Reviews for 1/28/16

TOTALLY AWESOME HULK #2 (Marvel, 2016) – I’m reading so many Marvel comics lately that I almost don’t have time for all of them, and if I have to remove some Marvel titles from my pull list, this will be one of them. It’s enjoyable but not spectacular. I like Frank Cho’s artwork (though I feel ashamed to say it) and of course I love the idea of a world where everyone loves monsters, but I have trouble sympathizing with Amadeus Cho, who seems rather annoying and immature.

DESCENDER #9 (Image, 2016) – I think I’m enjoying the artwork in this comic better than the writing, which is somewhat predictable and formulaic. Without Dustin Nguyen’s art, I don’t think this comic would be all that great. The conversation between the two Tims is the highlight of the issue.

IKEBANA #1 (Retrofit/Big Planet, 2016) – A fascinating piece of work. In this one-shot comic, an art student does a project where she walks around in nothing but a flower bra and thong, and refuses to say anything or interact with anyone. Unsurprisingly, the result is that she’s subjected to immense harassment, no one is willing to leave her alone, and she ends up committing suicide. Yumi Sakugawa’s minimalistic and deliberately crude artwork invests this story with great emotional power. One scene that particularly spoke to me is where the art teacher’s students are threatening to give him poor evaluations.

HELLBOY: IN THE CHAPEL OF MOLOCH #1 (#36) (Dark Horse, 2008) – I love Mike Mignola’s artwork and storytelling, but his plots are sort of forgettable. In this issue, Hellboy investigates a Portuguese painter who is being possessed by demons, and all sorts of mayhem ensues. It’s okay but it’s not “The Corpse” or “Pancakes.”

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #3 (Dark Horse, 1986) – The striking thing about these early DHPs is the massive gap in quality between Concrete and everything else. Even in 1986, Paul Chadwick’s style was already fully developed and he was already a master storyteller, while all the other strips in DHP were barely publishable. I don’t know if Dark Horse would still be in business today if not for Paul. In this issue’s Concrete story, Concrete gets knocked unconscious by a car, and Maureen has to somehow get him back home without anyone seeing him. There’s one funny panel in which a ten-year-old kid turns out not to know who Bob Dylan is.

THE ISLAND #5 (Image, 2015) – This issue begins with the continuation of the Sheehan-Ward story, in which the crazy billionaire dude has half of his houseguests murdered. I don’t know what’s going on here, but it’s very disturbing and creepy, in a good way. Next is the second chapter of Simon Roy’s “Habitat.” This chapter doesn’t provide a whole lot of new information about the milieu, but it’s very well drawn and it makes me excited for the next part. Finally there’s a new Pop Gun War chapter which, like much of Farel Dalrymple’s work, is beautifully drawn and makes no logical sense. Overall this continues to be a very high-quality anthology title.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #48 (IDW, 2016) – I don’t remember much about this issue. It has something to do with mnemosurgery and repressed memories. I think the most confusing thing about this series is that every issue seems to introduce an entirely new cast of characters.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #3 (Dark Horse, 2014) – There are two interesting stories here: the chapter of Brendan McCarthy’s ongoing epic, and Ricardo Delgado’s Age of Reptiles piece, which is brilliantly drawn but light on storytelling. The rest of the material in this issue is pretty lousy. This anthology was not worth the $4.99 cover price.

GROO #4 (Image, 1995) – I’ve been fairly unenthusiastic about Groo lately, but “A Drink of Water” is all right, especially compared to Groo: Friends and Foes. The trouble is that this story initially looks like it’s going to be a satire on misguided water policies, and then halfway through, it turns into a satire on excessive bureaucracy, with no real transition between one topic and the other.

WHAT IF? #30 (Marvel, 1991) – This issue presents two different answers to the question “What If the Fantastic Four’s Second Child Had Lived?” The first version of this story is absolutely insane. Sue’s second child (named Suzy in this reality) turns out to be a literal demon. She murders her teachers, her classmates, and finally her family, and only Franklin realizes what’s going on, but Reed completely refuses to believe him. Finally, after Suzy murders Reed too, Franklin exiles her to the Negative Zone, where she proceeds to attempt to murder Annihilus. I can’t imagine what the writer, Jim Valentino, was thinking when he wrote this, but it’s terrifying in a hilarious way, or vice versa. The second version, in which the child is named Mary, is much less interesting. Mary becomes a political activist, but we’re never told what exactly her politics are, just that she’s trying to reform the country in an unspecified way, and this means the story loses whatever impact it might have had.

EXCALIBUR #21 (Marvel, 1990) – In this installment of “The Cross-Time Caper,” Excalibur visits a world where the British Empire never ended. This issue is reasonably fun and convoluted, but it would have been better with Alan Davis artwork.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #243 (Marvel, 1991) – This issue concludes the three-part story with Zukala and Karanthes, and leads into Roy Thomas’s adaptation of Black Colossus. It’s pretty fun. It’s interesting that in the first full story of his new Conan run, Roy chose to revisit characters and settings from his previous run.

ASTONISHING X-MEN #15 (Marvel, 2006) – This was the only issue of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men that I was missing. It’s an early installment of the story arc where the new Hellfire Club invades the mansion. It’s probably most memorable for the last panel, which is based on the last panel of X-Men #132, but with Kitty instead of Wolverine.

S.H.I.E.LD. #11 (Marvel, 2015) – This issue guest-stars Dominic Fortune and is drawn by Howard Chaykin. It’s a funny and nostalgic piece of work, but Howie’s artwork has declined significantly since he created this character.

HELLBLAZER #58 (DC, 1992) – “Body and Soul” is the end of a multipart story about a man who uses corpses, and sometimes living people, for ballistics research. Constantine defeats him by summoning the ghosts of the people whose bodies he’s descrated, and then Chas kills him in cold blood. The thing that stood out to me the most about this story is Steve Dillon’s mastery of facial expressions, especially in the panel showing Constantine and Chas’s reaction to the news that their bodies are going to be used for target practice.

DOOM PATROL #38 (DC, 1990) – “Lost in Space” is so weird that I won’t even try to summarize it. But that’s a good thing. It includes the line “Each side would ignore the other in an attempt to irritate the enemy into submission.”

SUPERMAN ADVENTURES #13 (DC, 1997) – Surprisingly delightful. In “Grand Slam,” Superman and Lois go to a baseball game, which is interrupted by an alien invasion. The aliens force Superman to fight a duel with their champion, and the announcers for the baseball game provide commentary on the battle, in exactly the same style they were using to comment on the game. Besides being clever and cute, this comic makes me nostalgic for when baseball was a genuine national pastime, rather than an arcane sport that only appeals to obsessed fans.

DEATH RATTLE #1 (Kitchen Sink, 1985) – This is a revival of an anthology that was previously published in black and white in the ‘70s. It begins with Rand Holmes’s “Killer Planet,” which is basically an X-rated version of a Wally Wood story from Weird Science. Rand Holmes is one of my favorite underrated cartoonists, though this isn’t his best work. Next is “Ill Bred” by Charles Burns, a horror story that’s sort of a preview of Black Hole. The issue also includes a three-pager by Charles Dallas, in a style that’s reminiscent of Jack Jackson’s historical comics. I’m not familiar with Dallas at all, and in the first page that comes up when you Google him, it says that he vanished from the industry in about 1976, which is obviously false.

DNAGENTS #10 (Eclipse, 1984) – An average issue of an unjustly forgotten comic. The most notable thing that happens in this issue is that the DNAgents encounter the new Crossfire and discover that he’s not the old Crossfire. As usual with Will Meugniot’s comics, this issue includes some gratuitous T&A.

NEW X-MEN #132 (Marvel, 2002) – One of the few Morrison x-Men comics I hadn’t read. In “Ambient Magnetic Fields,” a ghost is haunting the killing fields in Genosha, but it turns out to be Polaris. Phil Jimenez’s artwork in this issue is very effective.

New comics received on January 22:

MS. MARVEL #3 (Marvel, 2016) – A fun but predictable conclusion to the Dr. Faustus story arc. I like that Kamala is okay with Bruno and Mike’s relationship. I don’t know where this series is going next.

LUMBERJANES #22 (Boom!, 2016) – I think this was Kat Leyh’s best issue yet, and not just because of the sea shanty, which can be sung to the tune of “Blow the Man Down.” After an unimpressive first storyline, Kat Leyh is finally showing that she understands the Lumberjanes aesthetic.

ASTRO CITY #31 (DC, 2016) – This is a fairly standard superhero story, but the gimmick is that it’s narrated by every person in Astro City at once, since the protagonist is the Living Nightmare, who’s the embodiment of the dreams of everyone in the city. This results in an interesting story, but I feel that Kurt could have done even more with this premise. The people powering the Living Nightmare all sound very similar to each other; there’s not much linguistic diversity among them.

PATSY WALKER AKA HELLCAT #2 (Marvel, 2016) – Maybe my favorite comic of the week. I hope this comic sells well, because it’s really exciting; it has a very similar vibe to Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but seems slightly more mature. In this issue, Patsy gets fired from her job, then runs into her evil former best friend Hedy, then goes out for hamburgers with all the other superheroines.

SILVER SURFER #1 (Marvel, 2016) – The new Silver Surfer series is exactly the same as the old one; it has funny writing and thrilling artwork, and it blatantly panders to Doctor Who fans. I think I was able to identify about half of the protagonists involved in the battle at the end of the issue. Eve’s sister’s pregnancy was quite a surprise.

USAGI YOJIMBO #151 (Dark Horse, 2016) – One of the better issues since the revival. “The Bride” reminds me of my favorite Usagi story, “Images of a Winter’s Day,” in that in both stories Usagi gets fooled because he misunderstands the motivations of the people he’s working with. In “The Bride,” a woman hires Usagi to protect her from assassins, but it turns out she’s actually using him to kill the man who’s trying to assassinate her. It was obvious to me from early in the story that the bride wasn’t being entirely honest with Usagi, and I enjoyed the suspense of finding out what she was really up to.

SUPER ZERO #2 (Aftershock, 2016) – Another good issue of what may be Conner and Palmiotti’s first serious work. In this issue, Dru tries to become Spider-Man, having previously failed to be Batman.

BATGIRL #47 (DC, 2016) – This issue suffers from a lack of Babs Tarr artwork. I don’t remember much about it except that it’s a Batgirl/Spoiler team-up.

PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #6 (Image 2016) – I still don’t quite understand Phonogram, but this issue is a fairly effective conclusion to the entire franchise. Emily’s facial expression when she says “I’ve tried everything else. I may as well try changing” is just beautiful, and it’s a good example of Jamie McKelvie’s talent.

LUNA THE VAMPIRE #1 (IDW, 2016) – I was unenthusiastic about this comic at first, but Yasmin Sheikh’s artwork is beautiful. She reminds me of Joann Sfar more than anyone else. The best gag in the issue is where the batcat gets switched for the useless fat worm.

DOCTOR FATE #8 (DC, 2016) – I gave up on Paul Levitz because Worlds’ Finest was extremely unimpressive, but I finally bought an issue of this series, because it’s been getting excellent reviews. I thought this issue was just okay. Besides the talking cat, nothing in it particularly stood out.

UNCANNY X-MEN #224 (Marvel, 1987) – “The Dark Before the Dawn” is part of the build-up to “Fall of the Mutants.” Most of the issue focuses on Storm’s quest to kill Forge. Claremont’s work started to drop in quality after the Mutant Massacre, and this issue is just okay and not great.

SUPERMAN’S GIRLFRIEND LOIS LANE #102 (DC, 1970) – A typical bad Lois Lane comic. The new story in this issue is an offensive piece of Orientalism, in which Lois falls in love with an Indian rajah who turns out to be the devil. In the reprinted backup story, Lois drinks a de-aging potion because she wants to look younger, but it ends up de-aging her to infancy. Superman knows what’s going on and declines to do anything about it in order to embarrass Lois, and the story ends with a disgusting scene of Superman bottle-feeding baby Lois in front of Lana. Even for the Silver Age, this is some awful stuff.

HARLEY QUINN #24 (DC, 2016) – Another fun but forgettable Harley Quinn comic, in which Harley and her friends massacre a bunch of assassins. I’m starting to suffer from Harley fatigue, and I won’t be buying the new Harley title that was just announced.

AMAZING FOREST #1 (IDW, 2016) – I love Ulises Farinas’s art and I love reading his Facebook posts, so I had high hopes for his and Erick Freitas’s new anthology title, so I’m sorry to say that those hopes were not fulfilled. All the stories in this issue suffer from boring plots and unexciting shock endings, and the second and third stories are poorly reproduced. The best story in the issue is the last one, and that’s entirely because of Yumi Sakugawa’s artwork. I’d be more excited about future issues of this comic if Ulises were drawing instead of writing them.

FANTASTIC FOUR #213 (Marvel, 1979) – Even John Byrne artwork can’t save this boring Galactus/Terrax story. It includes Marv Wolfman’s pet characters, the Sphinx and Veritas, who were never as interesting as Marv thought they were.

HALO JONES #6 (Fleetway/Quality, 1987?) – Speaking of poor reproduction, this comic is so shoddily reproduced as to impair its readability. The material in this comic was meant to be seen at a much larger size, and it becomes difficult to parse when reduced to the size of a comic book. The Halo Jones story in this issue is amazing, but it’s only 10 pages, and this reprint series is probably the worst possible way to read this material.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #3 (Marvel, 2008) – As I was typing the title of this comic, my cat walked over my keyboard and typed an omega. I wonder if this is a coincidence or what. The main appeal of this comic is that it’s a showcase for Farel Dalrymple’s amazing storytelling skills. The actual story is not all that interesting and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

STARMAN #59 (DC, 1999) – This chapter of “Stars My Destination” reveals what’s been going on with Will Payton and Prince Gavyn – Will Payton is actually dead, and the Will Payton Starman was a reincarnation of Prince Gavyn, projected into Will’s body. Then Jack and his allies break into Jediah Rikane’s fortress but are betrayed by Medaphyll. This is all setup for the conclusion of the story, which I think happened in the next issue.

ADVENTURE TIME #32 (Boom!, 2014) – I am not a regular Adventure Time viewer, but this comic is pretty fun. It includes stories by both Kat Leyh and Ryan North.

SUPREME: THE RETURN #1 (Awesome, 1999) – An excellent comic, despite Rob Liefeld’s best efforts to ruin it with poor publication design. This issue must have continued a story that ended on a cliffhanger in the previous incarnation of this title, because it begins in media res, with Supreme and Suprema trying to capture a lot of escaped villains. An interesting wrinkle that Alan introduces in this story is that Radar (i.e. Krypto) can kill people even if Supreme (Superman) can’t.


First reviews of 2016


Going to write these reviews now, while the comics are fresh in my mind.

ADVENTURE TIME #10 (Kaboom!, 2012) – I am not a regular Adventure Time viewer or reader – shocking, I know – and I only bought this because it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure story, which is relevant to my research. This is the only CYOA comic I’ve seen that’s even remotely comparable to Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile in terms of its exploitation of the comics medium. Instead of just giving the reader a choice at the end of each page, like Unwritten #17, it uses trails, like Meanwhile, and the trails go all over the place and branch off in multiple directions. Also, there’s an in-story explanation for the CYOA format: the Ice King has cast a spell that deprives Jake and Finn of their free will and gives control over them to another person, namely the reader. This comic is not as successful as Meanwhile, but it comes close, which is an impressive achievement in itself. I need to read more of Ryan North’s Adventure Time comics.

CHEW #53 (Image, 2015) – I’ve complained before about how this series isn’t going anywhere, but this issue at least advances the plot somewhat, and also has some fun scenes with dinosaurs. Still, the jokes in this comic aren’t as funny as they used to be.

THE ISLAND #4 (Image, 2015) – This is perhaps the best issue yet because it includes long stories by two of my favorite current cartoonists, Brandon Graham and Farel Dalrymple. I love Farel’s draftsmanship and his visual storytelling, but I typically find it impossible to understand what’s going on in his comics, and the Pop Gun War story in this issue is no exception to that. I don’t think it would have made sense even if I had read the previous Pop Gun War book. The artwork is spectacular, though. The story includes both a color segment and a black-and-white segment, and both are equally masterful. The Multiple Warheads story is a bit odd because it includes Nik but not Sexica, and it introduces some new characters and plot threads whose relevance is not clear. But it’s a Brandon Graham comic, so it’s good. The issue ends with a wordless story by Gael Bertrand, whose draftsmanship is excellent but whose work is rather derivative of both Moebius and manga.

WARP GRAPHICS ANNUAL #1 (WaRP, 1986) – The cover of this issue promises “eight great stories” but I think only the first and the third of those words are accurate. All the stories are at least readable, though, and together they present a good overview of fantasy comics in the mid-‘80s. Most of the work in this issue seems heavily influenced by Elfquest in one way or another. The one that interested me most was the Thunderbunny story, but it’s not nearly as metatextual or in-jokey as the other Thunderbunny comic I just read.

PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL #5 (Image, 2015) – The cover of this issue is based on Dire Straits’s “Money for Nothing” video, but I didn’t detect any references to that video in the issue itself. Of all the issues yet, this one was probably the most understandable; I was more or less able to figure out what was going on here, which is often not the case with Phonogram.

THE CHRONICLES OF CORUM #4 (First, 1987) – I’ve read the novel that this is based on, but it’s not one of Moorcock’s better works, and I hardly remember anything about it. What’s most interesting about this comic is that it’s an early work by Mike Mignola. At this point in his career, Mike was still developing an individual style, and his art here looks more like P. Craig Russell’s art than like his own later work. There were only a couple panels in this issue (e.g. the panel on page 4 with Corum kicking the door down) where I was like, yeah, this looks like a panel by Mike Mignola.

TRUE LOVE #1 (Eclipse, 1986) – I bought this comic mostly because of the Dave Stevens cover, but the other contents are interesting too. This is a collection of romance comics published by Standard from 1952 to 1954, including two stories by Alex Toth and one by Nick Cardy. The two Toth stories are the most intriguing things in the issue; his storytelling is excellent, as usual, and he uses an interesting visual device where each caption box contains a visaul representation of what the caption is about. (For example, one caption reads “Then one Sunday afternoon, when we were entertaining friends…” and below the caption is a drawing of some records.) The Nick Cardy story doesn’t look much like Nick Cardy to me, but it’s unintentionally funny because the male love interest is named Todd Reynolds, and I know a real person by that name. Unsurprisingly, these stories are full of ‘50s sexism. In one of them, a woman helps a man fix the engine of his boat, and she has to explain that she knows how to do this because “my dad’s an engineer! He wanted a boy and he’s tried to make one out of me!”

BLUE BEETLE #3 (Charlton, 1967) – The credited writer of this issue is D.C. Glanzman, Sam Glanzman’s brother, but it was really both written and drawn by Steve Ditko. The fact that Ditko wrote it is obvious from the heavy-handed moralizing; for example, the criminals gloat about how much they enjoy stealing money they didn’t earn. The story in this issue is complicated and exciting, and is part of a longer multi-part storyline; for reasons which are not explained, Ted Kord wants to see Dan Garret but can’t find him, and he still hasn’t found him by the end of the issue. The main draw of this issue for me is Ditko’s artwork. The ‘60s were probably the best period of his career. His art in this issue is amazingly energetic, full of vitality and vigor, and it has a roundedness and suppleness that contrasts with the harsh rectilinearity of some other Charlton comics.

AW YEAH COMICS! #5 (Aw Yeah Comics!, 2013) – The main story in this issue introduces Reaction Cat, who does the reverse of everything Action Cat does. One of the contributors to this issue is Chris Roberson and Allison Baker’s daughter Georgina, and there’s an interview with her on the inside back cover. I really like this comic and I want to read more of it, but I only ever see it at conventions, where there’s lots of other competition for my money.

MS. TREE #42 (Renegade, 1987) – This is a bit disappointing because the Ms. Tree story is only 12 pages. It does include a funny scene where some criminals kidnap Mike Tree Jr and his new girlfriend (who turns out to be Dominique Muerta’s daughter), and then they’re shocked to learn who Mike’s stepmother is. The issue also includes a Johnny Dynamite backup which, as usual, is both well-written and overly text-heavy.


Thanks to MLA and other general busyness, I didn’t manage to read many comics in the last 16 days. I did not buy any comic books at all while in Houston for MLA. There was only one comic book store in walking distance of the convention center, and its back issue prices sucked.

RAT QUEENS #14 (Image, 2015) – Overall fairly good. The highlight of the issue is the scene with Betty and the dragon. But this story has been dragging on for a while, and the series comes out so infrequently that it’s tough to remember what’s been going on.

JUGHEAD #3 (Archie, 2015) – I must have enjoyed this when I read it, but I barely remember anything about it now. The dream sequence this issue is based on The Man from UNCLE, I think.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #10 (IDW, 2015) – If Emma Vieceli was a big step down from Sophie Campbell, then Corin Howell is an even bigger step down from Emma Vieceli. I don’t like her artwork this issue at all. Her facial expressions are ugly, her draftsmanship is crude, and she leaves out the backgrounds. As a result, this was a disappointing issue, though it was nice seeing the story from Rio’s perspective.

ROCKET RACCOON AND GROOT #1 (Marvel, 2015) – The main thing I remember from this issue is the “Me are Shrub” character. Especially since his introduction comes right after a caption saying that Rocket and Groot are totally unique and can never be replicated. But so far I’m not enjoying this series as much as the Groot series that just ended.

HOWARD THE DUCK #3 (Marvel, 2015) – Another comic that I enjoyed but can’t remember much about. I do like the footnote about “not that Howard the Duck #2, the other one.”

HARLEY QUINN AND POWER GIRL #6 (DC, 2015) – Finally the wedding actually happens, but I don’t quite get why PG was willing to go through with it. Vartox’s robot family is very disturbing. This was only an okay miniseries and I’m not sorry that it’s over.

BLACK MAGICK #3 (Image, 2015) – I can’t remember much about this except that there’s a cute cat in it. Overall this is a fairly high-quality series.

REVENGER #1 (Comixology, 2015) – Another free Comixology Submit comic that was distributed at NYCC. Also the first comic I’ve read by Chuck Forsman. The artwork is deliberately crude but enjoyable. The story is intentionally quite violent; I can see the similarity to Ben Marra’s Terror Assaulter book, which I own but have not yet read. After reading this comic, I feel mildly interested in reading Forsman’s graphic novel TEOTFW.

BLACK CANARY #6 (DC, 2015) – Annie Wu is back. I hadn’t been enjoying her artwork on this series, but this issue is better. Just flipping through it, I’m impressed by the coloring in the battle-of-the-bands sequence. The reference to Pomeline near the end of the issue is surprising.

LIFE WITH ARCHIE #222 (Archie, 1981) – I must have read this issue before MLA, because I remember telling Bart Beaty about the first story in it. “The Silks of Svengasi” opens with an amazing page where Hiram Lodge is lying on the couch, his beard unshaven, his clothes loose, and his head surrounded by emanata bubbles. It turns out that this is because his new business partner has supplied him with clothes that cause extreme laziness. It’s a very funny premise which is executed well by George Gladir and Stan Goldberg. I can’t remember the other stories in the issue.

SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND LOIS LANE #135 (DC, 1973) – This issue is about a cult leader who tricks rich people into committing suicide. It’s a stupid and forgettable story, and it’s no wonder that this series only lasted two more issues.

LUCIFER #1 (DC, 2015) – I bought this because I’m interested in Holly Black’s writing (I have two of her books, neither of which I’ve read yet), but it’s hard to understand because it assumes knowledge of Mike Carey’s Lucifer. This is very odd considering that most other DC titles are fairly free of old continuity. This issue is okay, but I don’t know if it’s worth the effort to try to understand it.

LOKI, AGENT OF ASGARD #10 (Marvel, 2015) – I think I chose to read this because Lucifer reminds me of Loki. This comic is okay, but it’s slightly hard to follow with all the different Lokis, and it’s not clearly relevant to the current Thor series. Watching Thor beat up Loki was pretty frightening.

HELLBOY AND THE BPRD #3 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This comic is just not exciting. I’ve tried to get into the Hellboy spinoff comics, and I’ve failed because Hellboy without Mignola artwork is not interesting to me. There are more fun things I could be reading.

ODDLY NORMAL #4 (Image, 2014) – This is a reasonably fun comic, I guess, but Otis Frampton is just not capable of taking full advantage of his premise (a human girl in a world where imaginary things are real). There are other kid-oriented SF/fantasy comics out there that are much more creative, like Zita the Spacegirl or Cleopatra in Space.

New comics that came while I was at MLA:

A-FORCE #1 (Marvel, 2016) – This is a lot, lot better than the A-Force miniseries. Singularity finally gets to talk, and her voice is perfect; she speaks in single words and exclamation marks. It’s nice that She-Hulk is still an active part of the Marvel universe even though her title was unfortunately cancelled. After reading this, I’m looking forward to the next issue, and I couldn’t have said that about most of the issues of the miniseries.

THE VISION #3 (Marvel, 2016) – Tom King may be the best prose stylist in the industry right now; he seriously reminds me of Neil Gaiman in his darker moments. His writing in this issue is dark and grim and creates a sense of horror through understatement. And the scene with Agatha and Ebony is terrifying.

PAPER GIRLS #4 (Image, 2016) – This is another good issue, but I read it very late at night just after returning from MLA, and I can’t recall it very well. The giant sphere with all the eyes coming out of it is a brilliant image. And I like the horizontally formatted Arkanoid scene, though who knows what’s going on there.

ARCHIE #5 (Archie, 2016) – This is a fairly good issue, but I feel like Archie ought to be the company’s flagship title, and right now it’s not nearly as good as Jughead. Chip Zdarsky is probably a better writer than Mark Waid right now, and I’m very surprised that that’s the case. I think the highlight of the issue is the fake ID that says “Trip Zerdersky.”

DOCTOR STRANGE #4 (Marvel, 2016) – This opening story arc might have been better if it had shown Dr. Strange dealing with his usual mystical threats, instead of having a nonmagical villain. I say this because Aaron and Bachalo are quite good at depicting Dr. Strange’s magical environment. They make Dr. Strange feel like a Lovecraftian character, which is a logical and mostly original approach. (The name Shuma-Gorath comes from Robert E. Howard, but otherwise the links between Dr. Strange and weird fiction have not been sufficiently exploited.) And as a book historian, I thought that the scene with the books dying was both clever and tragic.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #24 (IDW, 2016) – This issue was underwhelming because it lost track of its own plot. Rarity goes to Griffonstone to make new uniforms for the boffyball team, but then she becomes a member of the team herself, and the uniforms are completely forgotten until the very end of the issue. It’s also weird that this issue is a sports story but it doesn’t include Rainbow Dash at all.

GIANT DAYS #10 (Boom!, 2016) – I’m surprised this series is already on issue ten. It’s one of the best humor comics on the market and I’ll be sad when it ends with issue 12; I think it could easily be an ongoing series. This issue introduces Esther’s giant metal-loving friend who turns out to be a teen mother.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: BEST STORY EVER #1 (Marvel, 2015) – I bought this one-shot because it has Rocket Raccoon and Groot in it, but I never got around to reading it. This story is heavily based on the movie continuity, and uses the movie’s version of Gamora and Nebula’s relationship. It’s a pretty average comic and I’m not sure what the point of it was.

WEIRDWORLD #2 (Marvel, 2016) – This ongoing series is far better than the miniseries that preceded it. Sam Humphries is doing a great job of exploiting Mike del Mundo’s prodigious talent. A highlight is page two, where Becca almost gets eaten by a giant frog and a giant snail and a giant spider and lots of other stuff. And I love the idea of Ogeode the wizard being turned into a little cat with horns.

SPIDER-GWEN #4 (Marvel, 2016) – This issue is just okay. I think the best thing in it was the flashback to Gwen, Harry and Peter’s past together.

MYSTERY GIRL #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – This series has a very similar tone to Bandette, but the lack of Colleen Coover’s artwork makes it much less exciting. Without the incredible energy of Colleen’s art, Paul’s writing seems bland rather than subtly charming. I’ll continue reading this miniseries, but it’s not what I hoped for.

BITCH PLANET #6 (Image, 2016) – I think this is the first time I’ve seen a trigger warning on a comic book, unless the cover of Miracleman #9 counts, and it led me to expect that this comic would be even more brutal than it was. But this is still an excellent issue that helps restore my somewhat flagging interest in this comic. The depiction of life on regular non-Bitch-Planet Earth is chilling and eerily plausible. Meiko’s father doesn’t look Japanese to me at all. I like the scene where he brushes away some thought balloons – it reminds me of the scene in the Scott Pilgrim movie where Scott brushes away the word “love”.

BRAVEST WARRIORS #31 (Boom!, 2015) – I went back and read this because I’ve gotten interested in Kate Leth’s writing, thanks to Patsy Walker. There are two stories here, one about summer camp and another about aliens who are fans of the Bravest Warriors. The highlight of the issue is the cliffhanger ending of the first story, which involves a giant white furry monster.

New comics received on Friday, January 15. This was a very light week. I think I’ll be able to finish all the comics I received in this shipment (besides one graphic novel, Rosalie Lightning) before the next shipment arrives, which will be a first. As usual, it was hard for me to give these comics the attention they deserved, because I was coming off of two very busy weeks.

STARFIRE #8 (DC, 2016) – A very satisfying resolution to Kory and Dick’s relationship. These two characters used to be my absolute favorite comics couple, but both of them have moved on, and Kory no longer needs Dick to be a fully realized character, pun intended. Also, the sexual tension in this story is hilarious. I LOLed at the line “When I wear jeans, this phone vibrates in my front pocket, but only for a few seconds, which is a shame.” This version of Kory is a genuine depiction of a “woman who [is] firmly in charge of her sexual agency,” as Scott Lobdell said about his exploitative and offensive version of this character.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #14 (DC, 2016) – I love how Maps is sticking her head out of her photograph on the cover. This issue is exciting because it includes short stories drawn by Dustin Nguyen, Katie Cook and Hope Larson. The stories by Dustin and Katie are excellent. One is about a flying vampire goat and the other is about cat videos, so either of these stories would have been worth the price of the issue on its own. But the Hope Larson story feels seriously out of place. I couldn’t tell what this story had to do with Gotham Academy (I didn’t even remember who Isla Macpherson was), and I ended up wondering if this story may have been originally intended for publication in another venue entirely.

ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS #3 (Marvel, 2016) – Adam Kubert’s art this issue is seriously unimpressive. There were points where it was hard to even tell what was going on. Clearly the highlight of this series is Kamala, but she only got about one good scene this issue, though it was a really good scene (the one with the “fan turned pro” line).

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #38 (IDW, 2016) – I was surprised to discover that this issue ends on a cliffhanger, because it doesn’t seem like enough of a story for two issues. This story is a nice dissection of the relationship between the CMC and Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon. But it does suffer from the fact that it was written before “Crusaders of the Lost Mark,” so it doesn’t reflect the massive changes that the characters experienced in that episode.

THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN #1 (DC, 2016) – This is the best Wonder Woman origin story ever, besides George Perez’s first issue, and it does some things better than Perez did. I love the idea that only some of the Amazons are immortal, because it means that Diana gets to grow up with other children her own age. (And also that there’s a plausible explanation for Wonder Girl.) Ray Dillon’s artwork in this issue is very good; he has the unusual ability to depict women of multiple different ages. And I really like the conceit that Wonder Woman is different from the other Amazons because of her interest in war. It makes me think that she’s a great example of a red/white character, according to the Magic: The Gathering color scheme. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t order issue 2 of this series because I heard someone said something negative about it on Facebook. I’m also frustrated that Renae de Liz and Ray Dillon are stuck doing a Wonder Woman spinoff, when they’re vastly more talented than the people working on the regular Wonder Woman title.

SILK #1 (Marvel, 2015) – This is the first issue of the second volume of Silk. I didn’t read it when it came out. I think the reason for my lack of excitement about Silk is that she seems like a worse version of Spider-Gwen. They both have the same gimmick of being female versions of Spider-Man, but the out-of-costume portions of Gwen’s stories are more interesting. Cindy Moon’s main selling point was her ethnicity, but this has very little impact on the story. This comic is fun and easy to read, but it’s not one of Marvel’s better titles.

SILK #2 (Marvel, 2015) – This issue has a new artist with a very different style from the artist of the previous issue, but otherwise it’s quite similar.

SILK #3 (Marvel, 2016) – Another okay but not great issue. I like the scene with Cindy visiting a psychiatrist.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #316 (Marvel, 1989) – This is a rare example of a classic ‘80s comic that I hadn’t read before. Todd McFarlane’s run on Amazing Spider-Man was one of the first examples of a comic drawn in the ‘90s Image style, so it set kind of a bad precedent for the industry as a whole. Therefore, it’s easy to forget that Todd drew some very impressive Spider-Man comics, which were also David Michelinie’s best stories with the character. This issue is the first part of the second major Venom story. Venom has been thoroughly domesticated to the point where no one cares about him before, but in the ‘80s he was seriously terrifying, as indicated by the fact that Peter is primarily concerned with escaping from him rather than fighting him. The only thing I don’t like about this comic is the excessive amount of T&A in the artwork.

NEW ROMANCER #2 (DC, 2016) – Like most of the new Vertigo titles, this is a bit underwhelming, but it’s worth it for the scene with Byron hanging out the window while quoting from “She Walks in Beauty.” The line after the one he quotes is “a heart whose love is innocent,” which maybe explains something about Byron’s attitude to Alexia. Oh, and then on the page after that, there’s the exchange about the poem Alexia wrote when she was 14. I’m not thrilled by the plot of this comic, but the interplay between Alexia and Byron is fascinating.

THE MIGHTY THOR #3 (Marvel, 2016) – This is kind of a generic Thor comic, but it’s very well-drawn and even well-written. The climactic page where Jane realizes she’s stopped thinking about cancer is pretty good. I like the panel with all the different versions of Loki, including Cat Loki from Squirrel Girl.

TINY TITANS: RETURN TO THE TREEHOUSE #3 (DC, 2014) – This is a typical Tiny Titans comic, meaning it’s fun, but readable in five minutes.

VERTIGO ESSENTIALS: LUCIFER #1 (Vertigo 2016) – Half this issue is a reprint of the original Carey/Weston Lucifer #1, the other half is a catalog of DC graphic novels. Lucifer #1 is a good introduction to the series; it’s cleverly written and beautifully drawn.


My contribution to “Counterpublics of Underground Comix”

This is my presentation for the MLA 2016 roundtable on “Counterpublics of Underground Comix,” which was organized by Leah Misemer and Margaret Galvan. It was a fantastic panel and I was proud to be part of it. I only had 5 to 7 minutes, so I had to leave out a lot of material — for example, my delightful discovery that “Pluto’s” in Omaha the Cat Dancer is based on the real-life Goofy’s.

Here is the accompanying slide presentation:

I have way too much material, so please cut me off if I go over time. This paper is something I’m mostly interested in for personal reasons, but I would be interested in developing it into a longer paper if anyone knows of a home for it. And I’m grateful to Leah and Maggie for giving me the opportunity to research this topic, because this is a personal project for me. I grew up in Minneapolis and the events I’m going to talk about literally shaped the city I lived in, yet I would never have known about them if I hadn’t done the research.

So when we think of underground comics or counterpublics, we typically think of larger cities on one coast or the other. New York or San Francisco or Montreal. We would not typically think of a midsized Midwestern city like Minneapolis as the center of a major countercultural scene or as a center of underground comics production. When we think about Minnesooooo-da, we often think of it as a quaint, provincial place. SLIDE 1 We associate it with things like Fargo and Garrison Keillor and lutefisk and yaah, you betcha. And yet in this city alternative comics played a small but significant role in constructing a local counterpublic.

Now Minneapolis has historically been a very cultured city. It’s the home of Prince and Louise Erdrich and Neil Gaiman and the Walker Art Center. SLIDE 2 And in the ‘80s, downtown Minneapolis was a happening place. Or alternately, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. It was the sort of place Tom Waits sings about, and in fact there are two different Tom Waits songs about Minneapolis. And in particular, there was one particular stretch of Hennepin Avenue that was considered “an island of tawdry naughtiness in the center of squeaky-clean downtown Minneapolis.”the center of Minneapolis’s urban cultural and subcultural scene was a specific block of Hennepin Avenue known as Block E SLIDE 3. Businesses on Block E included a dive bar called Moby Dick’s where you could get a whale of a drink, two adult theaters, a flophouse hotel, and two locations of a newsstand called Shinders that sold both porn and comic books. There was also a  According to one article, it was “an island of tawdry naughtiness in the center of squeaky-clean downtown Minneapolis.” In 1987, it accounted for more than 1 percent of all the police calls in the entire city. But it was also a center of the local countercultural scene. It included an art gallery called Rifle Sport and a music venue called Goofy’s Upper Deck, and it was one of the city’s major hangouts for punks. SLIDE 4 Nonetheless, Block E was seen as such an embarrassment to the city that in 1988 the city council purchased all the buildings on the block and demolished them. There was an official celebration where a city council member sang a song that went “”Pack up all your crime and porn / Block of scorn, be reborn / Bye bye Block E.” SLIDE 5 They hoped to find new tenants for it, but that didn’t happen, so Block E was a parking lot for over a decade and then a shopping mall SLIDE 6 and currently it’s a practice facility for the Minnesota Timberwolves. SLIDE 7 So there’s nothing left of the Block E of the ‘70s and ‘80s. It represents a moment in Minneapolis history which is now forgotten except by the people who personally experienced it. The only reason I know any of this history is because during and after all these events, Reed Waller and Kate Worley wrote about them in a comic book called Omaha the Cat Dancer. SLIDE 8

Now Omaha was published from 1981 to 2012, after the underground comic era, though it was originally published by a notable underground publisher, Kitchen Sink. It’s what would normally be called a furry comic, but the creators resisted that label and called it a funny animal comic instead. It’s about the adventures of an exotic dancer, and besides the fact that all the characters are animals, it’s a fairly realistic comic that could be categorized as either crime or romance or slice-of-life. But like Block E, Omaha acquired sort of a poor reputation due to its explicit treatment of sex. It includes explicit sex scenes in almost every issue, and it’s been described as an example of sex-positive feminism, because it shows that the characters enjoy sex and that sex is a healthy component of their lives. Of course because of this Omaha, again like Block E, was frequently the target of censorship and repression. In 1986 the owner of a comic book store called Friendly Frank’s was arrested for selling obscene comics and Omaha was one of the comics in question, and this was the case that led to the creation of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.

But Omaha not only appeals to the sort of people who would have patronized Block E, the planned destruction of Block E is the central event in the comic’s plot. Omaha takes place in Mipple City which is a loosely fictionalized version of Minneapolis, and in Mipple City there’s a place called Block A which is the center of the local counter-culture, it’s where Omaha works and where her musician friends perform. It also becomes the central battleground in a culture war. Local Puritanical elements, led by the state senator Bonner, start a “Campaign for Decency” to get Block A demolished, allegedly because it’s immoral and it atracts crime – which, again, was exactly why Block E was demolished in real life. But Waller and Worley also suggest that the campaign to demolish Block A is politically motivated, because the local power brokers want to use the site for their own purposes. SLIDE – PAGE 28 OF OMAHA #6 The catch, of course, is that Bonner himself frequents strip clubs and has a bondage fetish, so his decency campaign is completely hypocritical. And the hypocrisy of puritanical attitudes about sex is a common theme of Omaha – like, there’s a scene in a later issue where Omaha moves to a small town and goes to work in an office and is so infuriated by the constant sexual harassment she receives, that she quits and goes to work at the local strip club instead. SLIDE 9 SLIDE 10 SLIDE 11

So the interesting thing is the way these events play out. In real life as far as I can tell, there was no serious organized opposition to the demolition of Block A. The main objection to demolishing Block E was that all the riff-raff would just go elsewhere. But in Omaha, the main character’s boyfriend Chuck Tabey and their friend Jerry Davidson manage to save Block A by organizing public opposition to the demolition project and mustering enough city council votes to defeat it. And not only that, as part of the fallout from the Block A scandal, Senator Bonner is murdered and the mayor of Mipple City and his cronies are convicted of crimes including the murder of a different person, so basically the good guys win, that is, the liberal and sex-positive elements of Mipple City triumph over the conservative and repressive elements,  which, again, is the opposite of what happened in real life. What Waller and Worley were doing here was imagining a utopian future for Minneapolis, a counterfactual series of events where things played out differently from in real life. So again, the takeaway here is that alternative comics can be used as a tool for community-building and for the creation of counterpublics in all sorts of contexts, that their scope is not limited to San Francisco and New York, and also that alternative comics can be a tool for recording and memorializing local histories that would otherwise be forgotten.


Last reviews of 2015 and first of 2016

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #4 (Action Lab, 2015) – I love this comic’s artwork and I love the concept, but it needs a better writer. Kyle Puttkammer’s writing never quite manages to capture the comedic potential of a team of cat superheroes, and his characters don’t act like real cats.

ANT-MAN #3 (Marvel, 2015) – I still enjoy Ramon Rosanas’s artwork, but I’ve gotten sick of Nick Spencer’s writing. This comic is an example of the fatal flaws in his Ant-Man run: he writes Scott Lang as an irresponsible ass, and Cassie Lang as a helpless hostage. And according to the excerpts that I’ve read on Scans_Daily, he’s now performing a similar job of character assassination upon Darla Deering. The main thing I liked about this comic is its callbacks to Scott Lang’s first appearances in Marvel Premiere.

JOURNEY #10 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1984) – I love this comic, though I usually read it out of order and therefore I have difficulty following the plot or keeping the characters straight. The main story beat in this issue is that Joshua MacAlistaire is staying with his friend Martin and his Indian wife and their child, and it soon becomes clear that the marriage is not working ideally and that Joshua has an unrequited passion for the wife. There’s also a rather touching subplot involving Martin’s lost dog. What I like about this comic is its (as far as I can tell) realistic and sensitive portrayal of the American frontier and of white-Indian relations in the early 19th century. One of the admirable aspects of Joshua’s character is his respect for people who many of his countrymen considered to be subhuman savages.

CATWOMAN #37 (DC, 2015) – I bought the first few issues of this run because Genevieve Valentine is a well-respected SF writer, although I haven’t read any of her work yet – I plan on getting around to Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti pretty soon. Anyway, the initial response to her Catwoman run was not great, and I didn’t read any of the issues I bought, and after a few months I stopped buying them. I decided to go back and read this issue after I saw some more positive reviews of this run, but I was unimpressed. This comic seems like a generic piece of crime fiction, its plot is impossible to follow without having read issue 36, and there are no actual cats in it.

IMAGINE AGENTS #3 (Boom!, 2013) – This series is only moderately well written, but I love the concept, and Bachan does a great job of imagining what children’s imaginary friends might look like. I have the fourth issue of this miniseries but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

New comics received on December 26. This was a light week, and there were only five comics I felt motivated to read immediately.

SAGA #32 (Image, 2015) – After reading this, I felt like it may have been the best Saga of the year, though I can’t recall why exactly. Instead of following up on last issue’s cliffhanger, this issue shows us what Marko and Alana have been doing while Hazel was in prison. Maybe the most successful thing about this issue is the way that BKV handles the issue of Marko hitting Alana. When Marko threw the bag of groceries at Alana, I thought that was going to be the end of their marriage and also the end of Marko as a sympathetic character, but BKV somehow managed to convince me that Marko is a genuinely chnaged man and that Alana is willing to forgive him, even if he can’t forgive himself. The funniest thing in the issue is the flaming dude accidentally setting the hall of records on fire.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #2 (Marvel, 2015) – This was not quite as earth-shaking as last issue, but Lunella is still the best Marvel character since Kamala Khan, and her growing rapport with Devil is extremely cute. And that panel with the monkeys coming out of the subway wearing human clothes is amazing.

ASTRO CITY #30 (DC, 2015) – This is a fine conclusion to the Invaders from Earth story. I do wish the aliens had been a bit more alien; their society is essentially the same as America except for cosmetic changes and the fact that all the adults are brainwashed. (Maybe that’s not any different from America. I don’t know.) Though I guess the similarity between Zirros and America makes this story useful as a political allegory. I like that Kurt resisted the temptation to turn this story into a white savior narrative. Karl Furst (who is a really cute kid) gives Zozat the desire to change his society, but at the end of the story, it’s clear that Zozat has a long hard struggle ahead of him, and that he’ll need to do the hard work himself.

PRINCELESS: MAKE YOURSELF #0 (Action Lab, 2015) – Jeremy Whitley wrote some great comics in 2015, and this is one of the best. We already know from the Secret Wars: Secret Love story that Jeremy knows something about black people’s hair, and in this issue, hair is the entire focus of the story. Jeremy uses hair as a metaphor for how Adrienne’s spent her whole life trying to live up to white people’s expectations, and how she’s not going to do that anymore. The splash page where we see Adrienne’s new hairstyle for the first time is very very powerful. I don’t know if Jeremy consciously based this story on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, but there are some definite similarities between the two, and this comic is a great demonstration of why Jeremy is such a great writer and such an important voice for diversity.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT! #1 (Marvel, 2015) – Kate Leth is another terrific writer who doesn’t get the respect she deserves, and I hope this comic will help make her a star. This comic is clearly influenced by Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – it has a bunch of snarky metatextual captions, and Kate has a similar prose style to Ryan North. But in the first place, I feel that another comic that’s similar to Squirrel Girl can only be a good thing. In the second place, this comic has a different vibe from Squirrel Girl because it’s more about adult life. I can’t wait for issue 2 of this series.

Due to the lack of other comics that I felt obligated to read immediately, I instead decided to read some old comics that had been sitting around.

THE ISLAND #2 (Image, 2015) – I mostly enjoyed the first issue of this series, but I hadn’t read any of the other issues yet, mostly because each issue is like 100 pages. The best story in this issue is the one by Simon Roy. As far as I can tell, this story takes place on some kind of space habitat, where the security guards survive by cannibalizing the people they’re supposed to guard. Like Simon Roy’s Prophet stories, this story is a sophisticated piece of science fiction with a strange and evocative setting, and I look forward to reading more of it. The skateboard mummy story by Will Kirkby is okay, but kind of average, and it suffers from terrible lettering. I don’t like the Emma Rios story, and for that matter, I don’t particularly like any of her work – I still haven’t read the last two issues of Pretty Deadly.

INSEXTS #1 (Aftershock, 2015) – This is a fairly exciting debut issue, a combination of horror and gay romance in a Victorian setting. I’m not sure how historically accurate this comic is, but it’s very sexy and disgusting at once. I plan on continuing with this series at least for a few more issues.

CYBORG #4 (DC, 2015) – I’ve been hearing great things about this comic, but this issue did not impress me. It just seemed like a generic superhero comic with nothing especially notable about it.

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – SMOKE AND SHADOW #1 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Another excellent piece of work by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru. This story arc focuses on Zuko, who is maybe my least favorite member of Team Avatar, but Gene does a good job of developing his character and presenting him with interesting moral dilemmas.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #1 (Dark Horse, 2014) – This is another series that I bought but never read and therefore stopped buying. The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot story in this issue is an insult to the reader. Geof Darrow is still a brilliant artist but his writing is completely inept, and this story suffers from the same fatal flaw as Shaolin Cowboy: it’s full of identical-looking panels that look nice but have no relevance to the narrative. The stories in this issue by David Mack, Brendan McCarthy, and the team of Damon Gentry and Aaron Conley are much better. In particular, Aaron Conley’s artwork is much more readable in color than in black and white.

8HOUSE #4 (Image, 2015) – This is okay but it’s not the best issue of 8House. Apparently Fil Barlow and Helen Maier are well-known animators, but I’m not familiar with any of their shows. I do like the overall aesthetic of their artwork, which reminds me of 80’s and ‘90s children’s animation (not surprisingly, I guess), but the story in this issue is not as engaging as it could be. I wonder if 8House may have been an overly ambitious project.

WILD’S END #1 (Boom!, 2014) – Here’s another comic I’ve been buying and not reading. It’s a funny animal adaptation of War of the Worlds that takes place in the English countryside. It’s okay but nothing spectacular.

INFINITE KUNG FU #2 (Kagan McLeod, 2002) – I’m sorry I didn’t read this when it was coming out, because it’s really fun. It’s a funny combination of the martial arts and blaxploitation genres. Sooner or later I need to get the collected edition of this series.

THE BOOK OF BALLADS AND SAGAS #2 (Green Man, 1996) – Charles Vess’s writing is not particularly good, even when he’s adapting the work of others, but he’s probably the best living draftsman in American comics besides Mark Schultz. Every panel of these stories is just perfect; you get the sense that every single line is exactly where it needs to be. I seem to remember having read the “King Henry” story before, but I don’t know where. It previously appeared in DHP #78 but I don’t have that issue.

THE ISLAND #3 (Image, 2015) – There’s some really exciting material in this issue. The Sheehan and Ward story is a fascinating take on wearable computing. The Diraj Mann story made no sense at first, but then I figured out that it was narrated by four people standing in line next to each other at a nightclub. The Amy Clare is poorly reproduced and somewhat derivative of Brandon Graham, but for a first published work, it’s fairly impressive. The Kate Craig story, about the injured hiker, is very simple and effective.

LOSE #7 (Koyama, 2015) – The highlight of this issue is “Movie Star.” I initially got the impression that this story was a major departure from DeForge’s usual style and that it seemed more like a work by Adrian Tomine or Dan Clowes, besides being bizarrely drawn. Then when I read further, I realized that this story is just as horrific and uncanny as anything else by DeForge, only in a more subtle way. This story is a strong Eisner candidate. The backup story, about the aviary or whatever, is a much more typical work of DeForge.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #2 (Dark Horse, 2014) – The only thing in this issue I really liked was the one by Brendan McCarthy, and even that is too short. I actively disliked the Action Philosophers story. It’s yet another catalogue of logical fallacies, and like some of Van Lente and Dunlavey’s other work, it uses the images purely as illustrations and includes no meaningful interaction between image and text.

SAVAGE DRAGON #209 (Image, 2015) – Overall, this was the third worst comic of the year, ahead of only Strange Fruit and All-Star Section Eight. I should have quit reading it long ago, but I was morbidly curious about Maxine’s pregnancy. This issue could have been a really cute wedding story; however, it was ruined by the disgusting scene in which Terra apparently dies in childbirth. Which is another example of how this comic has been ruined by Erik Larsen’s lack of restraint or good taste.

THE SHERIFF OF BABYLON #1 (DC, 2015) – I had to read this comic about three times to understand what the hell was going on, and I’m not sure it was worth the effort.

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – SMOKE AND SHADOW #2 (Dark Horse, 2015) – More excellent work. Mai’s dad, the primary villain of this series, is an even less sympathetic character than Toph’s dad in the previous series; he’s a terrorist who kidnaps children, including his own child. I think Gurihiru are better artists than Gene Luen Yang himself is. The panel showing Aang’s reaction as he hugs Katara goodbye is a good example of the emotional depth of Gurihiru’s art.

PATRICK THE WOLF BOY: WEDDING SPECIAL 2003 (BlindWolf, 2003) – This early work of Art Baltazar and Franco is essentially a more crude version of Tiny Titans.

ELRIC #5 (Pacific, 1984) – This issue is an adaptation of one of the later sections of Elric of Melniboné. P. Craig Russell and Michael T. Gilbert’s adaptation of Moorcock is highly effective. I just finished reading Jack Vance’s Dying Earth series yesterday, and I found myself visualizing Cugel as looking like PCR and MTG’s depiction of Rackhir.

DARK CORRIDOR #1 (Image, 2015) – Yet another series I’ve been buying but not reading. In this case, I was buying it because Rich Tommaso seems like a well-respected artist, although I’ve never read any of his work. The artwork in this issue is excellent and shows a very sophisticated design sensibility, but the story is of no interest to me; it’s just a formulaic piece of crime fiction. I won’t be buying any more of this.

Next, the first four comics I read in 2016:

HEAD LOPPER #2 (Image, 2015) – A very strong follow-up to an excellent debut issue, although it consists mostly of fight scenes and ends on a cliffhanger. Andrew MacLean is a major new talent. His artwork still reminds me mostly of Mignola but also shows other influences.

ALABASTER: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE BIRD #1 (Dark Horse, 2015) – I bought this because I read and enjoyed Caitlin Kiernan’s novel The Drowning Girl, but she seems to be worse at writing comics than novels. This issue was not compelling at all; the one thing I liked about it is the maze that’s visible on both sides of the same page. I won’t be back for issue 2.

MS. TREE #7 (Eclipse, 1984) – This story explains how Dan lost his eye and his arm. Other than that it’s a fairly standard Ms. Tree story. The annoying thing about this issue is that it includes a four-page prose story. If I wanted to read prose fiction about detectives, I would just do that, instead of reading a comic book.

THUNDERBUNNY #1 (Archie, 1984) – This is one of those comics that’s ridiculously stupid and fun at the same time. The premise of a kid who turns into a super-powered bunny is absurd, but the writer and artist are aware of that and they don’t take themselves too seriously. This comic is also interesting on a metatextual level. The writer, Marty Greim, was an active fan who published the fanzine Comic Crusader. The second story in this issue takes place at a comic convention, and includes cameo appearances by Don Phelps, Paul Celli and Russ Cochran, all of whom were well-known fans (at least I think Paul Celli was, I can’t find much information about him). There’s one panel that clearly depicts Jack Kirby, and I assume most of the other characters in this story are also Tuckerizations of real people. In particular, I think the protagonist’s uncle Al is based on a real person, though I have no idea who. This story is a fun glimpse into an era of comics fandom that I didn’t experience personally. This was the only issue of Thunderbunny published by Archie, but six more issues were later published by WaRP, and I would buy those comics if I found them in a 50-cent box.