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.

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