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).

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