Massive review post

New comics received on May 27. This was another really exciting week.

LUMBERJANES #25 (Boom!, 2016) – Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh [W], Carey Pietsch [A]. See previous post for why I read #25 after #26. Like #26, #25 is an incredible comic book and it restores my faith in this series. Basically all the scenes involving the kittens are incredible. From having read the following issue, I already knew the kittens were going to develop super powers, but even then I was amazed by the exuberance and humor of the scene that introduces them. Reading this comic actually made me feel guilty about not playing with my own cat enough. Also, something strange is going on with Molly’s family and I’m eager to learn what it is. The Chynna Clugston-Major backup story is disappointing, but who cares when the main story is this good.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Ryan North [W], Erica Henderson [A]. The information about tree lobsters at the beginning of this issue is correct, like most of the real-world facts in Ryan North’s comics. The main plot this issue is that Squirrel Girl discovers Koi Boi is already in a relationship, so she joins an online dating site. I think the best part of the issue is the fake profile that Tippy Toe writes for Doreen, but the two-page dating montage is also very funny and well-executed. Especially the Sentinel that’s programmed to feel heartbreak.

AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE #9 (Archie, 2016) – Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa [W], Francesco Francavilla [A] It’s been literally over a year since the previous issue of this series. I guess Roberto and Francesco deserve credit for sticking with it, but this kind of lateness is ridiculous and it’s destroyed whatever momentum this comic has. This is a very good issue, an effective examination of both Reggie’s psychology and his role in causing the zombie apocalypse. But I expect that by the time the next issue comes out, if it ever does, I’ll have forgotten everything that happened in this issue.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder [W], Marco Failla [A]. This issue introduces Moon Girl’s first archenemy, Kid Kree, and it ends with a scene where Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur switch bodies. This series is still not at the same level as the best Marvel titles, but it’s fun. I think it’s more similar to Hero Cats than to other Marvel titles – like Hero Cats, it’s aimed at quite a young audience, and it requires a massive amount of suspension of disbelief.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #6 (Marvel, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Natasha Allegri [A]. The guest artist this issue is the creator of Bee and Puppycat, a series I tried and didn’t like, but I did enjoy Allegri’s artwork here. The characters all look like they’re about eight years old, but they’re supposed to. As for the plot, this is basically a fill-in issue, in which Patsy and her friends fight Arcade and nothing plot-relevant happens, but it’s a fun comic anyway.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #15 (IDW, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Sophie Campbell [A]. Another fairly exciting chapter of Dark Jem, with more brilliant Sophie Campbell artwork. It was kind of average, though. The only truly exciting thing this issue is the opening sequence that’s a flashback to Jem and her sisters’ childhood.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #8 (Action Lab, 2016) – Raven and her friends finally confront Raven’s evil brothers, but the brothers get away and Ximena is seriously hurt. As the characters themselves point out in the last panel, this is a somewhat anticlimactic ending to the second story arc, and this story as a whole has been much less exciting than the first one. I’d like to see more of a focus on Raven’s crewmates – I can’t even remember the names of any of them except Ximena.

WEIRDWORLD #6 (Marvel, 2016) – Sam Humphries [W], Mike del Mundo [A]. I was shocked to realize that this is the last issue. It’s a fairly effective resolution to Becca’s story. Becca can’t save her mother’s ashes, just as she couldn’t prevent her mother’s death, but she realizes that neither of these is her fault. Writing this issue must have been cathartic for Humphries – he has said that Becca’s character arc is based on his reaction to his own stepmother’s suicide. And the issue ends by leaving open the possibility of more stories, since Becca and Goleta still have a quest. I just wish this series hadn’t been cancelled when it still has so much narrative potential. There seems to be no official explanation of why it was cancelled; the reason could be that Sam Humphries is on an exclusive contract with DC, but sadly I think a more probable reason is low sales.

MS. MARVEL #7 (Marvel, 2016) – G. Willow Wilson [W], Adrian Alphona [A]. Because this issue is branded as a Road to Civil War crossover, I was afraid it would be a wasted issue, a pointless crossover that would kill the momentum of the series while also making no sense on its own. (See All-New All-Different Avengers #8, many issues of Captain Marvel, etc.) But it turns out that this is a self-contained story that relates to Civil War tangentially if at all. It’s also delightful. Kamala competes at a science fair against Miles Morales, and they end up causing massive property damage and ruining their chances at a science scholarship. This is one of Willow and Adrian’s funnier stories. Skyshark (“the happiest shark there is”) is of course the coolest thing in the issue, and Adrian Alphona fills each page with funny sight gags. (I know what hammerspace is, but even then I had to ask other people to explain the hammerspace gag to me; it seems that the person pulling improbably large objects out of her bag is Mary Poppins.) The sad part about this issue is the hoops that Kamala and Miles and Bruno have to jump through in order to get a scholarship. As a college teacher, I’ve seen how hard it is for my students to get an education, even when they come from fairly privileged backgrounds. Also, because my college education was paid for, I am far luckier than many of my friends, who have a crippling amount of student loan debt. The line at the end of the issue – “We shouldn’t have to battle to the death just to get into good colleges and not end up a trillion dollars in debt afterward” – is completely true. And in the next panel, Willow even turns this argument into a critique of the whole premise of the Civil War crossover.

ANOTHER CASTLE #3 (Oni, 2016) – Andrew Wheeler [W], Paulina Ganucheau [A]. I just realized that on the cover of this issue, the writing on Misty’s sword is the Konami Code. That’s a cute easter egg. This is another good issue, though it’s fairly similar to the last two; as the third issue out of five, its role is to advance the existing plot rather than to add anything new. The scene with Badlug talking to the severed head is surprisingly violent in a comic that seems to be targeted to young readers.

ACTION LAB: DOG OF WONDER #2 (Action Lab, 2016) – Vito Delsante & Scott Fogg [W], Rosy Higgins & Ted Brandt [A]. The two artists on this comic share the pencilling and inking duties. This comic does not just have a funny title, it’s also a good comic. Despite being a cat person, I think the dogs in this comic are adorable, and I like Higgins and Brandt’s colorful and cute artwork. I hope that a crossover between this title and Hero Cats is in the future.

MONSTRESS #6 (Image, 2016) – Marjorie Liu [W], Sana Takeda [A]. This is still a brilliant and important comic, and I still feel somewhat reluctant to read each new issue because of its dark tone. Hence why it was the twelfth comic I read this week. At this point I’m starting to understand the plot a bit better, and the interplay between Maika and the Monstrum is becoming very interesting; it looks like the Monstrum is not as 100% evil as I had thought. Another fun detail this issue is that it looks like the cats get a new tail for each life they lose.

THE MIGHTY THOR #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Rafa Garres [A]. This is the second and final part of the Boldo the Black story, and I’m glad it’s over. Rafa Garres’s artwork was interesting the first time around, but got old very fast. His art is very loose and sloppy, and though this is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s annoying because it contrasts with the visual identity of this comic. Russell Dauterman has given this comic a very clean and delicate sensibility, and therefore Garres’s artwork seems inappropriate. Also, the Boldo the Black plotline is not very interesting to begin with, and on top of that, it’s an unfortunate interruption in the flow of the series.

BATGIRL #52 (DC, 2016) – Brenden Fletcher [W], Eleonora Carlini [A]. This series could reasonably have ended with issue 50, but it’s just as well that we got two more issues after that, because both of the extra two issues have been fun. This issue is a follow-up to Batgirl Annual #3, where Babs and a bunch of other characters fought Gladius, and it ends with Babs’s going-away party. It’s an effective conclusion and tribute to Brenden’s run on the series. One thing that’s especially good is the two-page spread at the end, where Babs talks to each of her supporting characters, and inset panels depict some of her past encounters with the same characters.

Now for some older comics:

STRANGE ADVENTURES #213 (DC, 1968) – Neal Adams [W/A]. This story has nothing to do with the ongoing Hook plotline. When Deadman’s friend is shot, Deadman possesses a surgeon named Dr. Shasti, who saves him, and then Deadman has to save Dr. Shasti from being swindled by a phony soothsayer. The main appeal of this story is Neal’s spectacular artwork, of course, and Neal’s writing is also less bad than it usually is. A strange thing is that Dr. Shasti and his son are explicitly stated to be Indian, but they’re drawn to look exactly like white people. This issue also includes a backup story by John Rosenberger which may or may not be a reprint; either way, it’s terrible.

DETECTIVE COMICS #611 (DC, 1990) – Alan Grant [W], Norm Breyfogle [A]. I’m surprised that I didn’t read this issue sooner, because the issue before it was one of the first comic books I ever owned, and I know some parts of it by heart – I have a clearer memory of Detective Comics #610 than of many other comics that are much more famous. (Back when I had fewer comics, I spent more time rereading the comics I did have.) Also, that issue is the first part of a two-parter. Now that I’ve finally read the conclusion of “Snow and Ice,” I think that this story is valuable for more than just nostalgia. It’s also a classic Penguin story, displaying both the Penguin’s overinflated ego and his viciousness. The other villain in this issue, the death-obsessed Kadaver, is also rather frightening, and Norm Breyfogle’s art is quite compelling. I need to read more of the Batman stories by this creative team.

SUPERMAN #302 (DC, 1976) – Elliot S! Maggin [W], José Luis García-López [A]. “Seven-Foot-Two… and Still Growing!” is not one of Elliot S! Maggin’s better efforts. Luthor causes Superman’s body to grow larger while his brain stays the same size, making him stupid. With Ray Palmer’s help, Superman defeats Luthor using some sort of poorly explained trick that I didn’t understand. This story had some serious potential for comedy, but that potential was not fulfilled, and JLGL’s artwork was not his best.

TOTALLY AWESOME HULK #6 (Marvel, 2016) – Greg Pak [W], Mike Choi [A]. I didn’t order issue 5 of this series, so this issue was difficult to follow, and on top of that it was confusing and forgettable. This series is much weaker without Frank Cho’s art.

ROCKETEER ADVENTURE MAGAZINE #3 (Dark Horse, 1995) – Dave Stevens [W/A]. This is one of the best-drawn American comic books ever published. The quality of Dave Stevens’s artwork is stratospheric. His storytelling is clear and effective, his draftsmanship is gorgeous, and he draws on a vast wealth of influences (for example, I was surprised to see some panels that reminded me of L.B. Cole). The writing is almost as good as the art. It’s been a long time since I read the other two issues of this miniseries, so I had forgotten the character Lothar, but his reason for hating Cliff Secord is heartbreaking – he blames Cliff for the death of his midget girlfriend who secretly loved Cliff. Sadly this was also the last Rocketeer story and, to my knowledge, Dave Stevens’s last work in comics. I seem to recall reading that he gave up on comics because he was unable to produce work that met his own standards, and he also had easier ways to make money. As I have previously said in reviews of other comics by similarly talented artists (e.g. Nate Simpson), it’s a shame that the American comics industry is not organized in such a way as to allow artists to do their best work. If you’re working for the French market, you can make a living by doing 50 ultra-detailed and painstaking pages a year; in America, that is a recipe for poverty. I love the comic book format, but there are some artists who are poorly served by it.

GODDESS #1 (Vertigo, 1995) – Garth Ennis [W], Phil Winslade [A]. This comic is weird and not in a good way. It’s a hybrid of Ennis’s funny/American and serious/British styles (see my review of Goddess #3) and these two styles don’t mesh together well. On one hand, the title character, Rosie, and the narrator, Jeff, are portrayed in a sympathetic and realistic way, reminding me of Kit and Constantine a little. On the other hand, everything else in the comic is much more reminiscent of Preacher or (shudder) All-Star Section Eight. It’s full of over-the-top satire and ridiculous violence, including one man being eaten alive by a shark – and that’s just on page eight. And then on page thirteen a different man is eaten alive by a tiger. This comic just doesn’t seem to know what sort of tone it’s going for. Phil Winslade’s art is amazing, though.

SWAMP THING #79 (DC, 1989) – Rick Veitch [W/A]. I’m pretty sure this is the only Rick Veitch Swamp Thing I hadn’t read. In this issue, Swampy tries to get revenge on Luthor for teleporting him into outer space, but Superman prevents Swampy from killing Luthor. This issue prompted my Facebook comment about how I vastly prefer the pre-Crisis mad scientist Luthor to the post-Crisis corrupt CEO Luthor. In this issue, Luthor is cartoonishly evil for no reason; in particular, he forces his new security chief to sleep with him, then probably rapes and/or murders her off-panel. The treatment of this latter character is disturbing; we never find out what happens to her, and Superman does nothing to protect her. This issue does include a very effective scene where Swampy asks Superman why he only protects humans and not other species, and Superman can’t immediately answer.

SUICIDE SQUAD #16 (DC, 1988) – John Ostrander [W], Luke McDonnell [A]. This issue reintroduces Shade the Changing Man, which is an impressive feat considering that the tone of his original series was completely different from the tone of Suicide Squad. Other than that it’s just an average issue of Suicide Squad.

THE SPECTRE #31 (DC, 1995) – John Ostrander [W], Tom Mandrake & Dave Chystek [A]. Considering how much I enjoy Ostrander’s writing, I ought to be collecting this series more heavily. This issue stands out because it focuses on Father Richard Craemer, who appears in both this series and Suicide Squad. When Father Craemer is put on trial before an ecclesiastical court for contesting official dogma on the gender of God, Amanda Waller and some other Suicide Squad members show up to testify on his behalf, but Father Craemer ends up resigning his ministry anyway. This issue’s depiction of canon law is probably somewhat inaccurate, but Father Craemer comes across as a deeply principled and honest man.

WEIRD FANTASY #19 (Russ Cochran, 1997, originally 1953) – Al Feldstein [W], various [A]. This issue starts with an adaptation (unauthorized I assume) of Bradbury’s “King of the Grey Spaces,” about a boy who abandons his best friend to become an astronaut. This is a compelling story with a significant homoerotic subtext, but Feldstein and Severin’s adaptation fails to capture what’s interesting about the story. Jack Kamen’s “Hot Rod” has a funny shock ending but is otherwise forgettable. Al Williamson’s “Brain-Child!” is the high point of the issue, mostly because of the beautiful art. Joe Orlando’s “Time for a Change” is just average.

TWO-FISTED TALES #1 (Russ Cochran, 1992) – various [W/A]. According to the GCD, each of the stories in this issue was written by the same person who drew it. Kurtzman’s “Conquest” is an impressive opening to this series. It has a very basic plot but it’s a powerful condemnation of the Spanish conquistadors. Al Feldstein’s “Hong Kong Intrigue” is a silly piece of Orientalism. Wally Wood’s “Revolution” is beautifully drawn but the writing is uninspired. Johnny Craig’s “Mutiny” is the second best story in the issue; it features some powerful action sequences and a bunch of silent panels.

BATMAN #460 (DC, 1991) – Alan Grant [W], Norm Breyfogle [A]. A fairly good Catwoman story. My favorite thing about it is the multiple scenes taking place in Selina’s apartment, which of course is full of cats. The subplot involving Commissioner Gordon and Sarah Essen is better than the main plot. Norm makes Gordon look as though he’s at least 70 years old.

GREEN ARROW #27 (DC, 1989) – Mike Grell [W], Dan Jurgens [A]. Most of Mike Grell’s protagonists are middle-aged adventurers suffering from midlife crises, and this issue brings together two such protagonists, Oliver Queen and Travis Morgan. The fact that these two characters are so similar is even a plot point in the issue, because people keep mistaking Morgan for Ollie. There’s one funny scene in this issue where you’re supposed to think Ollie and Dinah just had sex, but then it turns out they were fighting.

REID FLEMING, WORLD’S TOUGHEST MILKMAN #1 (Eclipse, 1986) – David Boswell [A]. I’ve been aware of this series for a long time, but have never read it before. I didn’t think it was the kind of thing I’d like. I was wrong, because this is an amazing comic. It’s full of funny absurdist humor, and Reid Fleming himself is a fascinating character – a mean, rude jerk but with a surprisingly tender side. He reminds me a bit of Harvey Pekar. David Boswell’s art is impressive, full of cross-hatching and fine detail; he reminds me of Drew Friedman. Even the lettering complements the artwork very well. I want to read more of this series.

New comics received on June 3. This was a fairly light week and I read more old comics this week than new ones.

PAPER GIRLS #6 (Image, 2016) – Brian K. Vaughan [W], Cliff Chiang [A]. This issue, the girls travel to the future where they meet a future version of Erin. This series continues to be reasonably fun, but the plot still makes very little sense, and I don’t quite understand this comic is supposed to be “about.” The highlight of the issue is Erin and her friends’ amazed reaction on seeing HDTV.

GIANT DAYS #15 (Boom!, 2016) – John Allison [W], Max Sarin [A]. The gimmick this issue is that the girls are competing in a film festival, and they win the top prize by accident. It’s almost pointless reviewing each issue of this series because they’re all very similar, although that’s not a bad thing.

THE GODDAMNED #4 (Image, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], R.M. Guéra [A]. This series has been a bit disappointing on a narrative level – I was honestly hoping for more sex in addition to all the violence. R.M. Guéra’s art is still amazing, and it’s the primary reason to read this comic; Cain is not as interesting a character as some of Jason Aaron’s other protagonists.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #10 (Action Lab, 2016) – Kyle Puttkammer [W], Marcus Williams [A]. When I read this, I initially wondered if I’d missed an issue, because the story begins in media res with no explanation of what’s been going on. In this issue, the Hero Cats somehow find themselves in an Old West town and they have an adventure in which all the old Western clichés are trotted out. It’s funny, but there’s also no explanation for why this town is stuck at a 19th-century level of technology. Though I’ve already pointed out that this series requires more than a normal level of suspension of disbelief.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #5 (Image, 2016) – Matt Fraction [W], Fábio Moon [A]. This week was full of comics that didn’t quite make sense, or didn’t live up to expectations, or both. Casanova is a bizarre and confusing comic at the best of times, and the confusion gets even worse when there’s a nine-month (!) gap between issues. They should have waited to publish this series until the whole thing was finished. At least Matt and Fábio’s work is up to its usual high level. The highlight of this issue is the bookstore with an interdimensional gateway behind the counter, though I have no idea what this has to do with anything.

HELLBOY IN HELL #9 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Mike Mignola [W/A]. I’m only an intermittent Hellboy reader – it looks like I only read issue 8 of this series, and I can’t remember anything about it. However, the plot of this issue is not difficult to understand: Hellboy is in hell for some reason, as the title indicates, and he’s defeating all the local demons one by one. Mignola’s artwork, which is the primary reason I ordered this comic, is fantastic.

HELLBOY IN HELL #10 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Mike Mignola [W/A]. Even though I’m only a casual Hellboy fan, I had to read Mike’s final issue. There’s a lot of stuff here that I don’t understand, such as the three shapes on the last page (a reference to “The Magician and the Snake?”), but this seems like an appropriate conclusion to one of the most important creator-owned comic books of the last twenty years.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #11 (Action Lab, 2016) – as above. I guess the point of this storyline is that each issue is an homage to a different genre. In this issue, the Hero Cats have a jungle adventure, where they team up with a Tarzan-esque character and fight a jungle demon. Cassiopeia, who is becoming the focal character of the series, saves the day, and the story ends with a group hug. Cute. And now I’m finally caught up on this series. Next time I see Puttkammer or Williams at a convention, I want to show them my picture of my own cat lying on top of an issue of Hero Cats.

MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS: PINK #1 (Boom!, 2016) – Brenden Fletcher & Kelly Thompson [W], Daniele Di Nicuolo [A]. I was excited about this series because of the high level of talent involved, but it proved to be disappointing. It just seems like a generic adventure story with nothing distinctive about it. Perhaps the problem is that I never liked the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – I only remember seeing one episode when I was a kid, and I hated it. So I’m completely unfamiliar with the protagonist or any of the other characters. I was equally unfamiliar with Jem and the Holograms when I started reading it, and I love that series, but it doesn’t assume any prior knowledge of the TV show.

THE INFINITE LOOP #4 (IDW, 2015) – Pierrick Colinet [W], Elsa Charretier [A]. This is just not a good comic. Elsa Charretier’s artwork is interesting, though her page layouts are sometimes overly cluttered, but Pierrick Colinet… to put it delicately, his writing has substantial room for improvement. First, the message of this series is that tolerance is good and that it’s okay to be gay. This is of course a valuable message, but it’s not nearly as controversial as the creators think. By publishing a comic with this message, Colinet and Charretier are preaching to the choir. Moreover, Colinet makes his points in such a heavy-handed and unsubtle way that he antagonizes the reader. The oppressive society that Teddy is fighting against is an unrealistic strawman: at the beginning of this issue, Teddy’s mother literally tells her that war is peace, freedom is slavery, etc. As other reviewers have pointed out, this comic’s plot is confusing and poorly explained, and the protagonists are essentially ciphers. At this point, the only reason I read the last two issues of this series was because I already had them.

INFINITE LOOP #5 (IDW, 2015) – Pierrick Colinet [W], Elsa Charretier [A]. So here’s another example of Colinet’s heavy-handed writing. At the beginning of this issue, there’s a new character who switches from male to female repeatedly. This is a cool idea, but Colinet proceeds to ruin it by having this character make a long-winded angry sermon about genderqueer identity. Here’s an excerpt:

“You know what, I won’t even get into it. I don’t know why I should fit into your binary, narrow-minded and dark aged system […] Oh, please. Don’t you even dare ‘calm-your-tits’ me! What is that even supposed to mean? That if I had switched to a dude right before you giving my speech, you would have given me more credit? Is that what you mean? Because believe me, I don’t need to grow my pair back to kick yours.”

And it goes on like that for three more panels. When an argument is expressed in such a combative way, it’s annoying even to readers who already believe the argument. I felt as if the character making this speech was insulting me, the reader, as well as the characters to whom she was speaking, and I didn’t do anything to deserve such insults. Another problem here is Colinet’s awkward prose style, but I’ll get to that next.

INFINITE LOOP #6 (IDW, 2015) – Pierrick Colinet [W], Elsa Charretier [A]. A further problem with this series is the prose style. Pierrick Colinet’s English is so awkward and unidiomatic, he might have been better off writing this comic in French and then hiring someone to translate it into English. Here’s an example: “What are the chances?” “So low I don’t even want to think about it. It might take some trial and error, but if those afraid to lose hadn’t taken chances, we’d still be covered in hair, eating stupid seeds.” Overall, this series had some interesting artwork and it launched Elsa Charretier’s promising career, but it was not effectively written.

JEREMIAH: THE HEIRS #1 (Malibu, 1991) – Hermann [W/A]. This comic reprints the first half of an album by Hermann, who recently won the Angoulême Grand Prix under controversial circumstances. Malibu’s reproduction of Hermann’s art is severely problematic. The original Jeremiah albums were in color, but this comic is in black and white, making Hermann’s artwork difficult to parse. And the art is reproduced at a microscopic size, not even filling the entire page. Even then, Hermann’s artwork is brilliant. The level of detail and craftsmanship that goes into each panel is amazing, at least compared to most American comics. This just proves the point I made in my review of Rocketeer #3 above – in France, you can draw with this amount of detail and still make a living, because you only have to produce about 50 pages a year. In America, comics with such high-quality draftsmanship are rare, and this is because of the economic model of the industry. I’m less impressed by this comic’s writing than by its art, but Hermann’s story is reasonably good; this comic is a fairly interesting combination of the post-apocalyptic and Western genres. Dark Horse has published Jeremiah and other works of Hermann in much higher-quality editions, and I’d like to get those books someday.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #10 (Marvel, 2015) – Mark Waid [W], Doc Shaner [A]. I bought this because of the Howard the Duck guest appearance; I don’t remember if I knew about the Doc Shaner artwork. In this story, Mark shows a reasonably good understanding of Howard’s character. On the first page, someone mentions that Howard “can better deal with big emergencies if they’re seasoned with a dash of the comically mundane” and that “the fuel that revs his motor is resentment.” Both of those statements seem highly accurate. Mark also does an okay job of imitating the basic silliness of Steve Gerber and Chip Zdarsky’s Howard stories. Doc Shaner’s art is below his usual level, though.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #111 (Marvel, 1980) – Roy Thomas [W], John Buscema [A]. This is one of the final issues of Roy’s first run on Conan. It’s a high-quality comic, but I’ve read almost this entire run, and there’s not much here that’s new to me. The most interesting thing about this story is the woman who claims to be married to Conan. Characteristically, Conan denies that he’s married to her, but has no objection to sleeping with her.

JACK STAFF #2 (Image, 2003) – Paul Grist [W/A]. I’m not familiar with either the plot of this comic or the classic British comics that it’s based on, but I love Paul Grist’s artwork. One thing that particularly stands out to me is how he uses lettering as one of the major compositional elements of each panel, much like Ellen Forney does.

STARTLING STORIES: BANNER #2 (Marvel, 2001) – Brian Azzarello [W], Richard Corben [A]. This issue’s story is just an excuse for Richard Corben’s beautiful, testosterone-soaked artwork. I have nothing to add to my review of the previous issue.

TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE #8 (IDW, 2011) – Tom Scioli [W/A], John Barber [W]. I’ve been collecting this series but not reading it. Tom Scioli’s artwork fascinates me – on one hand it looks primitive and childish and unprofessional, but on the other hand it has an utterly unique and distinctive sensibility, like Kirby crossed with Gary Panter. He seems like kind of a naïve artist, in that he just draws whatever he wants to draw, without much concern for what critics might think of it. I saw him drawing once at a convention, and he was drawing on some random piece of paper that he just happened to have; somehow this working method seems appropriate to his style of artwork. The story of this comic doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I don’t think it’s supposed to.

PAST AWAYS #4 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Matt Kindt [W], Scott Kolins [A]. I’m slowly working my way through this series. In this issue, Arthur goes to a psychiatrist, the team fights a giant evil tentacle, and Phil plots to have Arthur killed. One enjoyable thing about this series is the text pieces at the end of each issue, where Herbert comments on the stupidity of 21st-century America from the perspective of a person from the future.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #2 (Fantagraphics, 2015) – Ed Piskor [W/A]. I think I’ve already read all this material, but it’s enlightening to read it again with Ed’s notes. It’s better to read the notes at the same time as the main story, rather than afterward.

HELLBLAZER #62 (DC, 1993) – Garth Ennis [W], Steve Dillon [A]. This is one of Ennis and Dillon’s better single issues of Hellblazer. It focuses on Constantine’s relationship with his family, especially his niece Gemma, and his heritage. When Constantine finds out that Gemma’s classmate is getting her involved in magic, he finds the classmate and “curses” him. The “curse” is a bunch of made-up nonsense, but the classmate believes every word of it. This scene is kind of a perfect summary of how magic works in this series: for Constantine, convincing someone that you can do magic is the same as doing it. Later in the issue, Constantine exorcises the ghost of an old ancestor of his, and realizes that “it’s no failure to be the last Constantine, ‘cos now no one else has to be.” Reading this issue gave me a sense of déjà vu because I know I’ve read the cursing scene before, but as far as I can tell, I didn’t already have this issue, and the second half of it did not ring a bell. Maybe I read that scene on scans_daily or something.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #6 (DC, 1979) – Paul Levitz [W], Curt Swan [A]. This Superman-Green Lantern team-up is a fun comic, but it’s not comparable to some of Levitz’s other works from this period. Star Sapphire defeats Green Lantern in battle, but Hal sends his ring to Superman, and they team up to beat the villain. It’s a well-executed but formulaic piece of work.

XENOZOIC TALES #9 (Kitchen Sink, 1989) – Mark Schultz [W/A]. I believe this was the last issue of Xenozoic Tales I hadn’t read, but “Last Link in the Chain” was the first Mark Schultz story I ever read. It was reprinted in a free comic that was published to promote the short-lived Cadillacs & Dinosaurs TV show. (Just to remind myself, it’s the one where Jack is chased by a big dinosaur that then gets eaten by an even bigger dinosaur.) When I read that comic in 1993, I had no ability to appreciate Mark Schultz’s brilliant artwork, but reading it again now, I realize how amazing this story is; it’s full of spectacular action scenes that remind me of the best work of Frazetta or Williamson. The only thing I don’t like about Schultz’s art is his faces. The backup story by Steve Stiles is of course not as gorgeously drawn, but it does advance the ongoing plot. Unfortunately, Mark Schultz is another artist whose work is too labor-intensive to be profitable.

DAREDEVIL #46 (Marvel, 1968) – Stan Lee [W], Gene Colan [A]. Like most Lee/Colan Daredevils, this issue has brilliant artwork, witty dialogue, and a plot that wouldn’t have been any different if Spider-Man had been substituted for Daredevil. When Matt is falsely accused of killing the Jester, he has to find the actual Jester and fight him on live camera in order to clear his name, but even after he does that, he’s still depressed over not being able to see Karen Page. This comic is more fun than most current superhero comics, but it’s not better than the Spider-Man comics of its day.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #130 (DC, 1976) – Martin Pasko [W], Dick Dillin [A]. This issue introduces the Dharlu, the female alien who becomes imprisoned in the JLA Satellite’s computer. I’ve been curious about the origin of this character ever since I encountered her in later issues of JLofA, so it was fun to finally learn what the Dharlu was and where she came from. In terms of its actual merits, this issue is a competent effort but nothing great.

INCREDIBLE HULK #190 (Marvel, 1975) – Len Wein [W], Herb Trimpe [A]. My copy of this issue is brittle and flaking apart; I need to replace it. Herb Trimpe’s run on the Hulk was the high point of the series between Stan Lee and Peter David, and this issue is a good example of his work. The Hulk is feeling sad and lonely and persecuted, as usual, when the Shaper of Worlds’s servant Glorian creates a paradise for him. Of course the Hulk only gets to stay there for a little bit before he’s abducted by alien toads (?), but his brief sojourn in paradise is very touching, and reminds me of another classic Hulk story from this period, “Heaven is a Very Small Place” from #147. This issue also includes a posthumous appearance by Crackajack Jackson, whose only actual appearance was in #182, a classic issue that I’ve never been able to afford because it’s also the third appearance of Wolverine.

CHEVAL NOIR #31 (Dark Horse, 1992) – various [W/A]. This series reprinted a number of classic European comics, although some of them, like the Hermann story discussed above, were reprinted in black and white when they were originally in color. This issue begins with a segment of Cosey’s “In Search of Peter Pan.” The plot of this album is not entirely clear to me, but it takes place in an Alpine village in Switzerland, which is depicted in loving detail. Cosey is from Switzerland himself and he must know this area like the back of his hand. The other long piece in the issue is the conclusion of Comès’s “Tree-Heart.” This story has perhaps the heaviest spotting of blacks I’ve ever seen; there is so much black ink on each page that you can actually feel it. The visual effect of this is stunning, but because this chapter is the conclusion of the story, it doesn’t make much sense on its own. “In Search of Peter Pan” was also published in book form by NBM, but “Tree-Heart” is the only work by Comès that’s available in English, and it was only published in Cheval Noir. This issue also includes a few other things, such as a chapter of David Lynch’s “The Angriest Dog in the World,” which Bart Beaty once described as the worst comic strip in history.

X-MEN: WORST X-MAN EVER #4 (Marvel, 2016) – Max Bemis [W], Michael Walsh [A]. This series is fun, but it’s more of a parody of the X-Men than an actual X-Men comic, and Michael Walsh’s artwork is both unsuited to, and better than, Max Bemis’s story. This issue begins with a funny dream sequence in which the X-Men make metatextual comments about baseball games and other X-Men clichés. But after that, the rest of the issue consists of a series of scenes with little connection to each other. This series is all right, but I’d rather be reading a real X-Men comic, and I wish Marvel would get the license back from Fox already, so that they could start making better X-Men comics.

A-FORCE #6 (Marvel, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Ben Caldwell [A]. This issue continues the story with Enchantress and Dazzler Thor. It’s okay but not amazing. The one thing that impresses me most about this issue is Ben Caldwell’s hand-lettered sound effects, which make a big contribution to the visual aesthetic of each page. I’m going to have to ask him about his sound effects if I see him at Heroes Con.

DC COMICS BOMBSHELLS #12 (DC, 2016) – Marguerite Bennett [W], Laura Braga & Mirka Andolfo [A]. This conclusion to the first story arc is exciting but also a bit disappointing. Kortni’s death is a heroic sacrifice, but also seems like a waste of a perfectly good character. Somehow I forgot to order issue 13.

DOCTOR STRANGE #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Chris Bachalo [A]. This is another fairly good issue, but quite similar to the last few issues. Empirikul storyline has been going on for this entire series, and I wish Jason would move on to something else. As I read this issue, I wondered how it’s possible that in this series, almost all the magic in the world has been destroyed, but in Power Man & Iron Fist, the Supersoul Stone still works and Doctor Strange has all his powers. And don’t tell me that that story takes place before Last Days of Magic, because it came out at the exact same time. Oh well, I guess I don’t mind this sort of loose approach to continuity.

New comics received on June 10, the final new comic book day before Heroes Con. Lots of exciting stuff this week.

LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY #1 (Boom!/DC, 2016) – Chynna Clugston-Flores [W], Rosemary Valero-O’Connell [A]. I was very very excited about this series – it’s the best idea for a crossover title in many years. The Lumberjanes and the Gotham Academy characters are so perfectly suited to each other. They’re the same age, their titles have very similar sensibilities, and the boarding school and summer camp genres are really the same genre, just with different settings. My enthusiasm waned when I saw that Chynna Clugston-Flores wrote this issue, because I was not impressed by her backup story in Lumberjanes #25. But she did a much better job on this issue, though maybe another writer could have done even better. And Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s art is impressive. Some especially nice things in the issue are the deer-chicken-whatever creature in Rosie’s office, and the panel where Bubbles turns from a hat into a raccoon. A cool thing that we discover in this issue is that while the Lumberjanes and the Gotham Academy kids are very similar in many ways, they also have different competencies; the Lumberjanes are perfectly at home in the wilderness while the Academy kids are out of their element. I hope there will be a later issue where the Lumberjanes visit Gotham Academy and are equally out of their depth. This issue also includes a preview of James Tynion and Rian Sygh’s The Backstagers. I don’t know if I’ve read anything by James Tynion before, but this preview is impressive and it makes me want to read the series when it comes out.

HOWARD THE DUCK #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Chip Zdarsky [W], Joe Quinones [A]. “The Return of Bev” is the story I’ve been waiting for since Chip’s first issue of Howard. Howard’s relationship with Bev is the emotional center of his life, and her absence left a gaping hole in this series, which had to be filled by introducing Tara. This issue we finally see Bev again, and we learn that she’s finally had enough of the weirdness that surrounds Howard, and she needs a break from him. (As an example of how trouble always follows Howard around, as soon as he arrives at Bev’s house, he’s attacked by Sentinels.) As a huge Bev fan, I find this story rather bittersweet – it feels like a break-up. But you do get the sense that Bev and Howard genuinely love each other and that they’re going to get back together eventually. I also think that this is the most emotionally rich story Chip Zdarsky has written, and it’s proof that he’s continuing to grow as a writer.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #20 (Image, 2016) – Kieron Gillen [W], Jamie McKelvie [A]. Thanks to a deceptive clicikbait headline that I saw at Bleeding Cool, I expected this issue to be much more shocking than it was. Still, this issue effectively fills in the gap between the second and third story arcs, explaining how Inanna and Laura’s parents died and how Laura herself survived. And in general it’s another good issue of an excellent series. I don’t understand why the name Nergal is so embarrassing.

GOLDIE VANCE #3 (Boom!, 2016) – Hope Larson [W], Brittney Williams [A]. Another excellent issue. I think this is the best Boom! Box title besides Lumberjanes and Giant Days. I did think that this issue went by very quickly compared to the last two, and the most memorable thing about it may have been the absurdly low gas prices. I’m glad to see that Goldie Vance is now an ongoing series, because it really deserves to be one.

THE VISION #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Tom King [W], Gabriel Hernandez Walta [A]. Another good issue of what is probably the densest, most intelligently written comic book at the moment. In terms of his prose style and the density of his writing and the way that he packs interesting stuff into every panel, Tom King is the closest current writer to Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore. This issue introduces Victor Mancha from Runaways, who has become an uncle to Vision’s kids. (And we also learn that he’s going to get killed, but I’m not worried; he can always be resurrected.) Introducing this character into the series is a very smart decision which demonstrates Tom King’s impressive ability to build on older continuity, and Victor’s interactions with the Visions are cute. Also, the dog is named Sparky.

WONDER WOMAN: REBIRTH #1 (DC, 2016) – Greg Rucka [W], Matthew Clark & Liam Sharp [A]. This issue got some positive reviews, but I hated it. To quote myself from a Facebook post: “No plot to speak of, hideous artwork for the first 14 pages, too much focus on continuity, and only 20 pages of story for $2.99.” I couldn’t understand what the hell was going on in this issue; it’s supposed to be a jumping-on point, and yet it assumes knowledge of both Azzarello and Chiang’s Wonder Woman, and DC Rebirth #1. Also, the entire issue was readable in a matter of minutes. I still think Greg Rucka is one of the best Wonder Woman writers, and I’m going to stick with his Wonder Woman at least for a bit, but this issue makes me much less excited both for this Wonder Woman series and for DC Rebirth in general.

BAKER STREET PECULIARS #4 (Boom!, 2016) – Roger Langridge [W], Andy Hirsch [A]. This is another satisfying and fun issue, but I still think that overall, neither this series nor Abigail and the Snowman was as impressive as Snarked. Though I still haven’t read the last three issues of Snarked, so maybe that series had an anticlimactic ending. I do think this comic deserves a sequel, and it ends in a way that clearly leaves room for one. It was really obvious that Sherlock Holmes was Mrs. Hudson, but I was surprised by the revelation that there never was a real Sherlock Holmes.

SHUTTER #22 (Image, 2016) – Joe Keatinge [W], Leila del Duca [A]. SPOILER WARNING. This is the most shocking and unexpected issue of the series yet. It reminds me of the issue of The Wicked + The Divine where Laura dies. In the space of just a few pages, the entire cast except for Kate and Christopher gets killed. As I was reading this scene, I was like, wait, there’s no way this is really happening – and then I realized that yes, it was really happening. I expect that at least some of the characters who seemingly died in this issue are going to turn up alive, but even then, this massacre was brutal. It’s going to be tough to wait for the next issue.

REVIVAL #40 (Image, 2016) – Tim Seeley [W], Mike Norton [A]. I have gotten hopelessly confused as to what’s going on in this comic, but by the time I finished reading this issue, I more or less got it. General Cale’s goal is to destroy the Revivers, and Riley is trying to stop her, and he’s figured out a way for the yellow ghost creatures to possess people other than their hosts. Also, things are looking bad for Dana and Em. My excitement for this series has decreased a bit, but I expect that the conclusion of this story will be exciting.

VAMPIRELLA #3 (Dynamite, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Eman Casallos [A]. If I hadn’t already ordered the next couple issues of this series, I would stop reading it now. It’s not bad exactly, but Kate Leth’s writing just doesn’t grab me, and I can’t figure out who any of the characters are. Also, I like the way she writes Vampirella, but Vampi herself has never been a particularly strong character; the backup features in the Warren Vampirella comic were always better than the actual Vampirella stories.

BLACK CANARY #11 (DC, 2016) – Brenden Fletcher [W], Sandy Jarrell [A]. Every recent issue of Black Canary has seemed totally disconnected from the issues before and after it. This series is seriously lacking in narrative flow. This issue does have some fairly good artwork that occasionally reminds me of German Expressionism, and the opening scene, with Dinah standing on a pile of knocked-out bodies, is pretty funny.

PAST AWAYS #6 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Matt Kindt [W], Scott Kolins [A]. The gimmick in this issue reminds me of David Ives’s play “Sure Thing.” Phil hires some dude to assassinate Arthur, and every time the assassin fails, Phil rewinds time so the assassin can try again. And finally Arthur does get assassinated, which is supposed to be impossible. Cool things in this issue include a sword that inflicts wounds and then makes the victim forget about them, and Herbert’s revelatory discovery of coffee. It looks like I forgot to read Past Aways #5.

JONESY #4 (Boom!, 2016) – Sam Humphries [W], Caitlin Rose Boyle [A]. I still don’t get the joke behind this comic, if there is one, but it’s a fun comic anyway. This issue is a prom story that draws upon lots of old prom clichés. I’m not sure I was previously aware that the same writer was responsible for both Weirdworld and Jonesy. I guess Humphries’s exclusive DC contract does not include creator-owned work (so it’s still possible that this contract is why he left Weirdworld).


Reviews I forgot to post earlier


New comics received on May 13. This week I was scrambling to finish grading and I had limited time to read comics.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #42 (IDW, 2016) – Katie Cook [W], Andy Price [A]. I was going to try to write this in Pinkie Pie’s voice, but I have too many of these reviews to get through. I’m very sorry that this is Katie’s last pony comic. However, it’s a very effective conclusion to one of the great children’s comics of the decade, and it combines two things I love about MLP: metafiction and Pinkie Pie. I need to read this comic again to catch all the references and metatextual moments. It’s a good thing this comic came out after my pony transmedia article was already finished, or I would have had to write a whole extra section about it.

GOTHAM ACADEMY #18 (DC, 2016) – Brenden Fletcher [W], various [A]. Another yearbook issue. Most of the vignettes this issue are just okay, although the Silversmith character’s obsession with silver is adorable. The Faith Erin Hicks story is brilliant and I’m sorry it’s just a two-pager. Incidentally, earlier today I reread that ThinkProgress story from 2013 about the ignorant sexist comments made by Gerry Conway, Todd McFarlane and Len Wein, and one of the stupid things Gerry said was that his daughter was interested in reading Faith Erin Hicks comics, but not superhero comics, because those are for boys. It’s ironic that Faith Erin Hicks has now been published by DC.

THE VISION #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Tom King [W], Michael Walsh [A]. Instead of following up on the cliffhanger from last issue, Tom King offers us a summary of the Vision’s relationship with the Scarlet Witch over the years, which ends in the revelation that Virginia is based on Wanda’s brain patterns. The story is called “I Too Shall Be Saved by Love,” which is a brilliant reference to Avengers #147 (this is mentioned on the letters page, but I got the reference on my own). It’s a beautiful tribute to 50 years of Marvel history, and Tom King writes Wanda very well. He even takes John Byrne’s West Coast Avengers – a series which did irreparable damage to both Vision and Wanda, and which I’d like to pretend never happened – and makes it seem like part of a greater pattern. Unfortunately, in order to get the full meaning out of this story, you have to be an Avengers expert, and I’m afraid that newer readers may miss a lot of the nuance in it.

SHUTTER #21 (Image, 2016) – Joe Keatinge [W], Leila del Duca [A]. This issue introduces a new Kristopher child and his mother Zohra, a truly formidable character; I assume she’s based on Oprah but she impresses me even more than Oprah. It also reintroduces that one cat assassin dude whose name I forget, as well as providing an origin for the three mouse dudes. There’s one page where Leila del Duca depicts the three mouse characters’ histroy in a funny animal style, and this is another demonstration of her impressive stylistic range.

BAKER STREET PECULIARS #3 (Boom!, 2016) – Roger Langridge [W], Andy Hirsch [A]. Another very effective issue of Roger Langridge’s latest masterpiece, though it doesn’t offer any big surprises or shocking revelations. This issue demonstrates Roger’s skill with characterization; the three main characters all come from different backgrounds, have different personalities and skills, and yet they succeed in working together.

STARFIRE #12 (DC, 2016) – Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti [W], Elsa Charretier [A]. The last issue of this series is also the worst. It’s a disappointing conclusion to a series I really enjoyed. Kory leaves Key West and her relationship with Sol ends before it starts, because it turns out he’s in love with someone else. Given how this entire series has revolved around Kory’s sex appeal, it’s frustrating that she goes 12 issues without ever getting to have actual sex with anyone. It’s like some theoretical text I read once (Adorno and Horkheimer’s Culture Industry maybe?) about how popular texts constantly hold out the promise of sexual pleasure but never satisfy it. Also, I already said that I think the end to this series is stupid. Kory has to leave Key West because she’s a danger to the people around her, but where is she supposed to go instead? The answer is that she’s going to vanish back into limbo, and who knows if we’ll ever get another Starfire series as promising as this one was.

MOONCOP: A TOM GAULD SAMPLER #nn (Drawn & Quarterly, 2016) – Tom Gauld [W/A]. I couldn’t get to a comic book store for FCBD this year, and I missed my chance to order FCBD issues from DCBS. Luckily they let me order some anyway, but they were out of the ones I really wanted, like the Boom! Studios issue. I was excited about this issue because I love Tom Gauld’s single-panel cartoons and strips, but this example of his longer-form work proved to be disappointing. It has no plot to speak of, and it fails to arouse any major emotional reaction in me. This issue also includes some of Tom Gauld’s shorter work, but it’s all things I’ve read already.

GRIZZLY SHARK #2 (Image, 2016) – Ryan Ottley [W/A]. I also bought the first issue of this, but was disappointed to learn that it was just a reprint of the second half of Sea Bear and Grizzly Shark #1 (reviewed elsewhere on this blog). This issue is a sequel to that story. It’s basically just 22 pages of ridiculously overblown violence. This sort of thing is funny the first time around, but gets old fast, and I can already get ridiculous over-the-top nonsense from Chew or God Hates Astronauts. I’m willing to stay with this series for another issue or two, but after that I’ll probably get sick of it.

ACTIONVERSE FEATURING MOLLY DANGER #1 (Action Lab, 2016) – Jamal Igle [W/A]. This is part of a crossover, but I’m not interested in the other parts. I funded the Molly Danger kickstarter, if I recall correctly, and I have the hardcover Molly Danger book, though I haven’t read it yet. This issue has the same beautiful Jamal Igle artwork as the hardcover book, though at a much smaller size, and it’s also a good introduction to the character. I especially like the splash page with Molly lifting a giant weight that’s bigger than she is.

WILDC.A.T.S #30 (Image, 1996) – Alan Moore [W], Travis Charest [A]. Hard to believe this comic is 20 years old already. This is a minor Alan Moore work; it’s a fun and exciting superhero story, but not much more than that. The best thing about it is Alan’s witty dialogue. Travis Charest’s art is good but not incredible.

GODDESS #3 (Vertigo, 1995) – Garth Ennis [W], Phil Winslade [A]. I think the difference between Garth Ennis comics I like and Garth Ennis comics I don’t like is that the former tend to have British themes, while the latter tend to have American themes. Ennis’s American stories always emphasize the most obnoxious and hateful things about America, even when he’s trying to depict America in a positive light. And his American comics tend to be more about satire and low comedy than about genuine passion. This miniseries is about both British and American themes, so it’s kind of a hybrid of good Ennis and bad Ennis. The best thing about this issue is Phil Winslade’s art. It has a very photorealistic style, reminding me of what I’ve seen of Frank Bellamy’s art, and it uses color brilliantly. It’s surprising that this was his first pencil work for a major publisher.

L’ECHO DES SAVANES #11 (Editions du Fromage, 1975) – various [W/A]. This is a French comic published in the American format. I bought it a couple years ago at Heroes Con, I think, but never read it because of the language barrier, which is formidable – this comic contains a number of text pages, which were very tedious to get through. This issue includes some translated material by Wally Wood (“My Universe” from Big Apple Comix), Harvey Kurtzman and Bobby London, as well as new stories by Nikita Mandryka, Annie Goetzinger and Jacques Lob. The Mandryka story is an average piece of slapstick, and I don’t think it’s his strongest work. The Goetzinger story is maybe the strongest piece in the issue. It’s beautifully and sensuously drawn, and while I don’t fully understand the story, it seems to be about a girl who reads romance novels as an escape from her stifling family environment. The Lob story, “L’homme au landau,” is his first work as a writer-artist – he was previously known only as a writer. It has sort of a Crumbian sensibility – it’s about a grown man who rides in a baby carriage and who convinces an attractive woman to take care of him as if he were a baby. Again, I don’t quite get the point of this, but it’s funny in a shocking way. Overall, this issue was difficult to read given my somewhat poor understanding of French, but it’s an interesting glimpse into an area of French comics that’s very badly represented in English translation.

SOLO #12 (DC, 2006) – Brendan McCarthy [W/A] The final issue of Solo spotlights Brendan McCarthy, and unlike all the other issues, it consists of stories that are all interconnected. However, as with much of McCarthy’s other work, the stories here are all highly surrealistic, and they’re linked by dream logic rather than narrative logic. Characters and objects from one story show up in other stories, but none of the stories make much logical sense even on their own, and it’s not clear how they all fit together. This comic also has some metatextual elements, such as a page where Johnny Sorrow finds a bunch of torn-up Silver Age comics on a beach. But again, it’s not clear that McCarthy is trying to express any coherent message with his use of metatext. On the last page we find out that the entire issue is just a dream that Saturn Girl is having, but this seems like just a cop-out that doesn’t really explain anything. I’m not saying any of this as a criticism; this comic was not meant to be logically consistent, and it succeeds in resonating with me on an emotional level. Also, McCarthy’s artwork is brilliant. His coloring is my favorite thing about his artwork, but in this issue he shows a lot of versatility; he experiments with collage and other techniques, and draws in lots of different styles.

NOMAN #2 (Tower, 1967) – Steve Skeates and possibly others [W], Ogden Whitney and Chic Stone [A]. Another comic that I’ve had for a long time, but didn’t want to take the time to read, because of how long it is. This T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents spinoff includes five stories, four with NoMan (one of which guest-stars Dynamo) and one with Lightning. These stories are all about equal in quality to the main T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents title, though the art is not as good; four of them are drawn by Ogden Whitney and the fifth by Chic Stone. Probably the most fun story is the fourth one, where a villain tries to resurrect Hitler.

SWAMP THING #84 (DC Comics, 1989) – Rick Veitch [W], Tom Mandrake [A]. This is one of the last Rick Veitch Swamp Things I hadn’t read; the only one I don’t have is #77. Swampy does not appear in this issue because he’s still stuck in the past. Instead, the issue focuses on Abby, who discovers that she’s on the hook for her comatose husband Matt Cable’s medical bills, and, worse, that his body is being used for gruesome medical experiments. Abby decides to put Matt out of his misery, but Matt saves her the trouble by coming out of his coma and killing himself, having had a dream where Morpheus advised him to do so. Nine months later, Sandman #11 introduced a new character named Matthew the Raven. I was shocked when I realized how the timing of these two stories worked out, because I hadn’t realized Veitch and Gaiman must have intentionally coordinated their plans for this character. Indeed, it turns out that Rick was going to kill off Matt Cable anyway, and he asked Neil if he could have Matt die in the Dreaming, but Neil took advantage of the opportunity to introduce Matt into Sandman as Matthew the Raven. Also, Rick and Neil were already in close contact because Neil was going to be the next writer on Swamp Thing, only he quit in solidarity with Rick over the cancellation of the Jesus story. Anyway, that’s a cool piece of history that I wasn’t aware of. The main thing I dislike about this issue is Abby’s lack of agency; the only proactive thing she does is to decide to kill Matt, and even then he beats her to it.

CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA #2 (Archie, 2015) – Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa [W], Robert Hack [A]. This comic got off to a promising start, but lost all of its momentum because of chronic lateness. I missed issues 2 and 3 when they came out, probably because they were cancelled, and I forgot to reorder them when they were solicited again. Issue 5 did just come out, so at least this comic hasn’t been abandoned, but who knows when there’ll be another issue. Anyway, whereas Afterlife with Archie is a funny horror comic, Sabrina is more of a pure horror comic; the fact that it features Archie characters is almost incidental. The main villain (whose name and backstory I’ve forgotten thanks to the amount of time since I read issue #1) is horrific, and the plot is bleak and depressing, offering little reason for hope. The Ann-Margret scene is cute though.

KENNEL BLOCK BLUES #4 (IDW, 2016) – Ryan Ferrier [W], Daniel Bayliss [A]. This comic failed to live up to the hype. In the end, it’s just a trite example of the prison escape genre, with the gimmick that the characters are dogs and cats. I still like the artwork, but I won’t rush to buy any more comics from this writer.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #8 (Boom!, 2016) – Kyle Puttkammer [W], Marcus Williams [A]. In part one of the Crow King story, the Crow King puts all the Hero Cats to sleep, and they have a shared dream where they’re all humans. Seeing the Hero Cats in their human forms is cute and funny; the best one is Belle, who becomes a queen living in a castle full of statues of cats and fish. Rocco, who becomes a giant hulking warrior, is also pretty cool.

TYSON HESSE’S DIESEL #3 (Boom!, 2015) – Tyson Hesse [W/A]. In this issue, Dee gets stuck on solid ground where she encounters Bull, one of her adoptive brothers. (I don’t think I even knew Dee was adopted; it’s been a while since I read issue 1.) Tyson Hesse’s artwork is really strong, but the problem with this series is Dee, who is just an awful protagonist. She’s an entitled brat with no marketable skills, who’s spent her whole life coasting on the expectation of her inheritance, and this issue doesn’t advance her character arc very much.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2016: ALL AGES #nn (Dark Horse, 2016) – Michael Dante DiMartino [W], Heather Campbell [A] on lead story. The cover story in this issue is the tale of Korra’s first meeting with her polar bear dog Naga. Little Kora and Naga are really really cute, but the story didn’t do much for me because I’ve only seen one episode of Korra; I haven’t been able to get into it even though I’m a huge fan of the first Avatar series. I could have done without the other two stories in this issue. The How to Train Your Dragon story is reasonably well done, but I haven’t seen the film and I don’t intend to. As for the Plants vs. Zombies story, I don’t see the point of making a comic about a video game that has no plot. (Which Paul Tobin has done twice, with PvZ and Angry Birds.)

ARCHIE #8 (Archie, 2016) – Mark Waid [W], Veronica Fish [A]. I’ve been somewhat lukewarm about this series lately, but this issue is pretty good. The plot is exciting if farfetched, and Veronica Fish draws some cute dogs and cats. The one thing that surprises me about Mark Waid’s Archie is its emphasis on Archie’s clumsiness. I guess Archie was a klutz from the very beginning, but I never got the impression that clumsiness was his strongest character trait. Indeed, for me, the most distinctive thing about his character is that he doesn’t have any distinguishing traits because he’s just a generic high schooler.

New comics for May 20. This was a much less busy week and also the comics were better. I hope I can finish all these reviews before I have to go to sleep.

FUTURE QUEST #1 (DC, 2016) – Jeff Parker [W], Evan “Doc” Shaner & Steve Rude [A]. I was very excited about this, especially after Corrina Lawson’s glowing review, and it did not disappoint. Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner are really one of the top creative teams in the industry. Jeff is a very consistent and skilled writer who never gets the recognition he deserves, and Doc Shaner’s art is amazing in every way. And this comic even includes some pages by future Hall of Famer Steve Rude. Most of this issue focuses on the Quest family, and Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner really get these characters; this comic is very much in the spirit of the ‘80s Jonny Quest comics from Comico. I’m not familiar with any of the non-Jonny Quest characters featured in this comic, but I look forward to learning more about them. Overall, this is the most exciting current DC comic besides Legend of Wonder Woman, and I wish DC could achieve this same level of quality in their mainstream DC Universe titles.

LUMBERJANES #26 (Boom!, 2016) – Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh [W], Ayme Sotuyo [A]. I haven’t received Lumberjanes #25 because DCBS got shorted on it, though it should be arriving tomorrow [NOTE: “tomorrow” as of the day I wrote these reviews]. Other than that, this is easily the best issue of Lumberjanes since Noelle Stevenson left, and it restores much of my faith in this comic. I mean, this issue has a scene where half the Lumberjanes are riding on a giant kitten, and the other half are riding on a moose. And there’s lots more where that came from – for example, the panel where the Lumberjanes do a terrible job of pitching their tent, while Jen looks at them with affectionate resignation. Overall, this issue has the same blend of fun and heartfelt emotion that formerly made this series the second best in the industry, and it will be the second best comic in the industry again, if it continues to be this good. Also, I love that Barney is now part of the regular cast, and Hes (not sure what that’s short for) is an interesting addition to the cast.

ASTRO CITY #35 (Image, 2016) – Kurt Busiek [W], Ron Randall [A]. It’s weird when a superhero comic takes place in real time. The last time we saw Jerome Johnson, he was in his mother’s womb. But that was in 1997 and now he’s 19 and almost ready for college. This issue was less impressive than the last three, but it’s an intriguing exploration of the concept of superhero legacies. Jerome is the third generation in the Jack-in-the-Box family, but the current Jack-in-the-Box is somewhat else, and Jerome is uncertain about how he fits into his family’s tradition, if at all. I’ll be interested to see where this goes.

JUGHEAD #6 (Archie, 2016) – Chip Zdarsky [W], Erica Henderson [A]. By the time I got to this comic, I was sort of overwhelmed by two epically awesome comics and one very good one, and my attention was flagging a bit. This issue is a pretty good conclusion to the spy school story, but it didn’t excite me as much as the last five issues did, and it’s the first issue of Jughead that doesn’t have a parody dream sequence. Probably the best part is the last page where Mr. Weatherbee gets recalled from retirement.

USAGI YOJIMBO #154 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Stan Sakai [W/A] “Kazehime” – meaning “wind princess,” I think – is probably the best issue since the hiatus, though it’s not one of Stan’s absolute best stories. Usagi saves a dying Komori Ninja, Kazehime, and nurses her back to health, but three months later he has to fight her when she tries to assassinate his client. Kazehime eventually has Usagi at her mercy, but seems to be about to spare him when she’s killed by Usagi’s partner (the other ronin from the stone appreciation story). There was no other realistic way this situation could have ended, and yet the reader shares Usagi’s regret at Kazehime’s death. This story also includes a hilarious moment where a tavern owner advertises her business by saying “Cheap food! You get what you pay for! But no one has died from eating here! This week.” I’ve been to lots of restaurants like that.

PRINCELESS: MAKE YOURSELF #2 (Action Lab, 2016) – Jeremy Whitley [W], Emily Martin [A]. This is still a high-quality series, though I’m not enjoying it as much as the Raven spinoff. The centerpiece of this issue is Bedelia’s reconciliation with her grandfather. To save writing time I’m not going to explain the context here, but it’s a deeply emotional moment and Jeremy and Emily Martin handle it very well. BTW, I forgot to include writer/artist credits in any of the previous reviews, so I interrupted writing this review in order to go back and add them. Okay, carrying on. Another cool thing about this issue is the idea that dwarf women become warriors because tradition prevents them from becoming smiths. I know I complain about the lettering almost every time I review an issue of Princeless, but I still wish they would use a better lettering font.

LUMBERJANES: MAKIN’ THE GHOST OF IT #1 (Boom!, 2016) – Jen Wang [W], Christine Norrie [A] on main story. Two issues of Lumberjanes in one week is an embarrassment of riches. This is the weaker of the two, but it’s still very good. Jen Wang’s novella-length Lumberjanes story is well-plotted – I guessed the plot twist slightly before it was revealed, but it was a clever plot twist which was set up so subtly that the reader was likely to ignore it. And this story effectively showcases the personalities of all the main characters, especially Mal with her fear of ghosts. The backup story by Kelly Thompson and Savannah Ganucheau (Paulina’s sister, I think) is at least as good. I mean, it literally includes a scene where Ripley becomes a superhero made of kittens, with the head of a dinosaur, covered in glitter, riding a fat unicorn, with a shark’s fin. Which reminds me that I can’t wait until Riley meets Maps Mizoguchi.

MANIFEST DESTINY #19 (Image, 2016) – Chris Burgess [W], Matthew Roberts [A]. Most of this issue is a flashback to the expedition that preceded that of Lewis and Clark. This expedition ended in disaster as the men had to resort to cannibalism, until one of them had a vision of a Spanish ghost: Arturo Maldonado, a lieutenant of Panfilo de Narváez. When I saw that latter name, I knew it sounded familiar, and I was right. Narváez was the leader of an early expedition to continental North America, which is described in Cabeza de Vaca’s book. And that expedition even included at least one man named Maldonado (though his first name was Alonso), so this is another indication that Chris Burgess has done his research. In the last few pages of this issue, we see how much better prepared Lewis and Clark are than their predecessors were. The previous expeditions encountered a series of horrible perils each of which cost them multiple men, but Lewis and Clark encounter the exact same perils and escape unscathed. (BTW, I have that Cabeza de Vaca book and I think now might be a good time to read it.)

GOLDIE VANCE #2 (Boom!, 2016) – Hope Larson [W], Brittney Williams [A]. Unlike the previous issue, this is not a self-contained mystery story, and I was a bit disappointed by this. But otherwise, this is another really good comic. Goldie is a cute and entertaining character, and this issue shows us a lot more of her world, which is like ‘50s America with racial equality. We also learn a bit about Goldie’s family, and meet her mother for the first time. I think this comic would appeal to the same kids who read Lumberjanes or Drama or Roller Girl. On the last page of this issue, a character is reading an issue of Patsy Walker.

SILVER SURFER #4 (Marvel, 2016) – Dan Slott [W], Mike Allred [A]. This is an okay issue, but this anniversary story has been disappointing. I don’t particularly care about Shalla Bal or Zenn-La; I want to see the Surfer and Dawn exploring the universe and fighting cosmic menaces. On the last two pages of the issue, it seems like Dawn proposes to Norrin and he accepts, though this is ambiguous. One of my Facebook friends, I forget who, just pointed out that Dan Slott is an excellent writer when he’s writing lower-tier titles (Silver Surfer, She-Hulk, GLA) rather than flagship titles, and this is very true.

DEPT. H #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Matt Kindt [W/A]. An impressive follow-up to a very good debut issue, although it doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t already know. Matt’s artwork and Sharlene Kindt’s coloring continue to be amazing. The last page of this issue includes a diagram of Dept. H headquarters.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #4 (Marvel, 2016) – David Walker [W], Sanford Greene [A]. A reasonable conclusion to the first storyline, though it didn’t thrill me as much as #3 did. Predictably, Jennie is saved from her possession by the Supersoul Stone thanks to Black Mariah’s friendship, so this ends up being a My Little Pony story in disguise. The other day, Evan Narcisse wrote an article on io9 where he complained that David Walker is misusing Jessica Jones, writing her as a nagging shrew who doesn’t seem to care for her husband very much. I do think this is a valid critique and I hope future issues will depict Jessica more positively.

NEW X-MEN ANNUAL 2001 (Marvel, 2001) – Grant Morrison [W], Leinil Yu [A]. An ambitious experiment that failed. This issue is in sideways format, meaning it has the same proportions as a normal comic book but is stapled on what would normally be the top edge, rather than the left edge. This has a negative impact on the story. Because of the much larger amount of horizontal space available, Yu seems compelled to use all that space as dramatically as possible, creating lots of widescreen panels. This means there’s less space for dialogue or explanation, and the story often becomes quite hard to follow. At least I think that’s what’s going on; certainly this was a very confusing and illogical comic, and I had trouble understanding who the villains were or how they were connected. In terms of the plot, this issue is notable for introducing Xorn, and it does include some intriguing developments in Scott, Jean and Emma’s love triangle. A weird thing about this issue is that it frequently mentions a character named Muñoz, but every time her name is mentioned, it’s spelled “Mu-oz.” Probably the issue was lettered with a font that didn’t include the Ñ glyph, and no one noticed until it was too late.

FANTASTIC FOUR #225 (Marvel, 1980) – Doug Moench [W], Bill Sienkiewicz [A]. Doug Moench was probably the worst Fantastic Four writer, besides the team of Rafael Marín and Carlos Pacheco. His Thor wasn’t great either, because his talents were not suited to Kirbyesque superhero comics. For example, this issue is an imitation of Lee and Kirby’s “hidden land” stories (e.g. the stories with Prester John and the Inhumans). But the new characters Moench introduces are weird and boring, Moench’s overly verbose dialogue slows the reader down, and the plot is resolved by divine intervention from Odin. Also, Bill S’s artwork is only average.

DETECTIVE COMICS #649 (DC, 1992) – Chuck Dixon [W], Tom Lyle [A]. I have such a strong distaste for Chuck Dixon that it’s hard for me to read one of his comics without finding fault with it. For instance, this issue is exciting because it’s an early Spoiler appearance. However, Batman doesn’t let Spoiler accompany him and Robin on their mission against Cluemaster, and he doesn’t explain why (BTW, it’s cute that Stephanie points out that she’s older than Tim). Of course Spoiler follows Batman and Robin anyway, but she ends up accomplishing nothing; Cluemaster takes her hostage, and Batman saves her by telling Cluemaster her secret identity, which is kind of a dick move. Even for 1992 this treatment of Steph is kind of insulting, and again, it’s hard for me not to somehow attribute this to Chuck Dixon’s conservative ideology. Matt Wagner’s cover for this issue is quite good.

TYSON HESSE’S DIESEL #4 (Boom!, 2016) – Tyson Hesse [W/A]. As I started to read this issue, I wondered how it could possibly resolve all the outstanding plot threads, and the answer is it doesn’t – it ends on a cliffhanger, with a caption saying “End of Book 1.” So by the end of the issue, Diesel still hasn’t gotten back to the clouds, we don’t know where her father is, her character arc has still not progressed significantly, etc. etc. This is a real problem because for all I know, this could be the last Diesel comic – I haven’t seen any announcement of any more issues, and who knows if the first miniseries sold well enough to justify a sequel. Therefore, Tyson Hesse should have at least tried to offer some closure to this Diesel story, in case there weren’t any more. He shouldn’t have allowed for the possibility that the plot might be left permanently in limbo. (I had the same complaint about Prez #6, although with that series, the plot didn’t really matter.) When Matt Kindt started MIND MGMT, he had an alternative ending in mind in case the series ended with issue 6, and I wish that all creators would do that. Basically, I think that if you start to tell a multipart story, and you don’t know if you’ll be able to finish it, you should at least end each segment of it in a satisfying way. You shouldn’t leave the reader hanging. And I can think of one major genre novelist who would have done well to take that advice…

Eight more. Really need to go to bed but still want to finish.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #9 (Action Lab, 2016) – as above. This is a fun conclusion to the Crow King story arc, and it also explains what was going on in the Midnight miniseries. The only thing that disappoints me is that all the Hero Cats’ human forms are white men. This comic is much better than a lot of other comics with better publicity and higher production values – out of the last five comics I reviewed, this was the best.

NEGATIVE BURN #13 (Caliber, 1994) – various [W/A]. There is some excellent talent associated with this anthology comic, including Brian Bolland, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman, but it turns out to be very disappointing. Brian Bolland only contributes a one-page absurdist story, which has no plot and is not drawn in the style he’s famous for. As for Moore and Gaiman, this issue only includes some lyrics from a song by Alan Moore, which are illustrated by Neil Gaiman. It’s no surprise that Alan Moore’s lyrics and Neil Gaiman’s artwork are not at the same level of quality as their comic book writing. So including their names on the cover verges on deceptive advertising. The other material in this issue ranges from average to unreadable, though there’s one wordless story by Brian Michael Bendis that’s kind of cute. The clear highlight of the issue is a Milk & Cheese two-parter by Evan Dorkin.

BATMAN #487 (DC, 1992) – Doug Moench [W], Jim Aparo [A]. This issue has a fairly simplistic plot where a dude with filed teeth tries to assassinate Commissioner Gordon. The main highlight is Jim Aparo’s artwork (and lettering). Gordon’s treatment of his new wife in this story is quite brutish.

JONAH HEX #52 (DC, 2010) – Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti [W], Jordi Bernet [A]. The story in this issue is average. Jonah is pursued by three criminals who live in a swamp, but gets saved by a woman who turns out to be in league with the criminals. What makes this issue exciting is Bernet’s artwork. He draws some very nice action scenes that remind me of both Pratt and Toth. There’s one striking splash page where Jonah emerges from the swamp, bleeding from a gunshot wound and covered with bugs, but with a look of furious determination on his face. I do think Bernet’s art would look much better in black and white, or with flatter coloring.

CEREBUS #34 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1982) – Dave Sim [W/A]. Again, I don’t quite get what’s going on here, but it’s funny and well-drawn. This issue heavily features Elrod, who is based on Elric but talks like Foghorn Leghorn. I did order the first Cerebus phonebook, so maybe now I can finally achieve an understanding of this comic. The backup story in this issue is a strange but funny early work by Bill Messner-Loebs, in which Benjamin Franklin goes to heaven and is asked to replace Marcus Aurelius in the role of God. One odd thing here is that Franklin is excited when he arrives in heaven and sees a beautiful young woman in a toga; I thought he liked older women.

PAST AWAYS #2 (Dark Horse, 2015) – Matt Kindt [W], Scott Kolins [A]. In this issue, the Past Aways reunite, it turns out that four of them hate the fifth one who brought them together, and then they have to go fight a giant robot. Each page of this comic includes one object with a red square around it, with a footnote at the bottom identifying the object in the red square; these footnotes are often quite funny, and remind me of the MIND MGMT Field Guide. This issue was fun enough that I immediately read the next one.

PAST AWAYS #3 (Dark Horse, 2015) – In this issue, the Past Aways battle and defeat the giant robot, ending the first story arc, and it’s not clear what’s going to happen next. This was good but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous issue.

STARTLING STORIES: BANNER #1 (Marvel, 2001) – Brian Azzarello [W], Richard Corben [A]. I have this entire miniseries but never got around to reading it until now. In terms of plot, this issue is a very formulaic and generic Hulk story, with the twist that the Hulk’s rampages result in actual deaths. In the main Marvel Universe, the Hulk somehow manages to destroy massive amounts of property without killing anyone (and we’re supposed to accept that this is because Bruce Banner is unconsciously controlling the Hulk, which is just about as believable as Superman hypnotizing everyone in the whole world with his glasses). Anyway, it turns out that this is the entire point of the miniseries from a plot standpoint; it examines what would happen if the rule that the Hulk can’t kill anybody were repealed. That’s not a very interesting premise, and Brian Azzarello doesn’t do much with it. Therefore, the only real interest of this series is Rich Corben’s artwork, which is very good. His Hulk and Doc Samson are gruesomely hypermasculine, and his coloring is beautiful. I have a bunch of other unread Corben comic books and I ought to get around to them soon.

FANTOMAS #171 (Editorial Novaro, 1974) – uncredited [W], Victor Cruz [A]. I got this at Heroes Con two years ago, and it’s a rare treasure: a Mexican comic which has probably never been reprinted, even in Mexico. I’ve read that Mexico used to have the world’s fourth largest comics industry, and there is a massive repertory of classic Mexican comics. Yet with rare exceptions like Paquito Burrón, almost no classic Mexican comics are available in book form even in Spanish, let alone in English. This is a frustrating problem and I wish someone would do something about it. Currently you can get Cortázar’s novella “Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires” in English, but the actual comics it’s based on are totally inaccessible. Speaking of which, I have complained about the lettering that Semiotext(e) used in their version of that book, but it’s actually fairly close to the lettering in the real Fantomas comics; the only mistake Semiotext(e) made was to use the Comic Sans font. So anyway, this comic was fairly easy to read even though my Spanish skills have atrophied, and it’s a ton of fun. Fantomas (a very loose adaptation of the master thief created by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre) goes to France to steal the iron crown of Charlemagne. While there, he accidentally activates a Nazi robot that’s programmed to kill anyone who speaks a language other than German, and adventures ensue. It’s a bizarre story, but it’s also genuinely exciting, and Fantomas is a compelling protagonist, a figure of daring, mystery, and sex appeal. The story guest-stars the real-life actors Monica Vitti and Charlton Heston, plus a director named Sergius Leonescu, i.e. Sergio Leone. I don’t know if the former two actually gave their permission to be depicted in this comic, but I somehow doubt it. Overall, this is a really fun comic, and it’s a shame that this comic and others like it are impossible to find in any language.