue. This comic is a very funny parody of the sword-and-sorcery genre. It goes in a very different direction from Groo or Rat Queens; it takes place in a world that has modern elements like glasses and graphic novels and psychiatrists, but that operates by sword-and-sorcery logic. The central joke is the relationship between the emo ne’er-do-well main character and his father, who is pretty much the same character as Lord Hunk-Ra from Doonesbury.

SUPERZERO #1 (Aftershock, 2015) – Like Z2, Aftershock is an ambitious publisher with a very strong lineup of talent – indeed, they have much more impressive talent than Z2 does. This is the fourth current title written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti (not even counting Harley Quinn and Power Girl). Their works tend to be lighthearted guilty pleasures, and I initially thought this comic would be more of the same – especially because of the cover, which depicts Superzero trying to replicate six different superhero origin stories. So I was surprised (more or less pleasantly) at how serious this comic is. It’s about a teenage girl who has severe academic and personal problems and who tries to compensate by turning herself into a superhero. It’s not nearly as ambitious as I Kill Giants, but it’s more similar in tone to I Kill Giants than Harley Quinn. This comic may indicate that Jimmy and Amanda are becoming more than just entertainers.

BATGIRL #46 (DC, 2015) – I was kind of underwhelmed by this issue. It’s a little hypocritical for Batgirl to be fighting against gentrification but not to acknowledge that she, as a young white hipster, is part of the exact demographic that causes gentrification. I’ve complained about Batgirl’s level of privilege before, and I think that complaint is still valid. I do like the idea of Spoiler being Batgirl’s sidekick, and it’s good that DC is no longer refusing to use this character.

HARLEY QUINN #23 (DC, 2015) – Compared to Superzero, this is more like what I usually expect from Amanda and Jimmy: a lighthearted romp with lots of mayhem and gratuitous violence. It’s also kind of hard to understand because I can’t remember who any of the villains are.

TEEN TITANS #15 (DC, 1968) – “Captain Rumble Blasts the Scene!” is a classic example of Bob Haney’s clumsy but well-intentioned attempts to understand the youth of the ‘60s. In this story the Titans search for a runaway (the standard plot of most of the Titans stories of this era) who has gotten involved in the local hippie scene. In order to save him, they have to defeat the titular villian, who hates hippies. This story is kind of a clichéd and embarrassing depiction of hippie culture, but it’s also very cute and funny, and not always unintentionally so. For example, the splash page, which depicts a Greenwich Village-like neighborhood, is beautiful. It’s too bad that Nick Cardy only did the finished art for this story and not the layouts.

DESCENDER #8 (Image, 2015) – In this issue, scenes of Andy’s search for Tim alternate with flashbacks to Andy’s lousy childhood. I just realized that the name Andy is no coincidence; the reference to Toy Story must be intentional. There’s nothing particularly surprising in this issue, but it’s a well-written and poignant story, and Dustin Nguyen’s art is as excellent as usual.

THE AUTUMNLANDS #8 (Image, 2015) – This was better than the last two issues, but not by much. I’m surprised to discover that the Champion isn’t the only human in the world, and I think it’s cute that the goats live on the mountains and the sheep live on the plains. Other than that, this is still just an average comic and I’m mostly reading it out of loyalty to Kurt.

THE MIGHTY THOR #2 (Marvel, 2015) – This is a good issue, especially because of the Russell Dauterman artwork. But unlike #1, it’s just an ordinary issue and not a classic. Perhaps the highlight of this story is that we get to see the realm of the Light Elves. Oh, and I also like the swamp mammoths, and the old crones with long nails and eyeballs dangling from their hair.

THE GODDAMNED #2 (Marvel, 2015) – R.M. Guera’s artwork continues to be the primary attraction here. This comic is hideously brutal and disturbing, but that’s the whole point. Noah is introduced in this issue and proves to be a real asshole.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #272 (Marvel, 1985) – A boring, derivative and workmanlike story by Tom DeFalco. This issue introduces Slyde, a villain whose suit is coated with a slippery substance. This chaacter has an interesting concept, and he reminds me a bit of Frozone, but DeFalco doesn’t do anything exciting with him. Like many Marvel villains, he makes an incredible scientific discovery but decides to use it to rob banks, instead of exploiting its commercial possibilities. (At least DeFalco does make a token effort to explain this: we are told that Slyde wanted to start a company to produce his new ultra-slick chemical compound, but wasn’t able to raise any venture capital, and maybe the implication is that this was because he’s black.) This issue also includes an appearance by Nathan Lubensky, perhaps Spider-Man’s worst supporting character ever.

CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA #4 (Archie, 2015) – The first issue of this was very exciting, but I forgot to order the next two issues, and issue 5 has not been solicited yet. As a result of extreme lateness, Archie’s horror comics have lost all the momentum they initially had, and it’s hard to even care about this comic when I know that its story will probably never be completed. Otherwise, this is an excellent horror comic. However, it’s much less funny than Afterlife with Archie and is much more of a straight horror comic, and ironically, that makes it less scary because there’s less of an uncanny contrast between humor and horror.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #122 (DC, 1975) – “The Great Identity Crisis!” explains why JLA members are required to know each other’s secret identities. Thanks to a trap set by Dr. Light, Atom, Batman, Flash, GL and GA exchange secret identities with each other; Green Arrow thinks he’s Ray Palmer, GL thinks he’s Barry Allen, etc. This is a potentially brilliant premise, but Martin Pasko doesn’t do enough to take advantage of its humorous possibilities.

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – THE RIFT #3 (Dark Horse, 2014) – I love these books but I hate their format. Each of them costs more than a volume of manga, but is much shorter. They’re closer in length and format to comic books than to graphic novels, but I have to store them on my bookshelves rather than in my longboxes. And the only collected editions of these books are the expensive hardcovers. It’s because of the format that I hadn’t read this particular book yet, even though it came out last year. In terms of its merits, this is another great Avatar adaptation. In the scene where Aang and Toph are fighting, I was honestly not sure which of them was right. I was naturally inclined to side with Toph and to think that her father was just trying to trick her, but as the fight continued, I realized Toph’s father had a point. That’s an impressive feat of storytelling on Gene’s part. The final resolution to Aang’s conflict with General Old Iron is depressing. The best gag in the book is either the destruction of the cabbage shop, or Sokka selling “meat kebabs.”

PENNY DORA AND THE WISHING BOX #4 (Image, 2015) – This comic is not good. It’s clumsily written and poorly drawn. It would only appeal to young children, and I would hesitate to give it to young children, because they deserve better than this. A good example of the problems with this comic is the line “She hadn’t thought to wish for super-strength, a magic lasso or even, say, the power to embiggen. (But then, not being a big comic book reader, such things hadn’t even crossed her mind.)” This reference makes no sense unless the reader is familiar with Ms. Marvel, and even then it’s not funny.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #3 (Image, 2015) – As I’ve mentioned before, this comic is tasteless and disgusting, but in a funny way rather than an offensive way. Skottie Young is very good at making fun of the fairy tale genre because he understands that genre so well. The six-page sequence where Larry builds a house, marries, raises a family and divorces, all while Gert is lying in a coma, is an impressive tour de force. I hope Gert really is dead because that would be an unexpected twist.

CLEAN ROOM #2 (Vertigo, 2015) – I’m really not a big fan of Gail; I’ve been buying Secret Six out of habit, but not reading it, and I think it’s time to stop ordering that series. This comic is okay, but the art is better than the writing. The two-page splash where Chloe enters the Clean Room for the first time is the visual highlight of the issue. I haven’t read issue 3 yet, and I’m not sure whether I want to continue with this series.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #47 (IDW, 2015) – As usual, this issue is very well-written but difficult to understand, since I’m not familiar with most of the characters. In this story, Getaway is tricked into trying to assassinate Megatron, but his friend Cyclonus saves them both at the cost of his own life. This story is very poignant, but would have been even more so if I had known more about the characters involved. Alex Milne’s art is sometimes difficult to parse.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #23 (DC, 1980) – This Superman/Dr. Fate team-up is truly bizarre. Inza Nelson is being turned into a monster by a curse, and to save her, Dr. Fate has to battle her pirate ancestor Ezra Hawkins. Somehow, Ezra Hawkins’s pirate ship manifests itself in downtown Metropolis, and there’s a scene where Superman flies it through the sky by using the oars as propellers… it’s just weird. At least Joe Staton is an appropriate artist for this story.

WELCOME TO SHOWSIDE #2 (Z2, 2015) – I was excited about this comic, but I don’t think I’m going to stick with it, because this issue is unimpressive. It’s obviously inspired by Adventure Time and Steven Universe, but I don’t even like Steven Universe as much as I feel I should, and this comic is at a lower quality level than Steven Universe. Ian McGinty’s writing is just not funny. The backup story, which is drawn by Lumberjanes artist Carolyn Nowak, is much better than the main story.

JONAH HEX #47 (DC, 1981) – This comic made me laugh myself silly. Jonah Hex’s Western adventures are ridiculously over-the-top, and his dialogue is hilarious. Example: “Ah shore hate it when ah get all riled up this way! ‘Cause when ah get riled up, ah kin sometimes get downright ornery! An’ when ah get ornery, ah sometimes get over-tempted tuh do things thet ah’d never do if’n ah wuzn’t ornery!” Michael Fleischer is one of the great underrated writers of the ‘70s, and the Dick Ayers/Tony DeZuniga artwork in this issue is surprisingly good. I need to collect more of this series.

XOMBI #2 (Milestone, 1994) – Another excellent issue of this highly underrated comic. This issue introduces a bunch of new supporting characters, including Rabbi Sinnowitz (and his golems) and Nun of the Above. It’s unfortunate that J.J. Birch’s artwork in this issue is sometimes pretty bad.

THE SPIRE #5 (Boom!, 2015) – Probably the best issue yet. The opening scene with Sha and Meera is very cute. I’m starting to get emotionally invested in these characters, and I’ll be sorry when this miniseries is over; I hope there will be a sequel (which I hope will be called PROUD STANDS THE SPIRE). Jeff Stokely’s artwork continues to be fantastic. I especially like the splash page depicting the entire Spire.

WE STAND ON GUARD #6 (Image, 2015) – In retrospect, this was not a major work of BKV. It was closer in quality to Mystique or Spider-Man/Dr. Octopus: Negative Exposure than to Saga or Runaways. This issue is a somewhat implausible conclusion because the good guys not only win the battle, but also the entire war. Amber’s heroic sacrifice is a powerful moment, but this character was not sufficiently well developed to allow me to care much about her death. In the end, I’m not sure what the point of this series was.

ARCHIE VS. SHARKNADO #1 (Archie, 2015) – This is a candidate for both my Best Comics of 2015 list and my Worst Comics of 2015 list. On one hand, this comic is implausibly written and poorly drawn. The Sharknado premise is stupid to begin with, and the writer (Anthony Ferrante) makes no attempt at plausibility or narrative logic. The trouble with the artwork is that the background characters’ faces are drawn in a different style from the major characters’ faces. I assume that the background characters are Tuckerizations of actual people, though I have no idea who. Now on the other hand, this comic is clearly not meant to be taken seriously; it’s just supposed to be a bunch of silly, implausible mayhem. And on that level, it succeeds.

OLD-TIMEY HOCKEY TALES #1 (Wide Awake, 2011) – I bought this self-published comic at Heroes Con four years ago, but somehow never read it. It’s a collection of factually based hockey stories by Jeffrey Brown and Rob Ullman. The latter artist has yet to publish a major work, which is too bad because he’s obviously talented. This comic is very attractively packaged, with beautiful typography and publication design, and the hockey stories are fascinating and historically accurate. If I see Rob Ullman at another convention, I want to get the second issue of this series. I’m just sorry that the story of Taro Tsujimoto was not included.

And I’m not sure in which order I read the following comics, because my cat knocked over my stack of comics and disrupted the order:

INVINCIBLE #126 (Image, 2015) – This will be my last issue of this series. In retrospect, it jumped the shark shortly after the Viltrumite War and it never recovered. The final indignity is that in this issue, Mark returns from the past and discovers that it’s now six years later and he’s missed the first six years of his daughter’s life. This is known as Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome, and it’s a lazy way to circumvent the difficulties of writing about babies and toddlers. And Kirkman already did it once in this series with Oliver. The fact that he used it again is disappointing, both because it places yet another unnecessary emotional burden on Mark and his family, and because it denies the reader the opportunity to read about Mark and Eve raising Terra. Invincible used to be the best comic book in America, but now it’s just grim and depressing for no reason, and I’ve had enough of it. Issue 127 hasn’t been solicited yet, but I won’t be ordering it.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #37 (IDW, 2015) – Thanks to my cat, I misplaced my copy of this comic and I can’t find it. This issue was an okay conclusion to “Siege of the Crystal Empire,” but I didn’t like this story as much as the earlier pony epics. It was too dark and grim, and it didn’t focus enough on the Mane Six.

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