Last week’s reviews

2-11-16

PAPER GIRLS #5 (Image, 2016) – I’m slowly starting to understand the plot here, but it’s confusing as hell, though also fun. The appearance of the future Erin at the end of the issue is a bit predictable but leaves me wondering what’s going to happen next. I love the idea of a “whenhouse” instead of a warehouse. In general, the plot of this series is intentionally difficult to understand, but BKV and Cliff Chiang are generating a lot of excitement.

ROCKET RACCOON AND GROOT #2 (Marvel, 2016) – So it turns out that when we saw Groot’s body covered with writing at the end of last issue, those were all clues to how Rocket can find him. The sequence with Groot following the clues is very cute, though full of unnecessary cameo appearances. And I guess somehow Groot thinks Lord Rakzoon really is Rocket. I’ve been unimpressed by some of Skottie’s recent Rocket comics, but this is a good one.

THE VISION #4 (Marvel, 2016) – An amazing series gets even better. The line about how Viv “didn’t live as long as she might have” is a horrible piece of foreshadowing, and confirms my impression that something awful is going to happen to Vizh’s family. The scene at the end of the issue is devastating. CK’s dad is a typical Trump voter; he scapegoats other people (well, androids) for his own problems, and refuses to accept responsibility for his son’s death, which is his own fault. It’s the toddler mentality: “look what you made me do.” In a way, this comic is a very typical American story: it’s about people (again with an asterisk) who just want to be left alone to live their lives, but whose neighbors refuse to let them.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #5 (ActionLab, 2016) – Jeremy Whitley said on Twitter that this was the most divisive issue of the series yet, but I really didn’t understand why. It seems rather uncontroversial to me, at least compared to the issue with the “not all men” moment. The important thing this issue demonstrates is that even though all the characters are women, that doesn’t mean that they’re all the same or that they all agree with each other. The plot of this issue is driven by the personality conflicts between Raven and Ximena and between Jayla and everyone else. Besides that, we also see that the various pirates all come from diverse backgrounds and have a wide range of experiences. So to that extent, this issue is a model of what a comic with an all-female cast should look like. “Whose choice was it when I got dressed this morning” is a throwaway line but it’s a powerful rebuttal to a common Islamophobic argument.

HOWARD THE DUCK #4 (Marvel, 2016) – As usual with this series, I enjoyed this issue but I can’t remember much about it now. Scout, the would-be herald of Galactus, is a cool new character, and Chip’s dialogue is as funny as ever.

GIANT DAYS #11 (Boom!, 2016) – I’m sorry that this series is ending. I don’t know why it has to. The big plot element in this issue is that Susan is so chronically sleep-deprived that she gets stuck in the “night world.” Also, there’s some relationship drama. Overall, this is one of the best miniseries of the year and perhaps the second best Boom Box title after Lumberjanes.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #25 (IDW, 2016) – Barbara Kesel is not my favorite pony writer, but this was a pretty good issue. In this story, Rainbow Dash’s wings mysteriously vanish and Twilight Sparkle has to help her figure out why. Rainbow Dash’s wings are a fundamental part of her identity, so Kesel generates a lot of storytelling potential by taking her wings away. The problem with this issue is that the ponies who stole Dashie’s wings actually do have a good point – it is pretty unfair that some ponies get wings or a horn while other ponies get nothing – and Barbara never really addresses this point.

SHUTTER #18 (Image, 2016) – This issue is mostly devoted to exploring Kate and Huckleberry’s past relationship. I don’t even remember that they had a relationship to begin with, and I didn’t realize that Kate was interested in women, so this issue sheds some interesting new light on her character. Also, it gives us a bit more background information about the history of Prospero and Kate’s family. Leila del Duca comes up with some innovative visual means of distinguishing between the flashbacks and the main story. Her use of brushstrokes reminds me of Roy Lichtenstein’s brushstroke paintings.

DOCTOR STRANGE #5 (Marvel, 2016) – Another disturbing and fascinating issue. Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo are doing a good job of writing Doctor Strange as essentially a horror title. I think it’s really really creepy that Doc has a team of Asian monks who absorb spiritual damage on his behalf, but Jason does not try to justify this as a good thing, and I also get the impression that Doc doesn’t know about this and that the “secret disciples of Dr. Strange” may be a secret to everyone except themselves and Wong.

KENNEL BLOCK BLUES #1 (Boom!, 2016) – An exciting debut issue about a cartoon dog who’s sent to a prison for much less cheerful cartoon animals. Unlike a lot of anthropomorphic comics, e.g. Usagi and Omaha, in this one the characters act like the animals they’re depicted as. For example, there’s a funny sequence where a lizard, a rodent and a cat are bribed with a radish, cheese and catnip respectively. (Though I didn’t realize that lizards like radishes.) Of course the main source of humor is that the main character incorrectly perceives the world as a Disney cartoon. I look forward to reading the rest of this.

KLAUS #3 (Boom!, 2016) – This is pretty fun, but it doesn’t advance the plot very much. The only new information we get is that the ruler of Grimsvig is not just a mean jerk, he’s also in the service of some kind of demon.

A-FORCE #2 (Marvel, 2016) – I enjoyed this one, though I still think this series isn’t as good as I would expect from G. Willow Wilson. In this issue Singularity continues to recruit allies to protect her against Antimatter, including Nico Minoru. Probably the best thing in the issue is the page where Antimatter invades the wedding and Jen and Nico don’t even notice until the fourth panel. Singularity is still an utterly delightful character.

BATGIRL #48 (DC, 2016) – This issue was just okay, though much better drawn than last issue. Babs fights some villains who use a video game gimmick, then realizes that she’s losing her memory for some reason. Then she teams up with Black Canary to fight the Fugue, a character I don’t remember at all (maybe I’m suffering from the same problem as Babs). I’m curious what Cameron and Brendan and Babs Tarr have planned for issue 50.

MYSTERY GIRL #3 (Dark Horse, 2016) – This is a significant improvement over last issue, as we finally learn why the Siberian mammoth burial site is such a big secret. The villain this issue is wonderfully evil – his sadistic glee when he thinks he’s about to kill Trine is quite impressive, and I can’t wait for him to get his comeuppance. I’m pretty sure that there are live mammoths in Siberia and that next issue Trine is going to be saved by them.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #2 (Marvel, 2016) – A drop in quality from last issue. Cap and her team explore a spaceship full of dead alines, but nothing especially exciting happens.

UNCANNY X-MEN #208 (Marvel, 1986) – I don’t think I’ve ever read this story before in any form. I thought I had read it before as an X-Men Classic reprint, but that series was cancelled just before it got to this issue. In “Retribution,” the X-Men and the Hellfire Club both search for the missing Rachel Summers, who Wolverine has just unsuccessfully tried to kill, and this leads to a big fight which is then interrupted by Nimrod. This isn’t a top-quality issue, and it introduces some hideous new costumes for the Hellfire Club members which were thankfully never used again. But it’s fun to read an unfamiliar story from Claremont’s classic period.

ADVENTURE COMICS #349 (DC, 1966) – Another classic comic that I’m surprised I hadn’t read already. “The Rogue Legionnaire” is Jim Shooter’s fourth Legion story and the first appearance of Universo. When Universo tries to join the Legion and is rejected, he sends the Legionnaires back in time (as usual for this period, only six Legionnaires appear in the story), but they’re saved by an unnamed young boy. Probably the highlight of the issue is the last page, which reveals that the boy, later named as Rond Vidar, is Universo’s son, although this was obviously no surprise to me.

DARK REIGN: FANTASTIC FOUR #2 (Marvel, 2009) – An average early issue of Hickman’s FF, with some nice art by Sean Chen. Probably the best thing about the issue is the sequence depicting various alternate-universe versions of the FF, including one where Sue is a medieval queen and Ben says “Milady, ‘tis the clobbering hour.”

DOCTOR STRANGE #36 (Marvel, 1979) – This issue is plotted by Roger Stern but scripted by a much worse writer, Ralph Macchio. The art is by Gene Colan, but it’s not top-tier Gene Colan work. This series declined significantly after Steve Englehart left and it didn’t recover until Roger Stern took over all the writing duties. This issue kind of illustrates why. It has an overly convoluted plot involvin the Dweller in Darkness and a demon whose name I forget and the Black Knight and Victoria Bentley, and it’s just not all that interesting. Rog’s later run on Doctor Strange was much more straightforward and simple.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES 75TH ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL #1 (IDW, 2015) – This anniversary issue begins with a very funny Barks ten-pager, “The Mighty Trapper,” but surprisingly the highlight of the issue is the Mickey and Goofy three-parter by Carl Fallberg and Paul Murry. Mickey and Goofy try to reopen a mine which Grandma Duck has inherited, but they run into difficulties because of sabotage by some villains. This story has a length and scope which make it exciting, despite my general lack of interest in the characters. Also, in reading this story, I realized that Mickey is pretty much the same character as Astro Boy. The other good story in this issue is the one by William Van Horn, which features perhaps his best creation, the singing flea Baron Itzy Bitzy, plus Magica De Spell.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #312 (Marvel, 1989) – This Michelinie-McFarlane story is nominally an Inferno crossover, but the plot isn’t about Inferno. Instead, it involves a battle between the Grene Goblin and the Hobgoblin. It’s not one of the better issues by this team, and probably the best moment is when Norman tells Spider-Man (whose secret identity he no longer remembers) that “maybe you’ll understand some day if you get married.”

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #189 (DC, 1981) – Like many of Gerry Conway’s JLA comics, this issue heavily features his pet characters, Firestorm and Red Tornado. It’s nice that Gerry was able to use Firestorm and Reddy to inject some fun character moments into a series that was too often lacking in characterization, but on the other hand, his excessive reliance on these particular characters is a bit annoying. The plot of this issue involves Starro, who is depicted as a seriously creepy and disturbing villain, though not nearly as much so as in later stories by Grant Morrison.

DAREDEVIL #6 (Marvel, 2014) – This issue is mostly about Matt’s attempt to deal with a repressed memory in which his father is beating his mother. Since I already read the next issue and I know the context behind this memory, this issue is somewhat lacking in suspense. It does make an interesting point about how Matt’s hero worship of his father is kind of unhealthy. This issue includes an amazing two-page splash that shows Matt listening to all the sounds in the Wakandan embassy at once.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #2 (DC, 1990) – Given that this is only the second issue, it doesn’t provide quite enough context for what’s going on, but it’s still a pretty interesting exploration of the Kennedy myth.

DETECTIVE COMICS #587 (DC, 1988) – This Wagner-Grant-Breyfogle story introduces the villain who later becomes the Corrosive Man. The entire story is narrated by a radio DJ who keeps playing songs that somehow relate to the plot. Norm Breyfogle’s art here is kind of amateurish compared to his later work.

THE BOOKS OF MAGIC #22 (DC, 1996) – This is another comic where I never quite understand what’s going on, but I enjoy reading it anyway because Tim is such an adorable character. In this issue, Tim is captured by a woman whose name I didn’t catch. She thinks that he’s going to grow up to be a monster, so she gives him a giant magical tattoo to prevent that, and also Tim spends part of the issue as a cat.

ARCHIE #666 (Archie, 2015) – The final issue before the renumbering. The story here is that Archie has been sent to detention for the 666th time, and a large part of the issue is devoted to flashbacks depicting all the previous reasons why Archie went to detention. Unfortunately this issue is rather boring and it’s not an effective conclusion to the first volume of Archie.

JUDGE DREDD: MEGA-CITY TWO – CITY OF COURTS #1 (IDW, 2014) – The main appeal of this issue, and this series in general, is Ulises Farinas’s spectacular artwork, including a breathtaking two-page spread that depicts a panoramic view of Mega-City Two. Ulises is a prodigiously talented artist, and it’s a shame that so far he hasn’t worked on any project that allowed him to reveal his full potential.

FANTASTIC FOUR #169 (Marvel, 1976) – This Roy Thomas/Rich Buckler story is reasonably fun even though the 1970s was a terrible period for the FF. It begins with a powerless Ben Grimm getting into a bar fight, and then his replacement, Luke Cage, gets mind-controlled and attacks his teammates. The issue ends by introducing Ben’s new replacement, which is either a robot Thing or a Thing battlesuit, I forget which.

WONDER WOMAN #60 (Marvel, 1991) – This late Perez issue is sadly unimpressive, with boring art, ugly lettering, and an incomprehensible plot that involves Lobo and the Bana Migdall and the War of the Gods crossover.

BATMAN: GOTHAM ADVENTURES #14 (DC, 1999) – In this issue, Batman Robin, and Batgirl battle Harley Quinn, who has a convoluted plot to brainwash the citizens of Gotham. This is a fairly enjoyable comic, but Ty Templeton and Craig Rousseau are no match for the classic Batman Adventures creative team of Kelley Puckett and Mike Parobeck.

STALKER #2 (DC, 1975) – I picked this up on a whim and was surprised to realize that it was by the all-star creative team of Paul Levitz, Steve Ditko and Wally Wood. I don’t know how much Woody personally contributed to this issue, but the artwork certainly looks like him, and it reminds me of his other fantasy work, like The Wizard King. However, the plot of this comic is really boring; it’s a generic cookie-cutter fantasy title, one of several such titles that DC was churning out at the time, and it’s a waste of Paul’s talents.

WHAT IF? #4 (Marvel, 1989) – “What If the Alien Costume Had Possessed Spider-Man” is unusually good considering that it’s written by Danny Fingeroth, whose writing has never impressed me. As the title indicates, Peter gets possessed by the symbiote, then when it separates from him again, he turns into an old man and dies of old age after a poignant last meeting with Aunt May. The symbiote goes on to possess the Hulk and then Thor, before being defeated by Black Bolt, and then Black Cat shows up and kills the symbiote as revenge for Peter’s death. Unusually for this series, the plot of this issue is driven primarily by Felicia Hardy’s character, and it ends up being quite effective.

SHOWCASE #47 (DC, 1963) – I had trouble concentrating on this comic because as I was in the middle of reading it, my iPhone stopped working, and this ended up ruining my whole evening. “Doomsday for Planet Earth” is the last of several Tommy Tomorrow stories in Showcase, and it involves a giant floating antimatter cloud that threatens to destroy the solar system. This premise reminds me a bit of the Sun-Eater. But other than that, this is a pretty forgettable comic, and it’s no wonder that this was the final Tommy Tomorrow story, since there’s not much to distinguish this franchise from any of DC’s other science fiction comics. Given that this story is full of ‘50s science fiction clichés, I assumed it was written by Gardner Fox, but it’s actually by Arnold Drake, though the series was previously written by Otto Binder.

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