This week’s reviews

5-5-16

Going to try to do this every week instead of every month. Each of these reviews will now mention the name of the primary writer and artist.

JONESY #3 (Boom!, 2016) – Sam Humphries [W], Caitlin Rose Boyle [A]. I still don’t get the point of this comic. Maybe there is no point and I shouldn’t be looking for it. At least this issue is a fairly cute exploration of Jonesy’s relationship with her dad.

A-FORCE #4 (Marvel, 2016) – Kelly Thompson & G. Willow Wilson [W], Jorge Molina [A]. This comic has been disappointing so far because it’s mostly been a series of boring action sequences, and the tremendous talent of the writers has gone to waste. Most of this issue is disappointing for the same reasons. However, the She-Hulk/Dazzler scene at the end is very good, and it reminds me that one reason I enjoy Kelly Thompson and G. Willow Wilson’s other comics is because of their ability to write convincing relationships between women. I’m going to keep reading this comic for now, but I really hope there will be more scenes like that one.

TRUE BELIEVERS: MILES MORALES #1 (Marvel, 2015, originally 2011) – Brian Michael Bendis [W], Sara Pichelli [A]. I bought this because it was less than a dollar. Miles Morales is an interesting character, but I can’t read Bendis’s writing anymore. I used to think his dialogue style was innovative and realistic, but that was over a decade ago, and now I just think his writing is annoying. If I want to listen to people repeat themselves and stumble over their words, I can listen to actual people talk.

FAITH #3 (Valiant, 2016) – Jody Houser [W], Francis Portela & Marguerite Sauvage [A]. This is not just a politically progressive example of body-positivity, it’s a really good comic. I don’t know where Jody Houser came from, but her characterization and dialogue are truly impressive. And I’ve praised Marguerite’s artwork before, but Francis also deserves praise, especially for his facial expressions. More on this series below.

DETECTIVE COMICS #834 (DC, 2007) – Paul Dini [W], Don Kramer [A]. This is a competent but average story, in which Batman teams up with Zatanna against the Joker. Paul Dini has written some memorable Zatanna stories but this is not one of them.

THE FOX AND THE CROW #106 (DC, 1967) – Arnold Drake [W], Win Mortimer [A], backup stories by Cecil Beard [W], Jim Davis [A]. This must have been the longest-running funny animal comic not published by Disney, but at this point the title characters had mostly been supplanted by Stanley and His Monster, who were sort of like very early prototypes for Calvin and Hobbes. The Stanley and His Monster story in this issue is similar to Sugar & Spike in terms of its type of humor, but not quite as funny, though it’s reasonably enjoyable. The Fox & Crow backup stories are typical bad funny animal material. Fox & Crow is notable, though, for having had one of the longest runs by a single creative team in the history of American comics, and it would be nice if DC would publish a collection of their best work.

KENNEL BLOCK BLUES #2 (IDW, 2016) – Ryan Ferrier [W], Daniel Bayliss [A]. The gimmick of a cartoon dog going to prison was only funny once, which is why I didn’t feel motivated to read this second issue. It turns out that once the novelty of the gimmick has worn off, this is a really grim and depressing comic. In this issue, the dog protagonist and his cat ally try to escape the prison but fail miserably.

KENNEL BLOCK BLUES #3 (IDW, 2016) – as above. This one is even more grim and depressing and bleak; not only is the protagonist still in prison, but now all the inmates are coming down with the plague. As the issue goes on, we discover that the prison is a metaphor for the dog pound. I’m ashamed that I didn’t guess this sooner because it’s obvious in retrospect. I’m glad this is the next to last issue because I can’t take much more of this sort of thing.

CEREBUS #46 (Aardvark/Vanaheim, 1983) – Dave Sim [W/A]. I was inspired to read this when I looked at my master list of comics reviewed and realized that I had only read one Cerebus comic since 2013. I’ve never understood Cerebus, and this is partly because I’ve never bothered to collect the phone book volumes. I buy single issues of Cerebus sometimes when I find them in cheap boxes, but Cerebus is probably the single worst comic book to read in single-issue format. It was an early example of “writing for the trade” because nearly every issue was part of an ongoing storyline. For example, this issue is something like the 22nd chapter of “High Society,” so it’s full of references that don’t make sense out of context. What does make this comic worth reading is, first, Dave Sim’s excellent artwork and lettering, and second, the dialogue. The subtitle of this issue is “A Night in Iest” and it includes two characters based on Harpo and Chico Marx, and Dave brilliantly imitates the Marx Brothers style of comedy. Also, I never have the energy to read Cerebus’s letter columns all the way through, but they seem like interesting windows into a bygone era of fandom.

SAGA #36 (Image, 2016) – Brian K. Vaughan [W], Fiona Staples [A]. I squeed so hard when I read this comic. My initial Facebook comment on it was “OMG this was the most adorable and heartwarming comic ever. Who says we never give Marko and Alana and Hazel a happy ending?” I think this was the happiest issue of the entire series. The happy ending is doubly shocking because BKV and Fiona have conditioned us to expect the worst – most of the previous story arcs have ended with something horrible, like D. Oswald Heist’s death or Hazel’s kidnapping. I’m sure more horrible things will happen after this series goes off hiatus, but for now, it’s nice that the best family in comics gets to enjoy a brief moment of peace.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #7 – Ryan North [W], Erica Henderson [A]. Choose Your Own Adventure stories are becoming one of Ryan North’s trademarks. This is his second CYOA comic, after Adventure Time #10, and he’s also done CYOA versions of Hamlet and of Romeo and Juliet. This comic has more or less the same format as Adventure Time #10, but it also includes some funny metatextual references to the fact that it’s a CYOA comic. For example, after the first two plot branches come back together, Doreen says “I can’t help but wonder what I would’ve done in that other situation, if I were there. Oh well! It’s truly impossible to say!” And at the end, Koi Boi asks if there were any points when things could have gone differently. This issue also has some notable intertextual references: there’s a secret ending only reachable by cheating (like Ultima in Inside UFO 54-40), the cover is designed to look like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, and Koi Boi has the same last name as Jason Shiga. Though it turns out Koi Boi’s last name was revealed quite a while ago, so either his name is a massive coincidence, or Ryan must have been planning this issue for a long time.

MS. MARVEL #6 (Marvel, 2016) – G. Willow Wilson [W], Nico Leon [A]. Last month, I made a list of the 12 Commandments of Academia. It was shared on Twitter by DrAcademicBatgirl and became probably my most circulated tweet yet. The first item on the list was “Thou shalt say no.” I thought of that when I read this issue, because the moral of this story is exactly the same. As Carol tells Kamala, “You’re only one person. Superhuman is still human. It’s still okay to say no to things.” I and almost everyone I know could use that advice. The other lesson from this issue is that asking for help is a strength, not a weakness. (With all these friendship lessons, G. Willow Wilson ought to write an issue of My Little Pony.) The most mature thing Kamala does in the entire story is to call for help. She admits that she can’t solve her problems all by herself, and so she gets other people to help her. Too often, asking for help feels like weakness – especially perhaps for a female superhero, who is under pressure not to fall into the damsel-in-distress stereotype. But not asking for help can be even worse. Again, this is lesson definitely applies to me and probably to lots of other people I know. I should also mention that the wedding at the end of the issue is extremely cute, and G. Willow Wilson does a good job of illustrating the cultural differences between Aamir and Tyesha’s families, but without making these differences seem like a huge problem.

SEX CRIMINALS #15 (Image, 2016) – Matt Fraction [W], Chip Zdarsky [A]. This issue was good but not great, though perhaps it suffered in comparison to the three comics I read before it. This comic has been coming out on a less than monthly basis and it’s becoming hard to keep track of all the characters and subplots; for example, I don’t understand what the black box is supposed to represent. I do remember Badal (though I forget his first name) and it’s nice that this character hasn’t been totally written off, since I expected him to be the primary villain. It’s also nice that Myrtle is feeling some remorse for sleeping with the psychiatrist dude; this makes her seem like more than a one-dimensional villain.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #5 (Marvel, 2016) – Another comic that’s good, but not as good as other stuff. This is a very effectively and intricately plotted comic, though again, some of the plot details are difficult to keep straight. I previously said that this comic’s style of humor was very similar to that of Squirrel Girl, but after four issues I’m starting to see the difference between Kate Leth’s humor and that of Ryan North.

ANOTHER CASTLE #2 (Oni, 2016) – Andrew Wheeler [W], Paulina Ganucheau [A]. Issue #1 of this series disappointed me because I was expecting this comic to be a video game parody. With this issue, that burden of expectation is removed and I’m able to enjoy this comic for its own merits. It turns out that this comic is a funny and well-drawn sword-and-sorcery/fairy-tale parody, with a distinctive and exciting main character. It has obvious similarities to Princeless but is less explictly political. I’m looking forward to more of this.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #6 (Marvel, 2016) – Brandon Reeder & Amy Montclare [W], Natacha Bustos [A]. I already knew the ending to this issue before I read it, though it’s a cute ending, with Devil Dinosaur wrapping itself around Lunella’s cocoon as if it were an egg. I’m curious to see what comes out of that cocoon. The major weak point in this issue is Lunella’s speech to her mother, beginning with “I’m going to take care of this once and for all.” I see why this moment is necessary in terms of the plot and Lunella’s character arc, but what kind of parent would be persuaded by that sort of argument? Like, if you’re a parent, are you going to allow your nine-year-old child to willingly risk her life, just because she thinks she can handle it? This is an example of how this comic would be a lot more plausible if Lunella were at least a few years older.

FAITH #4 (Valiant, 2016) – as above. This is a deeply satisfying conclusion to the miniseries. By the end of this issue, I was sorry that such a fun and well-executed comic was almost over, and I was thinking there ought to be an ongoing Faith series. And then I saw the ad at the end, which says that the ongoing Faith title will begin in July. Good news. This was one of the best debuts of 2016.

CEREBUS #64 (Aardvark/Vanaheim, 1984) – Dave Sim [W/A]. This is a chapter of “Church and State,” an even longer story than “High Society,” so it makes even less sense out of context. Other than that, all my comments on Cerebus #46 apply to this issue too. This issue includes a backup story by Sim and Jerry Siegel, which, like all Siegel’s late work, is poorly written.

UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES #9 (Gladstone, 1988) – First story: Philippe Le Bars [W], Daniel Branca [A]. Second story: Don Rosa [W/A]. The lead story this issue is not bad at all, though it’s not why I bought this comic. The main attraction is the backup story, “Fortune on the Rocks.” This is an atypical Rosa story because it’s mostly a series of gags that never really go anywhere. As part of a real estate deal, Scrooge buys a mountain that turns out to be completely worthless. This story is most notable for its atypical panel structures. Many Rosa stories have a very rigid page layout with 4 tiers per page; I assume this is because they’re intended for reprinting in different countries with different page sizes. (This is just my guess; I could be wrong.) But “Fortune on the Rocks” uses far more radical page layouts, which is something Barks was also known for. Don Ault said that in some Barks comics, you can guess what’s happening in each panel just from the shape of the panels, and that’s also true of this Rosa story.

PLUTONA #4 (Image, 2016) – Jeff Lemire [W], Emi Lenox [A]. The plot of this comic continues to move very slowly, but it’s fine because the primary emphasis is on the characters. I read this when I was in the middle of the giant Essex County book, which is probably Jeff Lemire’s masterpiece. He ought to be doing more work like that, but a comic like Plutona is an acceptable substitute.

STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE #1 (IDW, 2016) – Georgia Ball [W], Amy Mebberson [A]. I ordered this because I knew both of the creators’ names from My Little Pony comics, and I vaguely remembered having watched Strawberry Shortcake as a child. When I started to read this comic, I immediately realized that I liked Rainbow Brite much more than Strawberry Shortcake. (I had two little sisters, okay?) Also, this comic is really not for me. It has some funny lines of dialogue, but it lacks the characterization, the self-aware humor and the serious lessons about friendship that make My Little Pony appealing. The plot of this issue is completely predictable and the characters are impossible to tell apart. It’s too late to cancel my order of issue 2 of this series, but that’s the last one I’ll be getting.

A YEAR OF MARVELS: THE AMAZING #1 (Marvel, 2016) – First story: Ryan North [W], Danilo Beyruth [A]. Second story: Amy Chu [W], Ryan Browne [A]. This comic, like Marvel Fanfare, seems to have been created as a way of using up some old inventory material. The first story is still worth reading, even though the plot, in which Spider-Man fights the Vulture on Valentine’s Day, is of no interest at all. The reason it’s worth reading is Ryan North’s dialogue; the banter between Spidey and the Vulture is not only very funny, but is also full of what appear to be accurate scientific references. The annoying part is that Spidey’s insults sometimes cross the line from funny to unnecessarily mean. The backup story, starring Ant-Man, is a waste of space.

DOCTOR STRANGE #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Chris Bachalo [A]. Probably the best comic I read today (for once I’m reading these comics the same day I’m writing the reviews). This issue reveals the Empirikul’s origin, which is really cool; the Empirikul’s leader has the same origin as Superman, except his parents were rogue scientists from a planet ruled by Shuma-Gorath-worshipping magicians. I don’t think I mentioned this before, but this storyline does something really cool with the coloring: the Empirikul are mostly in black and white, and the only time color appears is when magic is being used. The one thing that annoys me about this story is that it seems to be having no impact on other Marvel titles, and I feel like the events going on here are significant enough that we should be seeing evidence of them elsewhere.

SUPER ZERO #5 (AfterShock, 2016) – Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti [W], Rafael de Latorre [A]. I feel like I’m the only one reading this comic; at least I never hear anyone else talk about it. That’s a shame because this comic is genuinely good. This issue takes an unexpected turn into science fiction: not only does Dru succeed in getting into space, but she discovers that the astronauts on the International Space Station are disguised aliens! This sets up a massive cliffhanger for next issue, but it also makes me skeptical because so far this comic has been taking place in what appears to be the real world. In fact, that’s the whole point: Dru thinks she lives in a superhero universe but she really lives in a mundane one. So I strongly suspect that these aliens will somehow turn out to be fake. Either way, I’m curious to see what comes next.

BATGIRL #51 (DC, 2016) – Brenden Fletcher [W], various [A]. This issue is reasonably fun and well-written, though it suffers from having too many artists. However, this series is about to be rebooted with a new creative team, so it’s difficult to care very much about what happens in this issue. I’m surprised they didn’t just take a two-month hiatus between Babs Tarr’s departure and the launch of the new series. This issue includes a cute but gratuitous guest appearance by Olive and Maps.

BLACK CANARY #9 (DC, 2016) – Matthew Rosenberg [W], Moritat [A]. This is a really obvious fill-in issue. It’s reasonably well-executed, but it’s a done-in-one story that has no impact on continuity, so it’s hard to get emotionally invested in it. Based on Moritat’s name and the slight similarity of his style to that of Eduardo Risso, I guessed he was European or Argentine, but it turns out he’s American.

DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS #11 (DC, 2016) – Marguerite Bennett [W], Mirka Andolfo & Laura Braga [A]. This issue feels like it has too much fanservice, though I feel somewhat ashamed to use that term. There are two different romantic scenes that are insufficiently set up, and the heroes beat the villains too easily. This isn’t a bad comic, though; I may have just come to it at the wrong moment, or maybe I waited too long to read it after issue 10. The last panel, which uses the words “Justice League” for the first time in the series (although shouldn’t it be Justice Society?), is a cool moment.

VANGUARD ILLUSTRATED #4 (Pacific, 1984) – various [W/A]. None of the four stories in this anthology comic are especially good. The issue begins with a Mike Baron/Rick Burchett story that introduces a new character, Quark. There’s nothing especially original here, and the story is full of Cold War clichés. The highlight of the issue is the early Mike Baron/Steve Rude story, which is the conclusion of a story arc involving an encyclopedia salesman in a postapocalyptic world. Still, the artwork in this story is unimpressive by Rude’s standards. The other two stories in this issue are even worse.

POWER MAN #36 (Marvel, 1976) – Steve Englehart [W], George Tuska [A]. This is a Dreaded Deadline Doom reprint of Hero for Hire #12, which introduced Chemistro. Compared to other stories from the same era of Hero for Hire, the Chemistro story is pretty bad. Chemistro is an ineffective villain; he has a gun that lets him change any substance into any other substance, making him even more powerful than Element Lad, and the only thing he can think of to do with this gun is get revenge on his old bosses. Also, the plot involves an auto company president whose office is in Manhattan. I guess some auto companies did have offices in Manhattan at the time, but it seems odd that the company wouldn’t be based out of Detroit.

SCORPIO ROSE #1 (Eclipse, 1983) – Steve Englehart [W], Marshall Rogers [A]. According to Englehart’s editorial on the inside front cover, he originally wrote this as a Madame Xanadu story, but refused to publish it with DC because of rights issues. After that, Jan and Dean Mullaney called Englehart and offered him “the first straight comics deal ever to include both professional rates and rights.” Therefore, Englehart calls Scorpio Rose as “the comic that changed the comic book industry,” which seems like a massive overstatement – I would say that Destroyer Duck #1, for example, was far more important in helping make independent comics viable. In terms of its merits, this comic has some excellent Marshall Rogers artwork, but the writing is an example of Englehart’s worst tendencies. The protagonist is basically Madame Xanadu, but her backstory is that 300 years ago, she was raped by a man who was cursed to transform into a demon, and now that man is back. Englehart uses Scorpio Rose’s rape merely as an excuse for the plot, and shows no interest in examining its psychological effects on her. So this story is basically a lesson in how not to write about rape, which is odd since Englehart usually wrote about female characters in a much more sensitive way.

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