Reviews I forgot to post earlier

5-26-16

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.

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