For reasons I won’t go into here, this past month (i.e. March 2016) was one of the low points of my adult life, and reading and reviewing comic books was the least of my worries. As a result I didn’t read as many comics as I did last month, and it’s taken me forever to review any of them.
We begin with new comics received on March 12. Annoyingly, they came one day late, on Saturday rather than Friday.
SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #7 (DC, 2015) – One particular scene from this issue has gone viral on social media, the scene in which Diana says “people were talking about my cellulite more than the relief effort.” After I saw that panel on Facebook, I realized I already had this issue and had never gotten around to reading it. The cellulite scene is indeed brilliant, and Robyn, the astronaut to whom Diana is speaking in that scene, is a fascinating new character – a black high school teacher and mother of two, who wants to show her students “that a Trenton kid can reach the stars.” This character overshadows the rest of the story, but there’s also a funny plot here, involving giant monsters in the atmosphere of Venus. Overall this is one of the two best SCFWW stories along with “Wonder World” in the following issue, and it makes me sad that the series was cancelled. The backup story is also quite good; it’s about a female soldier in Afghanistan who has a possibly hallucinatory vision of Wonder Woman.
MS. MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2016) – The meeting between the Hillman and Khan families is one of the best things in the recent history of this series. Both families come off very well, and the panel with Tyesha’s mother putting her hand in her son’s face is adorable. The rest of the issue is pretty much the Ms. Marvel version of “Too Many Pinkie Pies,” as I mentioned before, with the twist that the clones all merge together into a giant monster at the end. Ms. Marvel has had some ups and downs lately, but I think it’s replaced Lumberjanes as my second favorite current comic.
STARFIRE #10 (DC, 2016) – This felt like a waste of an issue, especially since there are just two issues left. There was too much Atlee and Stella and not enough Kory. I know Atlee is one of Amnada and Jimmy’s pet characters, but she’s not why I’m reading this series. The best scene of the issue is probably the one with Syl-Khee.
THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN #3 (DC, 2016) – Renae de Liz should have been given the post-Rebirth Wonder Woman assignment if Marguerite Bennett wasn’t available. Greg Rucka is an excellent writer, my third favorite Wonder Woman writer after George Pérez and Gail Simone, but it’s time to let someone else have a turn. And Renae de Liz would be a good choice because this series is one of the best Wonder Woman comics I’ve ever read. Some specific notes on this issue: Diana’s first meeting with Steve Trevor is very well-executed; Steve comes off as a sweet and gentle man, not the macho chauvinist he’s often been in the past, and Diana’s fear of him is obvious. I’m surprised at the fast pacing of this issue; I thought it would be at least one more issue before Diana won the tournament and left Themyscira. I can’t wait to see what Diana thinks about Man’s World.
SHUTTER #19 (DC, 2016) – This issue has an innovative format where each page has three tiers of panels, colored blue, yellow and pink and depicting the early lives of Chris, Leopard and Kalliyan respectively. Like Moore and Veitch’s “How Things Work Out,” which was probably an explicit influence, this story can be read either horizontally – all the blue panels, then all the yellow panels, then all the pink panels – or vertically, one page at a time. The vertical order is clearly better, I think, because it allows the reader to see the connections between each character’s life. This issue is also important on the level of form as well as content; it gives us some important insight into these three major characters, which is especially useful in Kalliyan’s case because she’s been portrayed very unsympathetically so far.
ROCKET RACCOON AND GROOT #3 (Marvel, 2016) – So when I read last issue, I didn’t actually get that Rakzoon was Rocket and that Groot’s entire quest was an elaborate joke Rocket was playing on him. Skottie could have made that more obvious. I think the best thing about this issue is the interplay between Rocket and Shrub, who bring out each other’s worst aspects because they’re effectively both the same character. Besides that, this comic was reasonably fun but was not one of the better recent Rocket and Groot comics.
THE VISION #5 (Marvel, 2016) – Tom King seems to have become a genuine superstar, as indicated by the fact that he was just announced as the new Batman writer. I didn’t order the first issue of his Batman series, because I find that it’s difficult for writers to do their best work on such high-profile comics, but I’m curious to see the reception it gets. This Vision series is a good example of why Tom King has achieved stardom. The whole issue is mostly fallout from Mrs. Vision’s actions last issue. But the scene where Vizh confronts the policeman, and lists all the times he’s saved the world before perjuring himself, is genuinely creepy. This scene demonstrates perhaps the overarching theme of this series: that Vizh is genuinely trying to be a regular human being, but cannot succeed because he doesn’t think like a human.
WEIRDWORLD #4 (Marvel, 2016) – There are so many great current Marvel comics that I’m not sure this one is even in the top five, but it’s still an excellent comic. The interplay between the three central characters (Becca, Goleta and Ogeode) is hilarious – they play off each other very well. But as the campfire flashback scene demonstrates, Becca is also a deep character, maybe unlike the other two. The opening scene with the candy village is amazing. I especially love how in the first couple pages of this scene, there are unsettling hints that something weird is going on, like at the top of page three where the pie is held by a tentacle.
BAKER STREET PECULIARS #1 (Kaboom!, 2016) – I initially had low expectations for this, since Roger Langridge didn’t draw it himself, but it turns out to be an extremely fun comic, a Langridgian masterpiece in the same vein as Snarked and Abigail and the Snowman. So far I’m enjoying it more than the latter. The Baker Street Peculiars are a team of inter-war Londoners from radically different social classes, and the differences between them are one of this comic’s main sources of interest. There’s also an exciting Holmesian mystery plot, and a character who appears to be Holmes himself, though I have my doubts about this.
DOCTOR STRANGE #6 (Marvel, 2016) – I think I said this before, but I wish “The Last Days of Magic” had been the second storyline in this series, rather than the first. I think the series should have begun by showing us one of Doctor Strange’s regular magical adventures, so as to give us a better sense of the world that the Empirikul were trying to destroy. The main story in this issue is mostly a fight scene between Doc and the Empirikul. The backup story, about some of the people whose magic is disappearing, is significantly better.
AW YEAH COMICS: ACTION CAT & ADVENTURE BUG #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – I’m glad that this series is now being published by Dark Horse, because it was much harder to find before. Art and Franco’s work suffers from “you’ve read one issue, you’ve read them all” syndrome, but their comics are always incredibly fun, and this issue is no exception to either of those – that is to say, it’s very fun but also very similar to all their other comics. I do think this issue may be somewhat inaccessible for readers not already familiar with the characters.
GOTHAM ACADEMY #16 (DC, 2016) – The fact that this was the eleventh comic I read this week is a sign that either this was an extremely strong week, or I had very limited time to read comics, or both. This issue includes two Yearbook chapters, one by James Tynion and Christian Wildgoose and the other by Ken Niimura. The Niimura story has some cute artwork, but an anticlimactic plot; it turns out that the central mystery is something that Maps made up just to give the pizza club something to do. I liked the Tynion-Wildgoose story more. Maps goes to Gotham City so she can sit up by the Bat-signal all night and wait for Batman, but instead she falls asleep, like a little kid falling asleep while waiting for Santa. Except Batman does come and he leaves her his autograph. So cute.
HOWARD THE DUCK #5 (Marvel, 2016) – Most of this issue is spent wrapping up the Silver Surfer/Guardians of the Galaxy crossover epic. This part of the issue is entertainingly written and includes some very funny dialogue, but it’s mostly just a standard cosmic superhero story. The highlight of this issue is the last page, which reintroduces Beverly Switzler! Ever since the start of this series I’ve been wondering what happened to her, and I sort of suspected Chip had plans for her, and I was right. But it’s going to be three more issues before we see her again, because first there’s the Squirrel Girl crossover and then the issue after that will take place in the Savage Land.
MILLIE THE MODEL ANNUAL #12 (Marvel, 1975) – The title and indicia of this comic say that it’s QUEEN-SIZE MILLIE THE MODEL #12, but that’s not what the GCD calls it. I read this comic because I was doing some preliminary work on an article about female superhero comics fandom, and I started to wonder why the romance comic genre died out at the same time the direct market was getting started, and whether there was any casual connection between the two. When I asked about this on Facebook, people like Tim Schneider and Robert Beerbohm said that there was no direct connection (though there may have been an indirect connection), and that the romance comics genre died because it was outdated and stagnant. If this particular Millie comic is any indication, then it’s no wonder romance comics became obsolete. This issue is really not even a romance comic at all – it’s an Archie-esque teen humor comic, only the characters are nominal adults rather than teens. It’s even drawn by an Archie artist, Stan Goldberg. Also, it’s just really bad. The humor is unfunny, the characters are flat, and there’s no semblance of continuity – as in old Archie comics, each story ends by returning to the status quo. In the aforementioned Facebook thread, Rob Imes and Corey Creekmur pointed out that the younger creators emerging in the ‘70s were just not interested in romance comics, and it shows – this Millie comic reflects a definite lack of talent or inspiration. Again, it’s premature to make broader conclusions about the entire genre from this one issue, but this comic suggests that the romance genre was effectively moribund by the mid-’70s, and that’s a shame because it took about 40 more years before Marvel or DC started to make serious attempts to attract female readers.
ACTION LAB: DOG OF WONDER #1 (Action Lab, 2016) – I bought this comic mostly because of the punny title, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it’s a pretty good comic. The artwork is very appealing, reminding me of Marguerite Sauvage. I need to come up with a better term for this style of artwork. I guess when I describe artwork as similar to that of Marguerite Sauvage, I mean that it’s sort of like Clear Line, but softer and gentler and with warmer colors and linework that looks kind of like brushstrokes. In terms of the story, this comic follows the Hero Cats formula in that it’s a fairly conventional superhero comic whose protagonist happens to be a dog.
NO MERCY #8 (Image, 2016) – I don’t remember this one very well. The big reveal in this issue is that the villains appear to be running some sort of black market flower farm, rather than smuggling drugs. Besides that, this issue touches on all the current plotlines but doesn’t advance any of them in any major way.
New comics received on March 21. I was out of town when these comics arrived, and couldn’t read them until I got back home from ICFA. While in Orlando, I visited a comic book store for the first time since December; more on that later.
RAT QUEENS #15 (Image, 2016) – The end of this issue is heartbreaking. Hannah decides to engage in self-destructive behavior regardless of what her friends tell her, and they aren’t able to stop her. Betty saying “sometimes love isn’t enough” is perhaps the saddest moment in the entire series. And based on the last page, it looks like Hannah is no longer a Rat Queen, though I have my doubts as to whether this image can be taken at face value. The problem here is that I’m not sure exactly what Hannah did or why she did it, because I can’t remember what’s been happening in the story. This series suffers from overly long gaps between issues, which make it impossible to remember what happened in the previous issue. I wish they would include a recap paragraph on the inside front cover; there’s a lot of real estate there that’s not being used for anything.(MUCH LATER UPDATE: And it turns out this might be the last issue of the series ever. Sigh.)
LUMBERJANES #24 (Boom!, 2016) – This series still hasn’t recovered from the loss of Noelle Stevenson. I may have been overly optimistic when I predicted that her departure wouldn’t change anything. Still, this is one of Kat Leyh’s better issues yet, and it’s a satisfying conclusion to the Seafarin’ Karen story. The obvious highlight of the issue is Mal and Molly finally kissing. One of the most important things this series has done is to normalize Mal and Molly’s relationship.
AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – SMOKE AND SHADOW #3 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Overall this was one of the better Avatar series. The conclusion to this volume is fairly predictable – the bad guys lose, and Zuko and Mai end up together again – but Gene and Gurihiru tell this story fairly well, and it’s just so nice seeing these characters again. The absence of Katara and Sokka is unfortunate, but we’ll be seeing them again in the next series, North and South.
SPIDER-GWEN #6 (Marvel, 2016) – My enthusiasm for this series is waning a bit. I still love Robbi Rodriguez’s artwork, but there are so many other great Marvel comics, and this one is getting lost in the shuffle. The only thing I distinctly remember from this issue is Gwen’s not exactly surprising decision to let Harry go.
STEVEN UNIVERSE AND THE CRYSTAL GEMS #1 (Kaboom!, 2016) – I love the idea behind the Steven Universe franchise, but I’ve only had the time to watch about three episodes of the actual show. So I was excited to have the opportunity to read about Steven Universe in comics form, since I generally prefer comics to TV. This issue, though, has a trite and predictable plot: Steven and the Gems go camping and sit around a fire and tell ghost stories, and then one of the ghost stories comes true. I hope that the other three issues of this miniseries will be more original.
ASTRO CITY #33 (DC, 2016) – This must not have been the most memorable issue, because I had trouble remembering anything about it. The main thing that happens here is Steeljack visits a warehouse run by a collector of old supervillain gear, who then gets murdered by the people who are killing old supervillains. By far the best thing in the issue is where the Fixit Man shows Steeljack some glasses that enable you to see death coming, and then on the next page, Steeljack puts on the glasses and sees death coming for Fixit and Ismiri. Also, the Fixit Man’s warehouse reminds me of the Ackermansion or something. Other than that, this story has so far been less exciting than the previous Steeljack epic.
MYSTERY GIRL #4 (Dark Horse, 2016) – This whole series has demonstrated that Tobin without Coover is worse than Coover without Tobin, but this issue is a fairly effective conclusion to the miniseries. As I predicted, Mystery Girl escapes from Siberia by riding on a mammoth (hence the brilliant line “I am riding a fucking mammoth! I am the fucking mammoth queen!”) and then comes back home and saves the day. The problem is, as we discover in this issue, the ability to solve mysteries is an unfair superpower, because Mystery Girl can do just about anything as long as she can frame it as a mystery. This issue ends by setting up for a sequel, as Mystery Girl encounters a woman who knows where she got her powers. I will plan on reading Mystery Girl volume 2 if there is one, but I’m not as excited about it as I am about Bandette.
USAGI YOJIMBO #153 (Dark Horse, 2016) – I just noticed that the indicia says “Number 219 in a series.” 38 Mirage issues plus 16 Fantagraphics issues plus 153 Dark Horse issues equals 207, so the other twelve must be six issues of Senso, four Color Specials, one Summer Special (which I didn’t previously know existed) and Yokai. Like several other recent Usagi stories, “Kyuri” is kind of average. There’s a shocking moment at the end where Usagi’s arm is badly broken and he thinks he can never hold a sword again, but this is a false alarm, as the friendly female kappa heals Usagi’s arm. I think my other problem with this story is that the kappas seem overly naturalized. What I mean is, when supernatural creatures appear in Usagi comics, they’re typically presented as uncanny and weird phenomena. A good example of this is the foxes in “Kitsune Gari.” Whereas in this issue, the kappas just seem like normal creatures that coexist alongside humans. Not only does this make them less special, but it also seems odd that Usagi’s Japan is inhabited by a race of sentient nonhuman creatures who have almost no interaction with humans (well, “human” is the wrong word, but who cares).
MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER#26 (IDW, 2016) – This is another issue that suffers from not being synchronized with the TV show: it stars Shining Armor, yet it doesn’t mention his impending fatherhood. The other guest star this issue is Prince Blueblood, who has only appeared in one episode, where he was basically a joke character. And the plot of the issue involves a visit to Yakyakistan, which was a rather unfortunate addition to the pony universe. “Party Pooped” was one of the worst episodes of season 5, and had some unfortunate racist implications. So in general, when writing this issue, Jeremy Whitley did not have the best materials to work with, and he was unable to overcome this limitation. The moral of the story is that Prince Blueblood is a much better diplomat than Shining Armor, which proves that Shiny’s initial negative impression of him was wrong. I find this somewhat unconvincing; after watching “The Best Night Ever,” I already know that Prince Blueblood is an utterly awful pony, and this issue did not do enough to convince me otherwise.
PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #6 (Action Lab, 2016) – This was kind of an average issue, whereas most of the previous issues have been way above average. Probably the highlight is the scene where Ximena visits the potion store and is subjected to a lot of sexism and mansplaining. However, this would have been more effective if it wasn’t so reminiscent of the seashell story from the 2014 Avatar FCBD comic. A weird moment in this issue is where Sunshine punches out the pale-skinned girl whose name I can’t remember. I have said before that I like how the protagonists in this comic don’t always see eye-to-eye and how they have significant personality conflicts, but it’s surprising that one of them is being portrayed as a racist villain. To try to sum this all up, I think this issue was kind of scattershot – it included a lot of interesting stuff but I’m not sure how it all fits together.
MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #40 (IDW, 2016) – This is quite possibly the worst pony comic yet. In this issue, Princess Celestia forces Twilight to become a single parent to Spike, even though Twilight is attending school full-time, while Twilight was only a grade-school-aged child herself. What on earth was Celestia thinking? What did she hope Twilight would learn from this experience? Why does Twilight not resent Celestia for subjecting her to this unfair responsibility? Given the utter lack of logic here, I prefer to invoke Krypto-revisionism and declare that the events in this issue never happened. Also, I believe that Spike never went through early infancy as depicted here; I think when he emerged from the egg, he was more or less at his current level of maturity. The one thing I did like about this issue is the framing device where Twilight tells a story to Rainbow Dash, and then all the other ponies start listening in. It reminds me of “Kitty’s Fairy Tale.”
MIGHTY THOR #5 (Marvel, 2016) – This is another well-written and well-drawn issue; Russell Dauterman might be the best pure superhero artist at Marvel right now. But I continue to have trouble following the plot of this series. At the end of the issue, I don’t understand where Odinson is or why he’s in captivity.
POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #2 (Marvel, 2016) – This is a pretty good issue, though it’s not one of my favorite current Marvel comics. The interplay between Danny and Luke is clearly the highlight of this comic. Unfortunately this issue had no cute Danielle moments.
HELLBOY AND THE BPRD: 1953 – BEYOND THE FENCES #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – I’ve been mostly unimpressed with recent Hellboy comics, but this one was fairly good. It takes place in a Rockwell/Leave it to Beaver-esque small town, a setting which contrasts disturbingly with the bizarre events that are going on. I’m only familiar with Paolo Rivera’s art from Daredevil, but his style is unexpectedly well suited to horror comics.
CAPTAIN MARVEL #3 (Marvel, 2016) – This is a fairly average issue and it makes me question my commitment to this series. The cute character moments and interesting background cast from the first issue are mostly absent here. I think I’m going to give this series one more issue.
ODY-C #10 (Image, 2016) – The momentum of this series has been hurt by this current Arabian Nights storyline. Part of the initial attraction of this comic for me was seeing how Fraction and Ward played with the familiar story of Odysseus. My familiarity with the Odyssey helped me appreciate the variations that Fraction introduced. It’s hard to get engaged with the Hyrar-Zahman story in the same way, because it’s essentially original material, with only a tenuous link to the A(rabian Nights. I do enjoy the anti-rape message of this story, and Christian Ward is still one of the top artists in the industry.
MONSTRESS #4 (Image, 2016) – This series is a masterpiece, but it’s difficult to read because it’s so raw and brutal; the characters are subjected to such awful violence. Though there are some moments of levity here, including all the multi-tailed cats. This issue both advances the plot by showing us how the protagonist struggles with the demon inside her, and contributes to worldbuilding by showing us a previously unseen society of animal people.
DESCENDER #11 (Image, 2016) – The plot of this comic is just average – it’s a fairly conventional SF comic. What makes it excellent is, first, Dustin Nguyen’s art, and second, the character of Tim (and to a lesser extent, Telsa and Andy). I don’t have much to say about this issue specifically, except that it ends with a shock ending in which the new Tim tries to kill our Tim.
UNCANNY X-MEN #262 (Marvel, 1990) – A ton of stuff happens in this issue, but most of it is forgettable. The issue consists of a series of two- or three-page sequences focusing on different characters, and as a result, the story is not highly organized. The main focus of the issue a flashback to Forge’s Vietnam days, but even that only occupies a few pages. The highlight of the issue is probably the playful flirting between Sean and Jean. These are two characters who rarely interact, but Claremont reminds us that they were both X-Men from the very beginning and that they have a long shared history.
DETECTIVE COMICS #519 (DC, 1982) – The villain of this issue’s Batman story is named Colonel Blimp and is literally a colonel who steals battleships from a blimp. I haven’t even seen the movie The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and I just now learned that that movie was named after a British editorial cartoon. Even then, I couldn’t help thinking of that movie as I read this comic, and this made it impossible to take the comic seriously, which was already quite difficult given the idiotic premise. The only saving grace of this story is the Don Newton artwork. The Batgirl story is lacking even that. Instead, it’s drawn by Trevor von Eeden and suffers from overly convoluted page layouts that add nothing to the story.
OMEGA MEN #1 (DC, 2015) – While I was at ICFA in Orlando, Spencer Chalifour and Najwa al-Tabaa and Katie Shaffer (I hope I’m not forgetting anyone) said they were driving to a comic book store and that I could come along. This was extremely exciting to me because I haven’t been inside a comic book store since I was in Minneapolis in December. I don’t think I’ve gone three whole months without visiting a comic book store since I was seven or eight years old, and I was missing it. Unfortunately the store, Living Dead Comics, didn’t have much that I needed, and I only managed to find six comics I wanted, of which this is the only one I’ve read so far. I’ve heard really good reviews of this Omega Men series, but I’ve also heard that it reads better in trade paperback form, and from just this one issue, it’s hard to tell what exactly is going on or what’s so special about this comic.
NEW ROMANCER #3 (DC, 2016) – My enthusiasm for this series has waned a bit, and I still haven’t read issue 4, though this is partly due to lack of time. I still think this is a fun comic, though as with many other Peter Milligan comics, it doesn’t quite fulfill its potential. The main plot in this issue is that New Romancer runs a contest where the prize is a date with Lord Byron, and Alexa wins. Meanwhile, Mata Hari is introduced as a new villain.
SENSATION COMICS FEATURING WONDER WOMAN #12 (DC, 2015) – This issue wasn’t nearly as good as the previous issue I reviewed, which illustrates the principal problem with this series: lack of consistency. The first story is cute, though; it’s a team-up between Wonder Woman and Poison Ivy, and it ends with Diana refusing to turn Poison Ivy in to Batman, because Ivy didn’t do anything wrong. I can’t remember anything about the backup story, but it ends with Diana kissing Batman on the cheek, which is cute.
New comics received on March 25. Yes, I am a whole month behind on these reviews.
PATSY WALKER A.K.A. HELLCAT #4 (Marvel, 2016) – I always receive new comics on Friday afternoons, but by this point in the semester, I’m usually so exhausted on Friday afternoons that I just want to go home and flop down on my bed. But I feel obligated to read a couple of my new comic books first, and typically I am not able to devote my full attention to those comic books because I’m too tired. That was definitely what happened with this issue of Patsy Walker. It was good, but I was so tired when I read it that I can’t remember anything about it.
THE SPIRE #7 (Boom!, 2016) – This series got a well-deserved Eisner nomination and I think I’m going to vote for it. As previously mentioned in my review of issue 6, I have trouble remembering the story of this series from one issue to another, but in this issue Spurrier and Stokely create a powerful sense of dramatic tension, and I expect the final issue will be epic.
TOTALLY AWESOME HULK #4 (Marvel, 2016) – As I mentioned before, I decided to give up on this series after issue 2, but then I changed my mind about that because this comic is just such fun. It’s not particularly thoughtful or ambitious – Arthur Chu argued in his article “The Passion of Asian Hulk” that this comic had the potential to be an interesting commentary on and/or rebuttal to Asian-American stereotypes, but I’m not sure that potential has been fulfilled. Basically this comic is just a giant green guy beating up monsters. But that’s still a lot of fun – it’s the same sort of guilty pleasure offered by Savage Dragon, which I’m no longer reading. Also, Frank Cho’s artwork is really effective.
WEST COAST AVENGERS #13 (Marvel, 1987) – In this story, Graviton tries to take over the world and make Tigra his sex slave. He comes much closer to achieving the latter than the former. Englehart’s West Coast Avengers is one of his lesser works, and I think the most interesting thing about it is Tigra herself. This character is fascinating and extremely problematic. She has not only the body but also the personality of a cat, including a cat’s sex drive. This means she’s basically a sex object, but I guess you could also view her more positively, as Englehart’s attempt to seriously explore what it would be like for a person to turn into a cat. This issue contains one very annoying line where Tigra claims she’s not a feminist; I don’t understand what Englehart was thinking here. My overall reaction to this issue was “Steve Englehart’s comics were bizarre, politically questionable, convoluted, and sometimes perverted. I wish there were more of them.” When I posted this comment on Facebook, it led to a discussion about Coyote; see the review of Coyote #1 below.
FIRESTORM #5 (DC, 1978) – This is the first issue of Firestorm I’ve ever read, and I found it surprisingly good. It’s very similar to Spider-Man, except that Ronnie Raymond is emphatically not a bookworm like Peter Parker; he’s just a completely average kid who has no idea what he’s gotten into. Probably the heart of this comic is his antagonistic relationship with Martin Stein, who shares his body. I ought to read more of this comic.
WONDER WOMAN #116 (DC, 1996) – This issue of John Byrne’s run is boring and poorly executed. For most of the issue, there are two stories running in parallel. The top 2/3 of the page are devoted to Wonder Woman, and the bottom 1/3 to Cave Carson and his crew. These two stories come together at the end, but while they’re running in parallel, they don’t interact in any way (unlike, say, the three concurrent stories in Shutter #19), and the reader is distracted by having to constantly switch from one to the other. Also, neither story is actually interesting, and John’s artwork is awful. His depiction of the invisible plane does remind me a bit of the beautiful machinery he used to draw, but otherwise, the art in this comic is just lazy and unoriginal.
TARZAN #196 (Gold Key, 1970) – I must have been really tired the night I read these comics, because most of them have disappeared from my memory. Also, I suspect I may have been reading them because I felt compelled to do so, and not because I was actually enjoying it. By this point in the semester, I was so exhausted and anxious that I was having difficulty enjoying anything at all. Anyway, the main story in this issue is about the Tarzan Twins, two teenage boys – one English and one American – who consider themselves to be Tarzan’s sidekicks. They visit Tarzan in the jungle and get themselves into a bunch of dangerous perils from which Tarzan has to rescue them, but Tarzan doesn’t seem to mind at all. This is a reasonably fun story, but it would have been better if it had been drawn by Russ Manning instead of Mike Royer. Manning did draw the Brothers of the Spear backup story, but it’s only four pages.
SUPERMAN #330 (DC, 1978) – “The Master Mesmerizer of Metropolis” is probably the worst Superman story of the Bronze Age. In this story, Martin Pasko attempts to explain the improbable premise that no one realizes Clark Kent is Superman, even though Clark looks exactly like Superman except for his glasses. However, Pasko’s proposed solution is worse than the problem. It turns out that Superman is constantly hypnotizing every single person in the entire world to make everyone think Clark Kent and Superman look different, and that Superman himself doesn’t know he’s doing this. This explanation is much worse than no explanation at all. I think that the reader can just accept that Lois and Lana don’t realize Clark Kent is Superman, because this is covered by suspension of disbelief. If I’m willing to accept that Superman can fly, change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel with his bare hands, etc., then I’m also willing to accept that a pair of glasses are an effective disguise.
BATMAN #235 (DC, 1971) – This is the second appearance of Ra’s al Ghul, but is not drawn by Neal Adams, or else I doubt I could have afforded it. Compared to “Daughter of the Demon” or “The Demon Lives Again,” “Swamp Sinster” is kind of forgettable. This issue also includes a reprint of an old Broome/Infantino story, and an original story in which Robin visits a commune. This latter story is not very good, but it’s interesting because it reminds me that in the ‘70s, people actually did live in the sort of hippie commune depicted in this story.
INCREDIBLE HULK #106 (Marvel, 2007) – The Planet Hulk/World War Hulk epic is probably the most important Hulk story since Peter David’s first run, and I need to complete my collection of it. This chapter focuses on Amadeus Cho and She-Hulk, and the Hulk himself doesn’t appear. There is some effective characterization of Amadeus, Jen, and Doc Samson, and some good artwork by Gary Frank, who is probably my favorite Hulk artist.
X-MEN: WORST X-MAN EVER #2 (Marvel, 2016) – This wasn’t as memorable as the first issue. The main plot development is that Bailey gets seduced by Mystique, who takes a blackmail picture of him and then uses it to order him to assassinate Professor X. This is not a classic X-Men comic by any means, but at least it’s fun.
CIRCUIT BREAKER #1 (Image, 2016) – Kyle Baker’s first new comic in several years is kind of disappointing. (I thought it was his first since Special Forces, but he also did some Deadpool comics since then.) I saw one review that complained that this comic didn’t quite seem to understand what it was trying to do, and I agree. I also think that this comic’s use of Japanese culture is slightly problematic. Like, is it fair for Kevin McCarthy to create a comic that’s so heavily based on anime and manga when he’s not Japanese himself? Maybe it is fair, but the question is worth asking. Anyway, I’m probably going to keep reading this comic just because it’s Kyle Baker.
BLACK MAGICK #5 (Image, 2016) – This comic is kind of getting lost in the shuffle because there are so many other great Image comics, but it’s really, really good. In this issue, Rowan saves her friend Anna from a mystical assault by using her own magic. The magical phenomena in this scene are in full color, while everything else in the comic is in grayscale. I can’t remember if this is the first time this comic has used color in this way, but it’s a really cool effect. I hate the prose pieces at the end of each issue – I don’t read comic books because I like reading badly written unillustrated text.
SUPERMAN #42 (DC, 2015) – Gene Luen Yang’s Superman was maybe the biggest disappointment of 2015. I bought the first few issues, but didn’t even bother to read them because they got such a lukewarm reception. This issue suggests that that reception was justified. It’s a very formulaic piece of work, and even the big scene depicted on the cover, in which Lois discovers Clark’s secret identity, has very little impact. There is very little in this issue to suggest that Gene Luen Yang wrote it. It’s not about Asian themes or characters – which is fine, Gene doesn’t have to write about the same thing all the time – but it also lacks his usual creativity and vigor. I hope his new Superman series will be more interesting. Also, I’ve never understood why people are so in love with John Romita Jr’s art.
KLAUS #4 (Image, 2016) – This issue explains Klaus’s origin and his past history with Dagmar, whose name I had forgotten. When you read as many comics as I do, it becomes difficult to remember even the major characters’ names. That’s why Stan Lee gave all his characters alliterative names. Anyway, this is a pretty good issue. There’s one cute scene in which Dagmar plays with her son Jonas (again I had to look his name up) and we see evidence that Jonas is not a completely unredeemable little Joffrey-esque brat.
SUPER ZERO #4 (Aftershock, 2016) – I still think this is probably Conner and Palmiotti’s best work. The scene where Dru forgives her friend’s abusive father is a ethically troublesome, and the writers didn’t succeed in convincing me that this was the right thing to do, but at least they tried. What happens next is that Dru tries to reproduce the origin of the Fantastic Four, and the way she succeeds in getting herself onto a rocket is surprisingly plausible. I think it was also effectively foreshadowed in earlier issues – I believe we already knew she had a friend whose father worked at NASA.
JONESY #2 (Boom!, 2016) – This series is halfway over and I’m still not sure what it’s about. The main premises are that Jonesy hates everything and that she has the power to hypnotize people, and these premises don’t seem to be connected at all. The only way I can describe or explain this comic is as an example of Adventure Time-esque absurdist humor. It’s reasonably funny and well-drawn, but I’m not sure I get the point of it.
INCREDIBLE HULK #242 (Marvel, 1979) – I was surprised to realize this was written by Roger Stern. I didn’t realize he had ever written the Hulk – my Hulk collection from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s is very incomplete. This issue is the climax of the “They Who Wield Power” storyline, a sort of stealth crossover that had been running through a large number of different Marvel titles since 1979. The ultimate payoff is not really worth the buildup; this issue is mostly just a long fight between the Hulk and Tyrannus.
WONDER WOMAN #204 (DC, 1973) – This issue ends the No Costume/Diana Prince era in an insulting and anticlimactic way. First, I Ching gets shot dead by an insane mass murderer. This scene was probably based on the 1966 University of Texas shootings, but it was clearly also just a cheap way of writing I Ching out of the series. In the same incident, Diana also gets shot and loses her memory. The only thing she can remember is that she needs to go back to Paradise Island, so she goes back there, puts her old costume back on, and the No Costume era is over as if it never happened. The rest of the issue is a typical example of Kanigher’s usual Wonder Woman nonsense, though it does briefly introduce Nubia, the black Wonder Woman, as well as giving Diana a new secret identity as a UN translator. After this issue, Wonder Woman’s brief period of originality was over, and the series wouldn’t be truly interesting again until 1987.
UNCANNY X-MEN #229 (Marvel, 1988) – This is the first issue of the period when the X-Men were living in the Reavers’ Australian desert base. The first half of the issue is devoted to a gruesome depiction of the Reavers’ crimes, so Claremont has to cram a whole lot of plot development into about 10 pages. For example, he introduces the Siege Perilous without really explaining what it is. At one point in this issue, Wolverine refers to Gateway by a very offensive three-letter word that starts with A; this should not have gotten past the Comics Code.
COYOTE #1 (Epic, 1983) – I read this because Michael Norwitz and Ben Herman mentioned it on Facebook. Michael has a theory that after the commercial failure of Coyote, Englehart stopped caring about comics and his career went into decline. But Michael also said that this first issue of the series was really good. After reading it, I’m not quite convinced. This ongoing series is a sequel to a graphic novel published by Eclipse, and is hard to understand on its own because it’s full of confusing backstory, although this is not unusual in Englehart’s work. What I do like about this series is the protagonist, who (see earlier comments on Tigra) is basically a dog in human form, and is completely carefree and ignorant of human society. Maybe I should look for the Image trade paperback that reprints the original Coyote graphic novel.
DETECTIVE COMICS #760 (DC, 2001) – This issue is drawn by Shawn Martinborough, who I have complained about in the past, especially in my review of Detective Comics #745. I didn’t have a problem with the artwork in this issue, though. Either Martinborough had gotten better by this point, or I’m more used to his style now. The main story has a somewhat interesting premise, in which the Mad Hatter hypnotizes people using coffeeshop reward cards (i.e. those cards that they punch every time you buy a cup of coffee). Of course the real highlight of the issue is the Slam Bradley backup by Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke. The splash page of this story, which depicts Slam exhuming Selina Kyle’s grave in the rain, is brilliantly Eisner-esque.
SUPERMAN #205 (DC, 1968) – This is one of the last comic books written by Otto Binder, and it’s a pretty stupid comic, though at least it’s a different kind of stupid from most ’60s Superman comics. This comic book fails not because it’s silly and trivial, but because it tries to accomplish too much; it’s too epic for its own good. The plot of this issue is that Superman teams up with Jax-Ur against a villain called Black Zero, who seems to be responsible for destroying Krypton. (The name Black Zero was later used for several other unrelated villains.) Black Zero tries to destroy Earth with a missile, but Superman foils his plan by boring a hole through the entire planet so that the missile passes through it. That’s the most ridiculous thing that happens in this issue, but not the only one. I feel like if this issue had been a multi-part epic, it could have been really good, but it was too ambitious for just 24 pages.
CATWOMAN #23 (DC, 2003) – This is part of a story where Catwoman and Holly are visiting a number of different fictional DC Universe cities to search for Holly’s brother. This issue takes place in Opal City and guest-stars Bobo Benetti from Starman. This comic is full of exciting action sequences and effective characterization, and Cameron Stewart’s art is so good that I didn’t even notice how boring his depictions of Opal City are, compared to those of Tony Harris. This Catwoman series was probably one of the top DC comics of its era.
ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS #7 (Marvel, 2016) – This issue begins with two cute scenes, one between Falcon and Thor and another between Kamala and Vision. The rest of the issue is setup for the Pleasant Hill crossover, and is completely forgettable.