Very late reviews

7-4-16

(NOTE WRITTEN LATER: I wrote these reviews earlier this month, but never posted them because I was too busy moving and stuff. And now I have three more weeks worth of comic books that I’ve read but not reviewed. Oh well.)

I have almost a short box full of comics to review, so let’s get started. Many of these were comics I purchased at Heroes Con. Overall it was a fantastic Heroes Con, and I came home with a ton of comics (and also some back pain from being hit by a car, but I’m fine now, thank God). Since it was the first time I’ve been able to buy genuinely cheap comics in over a year, I spent most of my money on 50-cent and dollar comics, instead of focusing on more expensive older stuff. I felt a little regretful about that in hindsight, but oh well.

UNCLE SCROOGE #292 (Gladstone, 1995) – Don Rosa [W/A]. This was the most exciting comic I got at Heroes Con, and the first one that I read. It’s one of my collecting Holy Grails: the only chapter of Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck that I hadn’t already owned. It’s also the climactic chapter, which ends with the decisive moment of Scrooge’s life, when he finds the Goose Egg Nugget and becomes a rich man… I mean duck. Rosa effectively shows how Scrooge’s ultimate triumph is the result of his hard work and ingenuity, as well as the lessons he learned from all his previous failures. The final page of this story is maybe one of the best scenes Rosa ever illustrated. Suspecting that the dust-covered rock he’s found might be solid gold, Scrooge wonders if he really wants to become rich and stop having adventures. He stands paralyzed for a full panel (just like Donald does in “Luck of the North” when he realizes he may have sent Gladstone to his death) before diamonds flash in his eyes and he washes the rock off. And the rest is history.

USAGI YOJIMBO #17 (Fantagraphics, 1989) – Stan Sakai [W/A]. Also at Heroes Con, I found about half of the Usagis I had been missing, for a dollar each. In fact, I got so many of them that I wasn’t sure which one to read first, so I still haven’t read most of them. This particular issue is the climax of “The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy,” Stan’s first major epic. It’s a very effective conclusion that ends appropriately with a giant explosion. My copy is signed by Stan at the top of the first page.

Those were the only two comics I managed to read while I was in Charlotte. When I got home, my shipment of new comics was waiting for me, and I felt obligated to read one of them right away.

LUMBERJANES #27 (Boom!, 2016) – Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh [W], Ayme Sotuyo [A]. A third excellent issue in a row. Maybe a bit less impressive than the previous two, but only because I’ve gotten used to this level of quality by now. Barney and Hes are both becoming major characters in this story, and I’ve just realized that Barney looks like Tintin with black hair. Easily the best line in the issue is “MAGIC GIANT FLOATING FIRE-BREATHING GHOST KITTENS!”

DOCTOR WHO SPECIAL 2013 (IDW, 2013) – Paul Cornell [W], Jimmy Broxton [A]. I am not a Doctor Who fan – I watched the first three episodes with Christopher Eccleston, but didn’t feel motivated to keep watching – and I generally have no interest in Doctor Who comics. But I’ve been looking for this particular comic for a while because of the fascinating metatextual premise. The Doctor travels through the TARDIS to the real world, where he’s a character on a TV show, and he meets a 12-year-old girl who’s a huge fan of his. This is a really clever idea and Paul Cornell exploits its full potential. The Doctor helps the girl deal with her bullies while simultaneously defeating a Cyberman who’s followed him into the real world. Meanwhile, he goes to a convention and meets lots of people who have been inspired by him. And there’s lots of other stuff in this story, most of which I probably didn’t understand because I’m not a Doctor Who fan. But even for a non-fan, this was a really enjoyable comic. It even makes me want to start watching Doctor Who myself.

MS. MARVEL #19 (Marvel, 1978) – Chris Claremont [W], Carmine Infantino [A]. I have all but six issues of this series now, but the remaining issues are all getting expensive, so I’m glad I was able to find this one. Most of this issue is a fight scene in which Carol teams up with Mar-Vell against Ronan. The most interesting scene is a flashback to Carol’s past, where we learn what a sexist jerk her dad was. Carol’s dad explicitly tells her that he can only afford to send one of his children to college, and it’s going to be her brother, because she doesn’t need to go to college to find a husband. Sadly this sort of attitude was not unusual then or now.

AVENGERS #84 (Marvel, 1971) – Roy Thomas [W], John Buscema [A]. One of the few old Marvel comics I was able to get at Heroes Con. This issue has an over-complicated plot involving Arkon and the Black Knight, and it’s not Roy Thomas’s best-written comic, but John Buscema was doing some of the best work of his career at this point. And it’s always nice to read a Silver Age Avengers comic I’m not already familiar with.

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #17 (Exhibit A, 1997) – Batton Lash [W/A]. I also got a bunch of these at Heroes Con. This issue was intended as a jumping-on point for new readers, and it consists of three self-contained stories that make no reference to any of the ongoing subplots. I kind of got the impression that some of these stories had already been published elsewhere, since the first one has a different style of lettering from the other two. The best of these stories is “The Deaths and Times of Dr. Life,” about a reverse Dr. Kevorkian who resurrects people who want to stay dead. The second story, “Nosferatu: Special Report,” is presented as a series of excerpts from TV news shows (like the talking-heads panels in Dark Knight Returns). It’s about a vampire gangster, and it’s very similar to all the other Wolff & Byrd stories about vampires. In the final story, Ygor, a descendant of Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, gets a job at a preschool but is falsely accused of abusing the children. Wolff & Byrd succeed in clearing his name, but he decides he’s had enough of working at a preschool and becomes a mad scientist’s assistant instead. This story is a clever parody of the Satanic ritual controversy of the ‘80s.

THE OCCULT FILES OF DR. SPEKTOR #9 (Gold Key, 1974) – Don Glut [W], Jesse Santos [A]. This series may be my favorite of Don Glut’s three Gold Key titles from the ‘70s. Adam Spektor is much like Dr. Strange, but with a darker side – you get the sense that his adventures have left him seriously damaged. Also, Lakota Rainwater is an unfortunate stereotype, but at least her relationship with Dr. Spektor is less creepy than Dr. Strange’s romance with Clea. This story revolves around Adam and Lakota’s relationship problems: Adam encounters a witch who brainwashes him into falling in love with her and dumping Lakota, but Lakota figures out what’s really going on and saves the day.

FLASH GORDON #1 (Dynamite, 2014) – Jeff Parker [W], Evan “Doc” Shaner [A]. A strong start to an excellent series. I’ve repeatedly stated how much I love Doc Shaner’s art, but Jeff Parker’s writing on this issue is equally impressive. His script is an impressive piece of narrative economy – in just a few pages, he manages to convey that Flash Gordon is an adventure-seeking daredevil who thinks that life in contemporary America is boring and unimaginative. Also, I get the sense that Flash, Dale and Zarkov were always quite flat characters, but Parker succeeds in investing each of them with significant depth. Dale is like a snarkier Lois Lane, and she’s the sensible one of the three, while Flash and Zarkov are respectively obsessed by their passion for adventure and science, to the point where their ability to function in normal society is impaired.

PATSY WALKER A.K.A. HELLCAT #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Brittney Williams [A]. Another excellent issue. This issue finally resolves the Hedy subplot, and Hedy gets her comeuppance in a satisfying way. But I do have to wonder where this comic is going to go next, since the Hedy plot was the main thing tying it together. Jessica Jones guest-stars in this issue and plays quite a significant role. I think this issue sort of makes up for her unsympathetic portrayal in Power Man and Iron Fist. Brittney Williams is a really good artist; she kind of reminds me of Colleen Coover.

THE SPIRE #8 (Boom!, 2016) – Simon Spurrier [W], Jeff Stokely [A]. A strong conclusion to one of the best miniseries of the year, though as I have said before, it would probably read better in trade paperback form. The shocking revelation this time is that [SPOILER] Shå used to be male and is the father of Tavi, who she’s been sleeping with. I guess Claremont already came up with this plot twist (he originally meant for Destiny to be Nightcrawler’s father), but I didn’t expect to see it again in this context, and it’s especially poignant here because Shå has unknowingly been her own daughter’s lover. Overall this was an excellent miniseries and I look forward to seeing what Spurrier and Stokely do next.

PRINCELESS: MAKE YOURSELF #3 (Action Lab, 2016) – Adrienne’s conversation with Bern is the high point of this miniseries so far. It’s a model of how to talk to kids about sexuality. Adrienne’s questions are reasonable (and she asks them in an adorably shy way) and Bern answers them in a sensitive and compassionate way. These scenes are examples of why I love Jeremy’s writing. Bedelia’s reunion with her mother is also exciting, but I still don’t understand what’s going on with the five people who are searching for Adrienne. I wonder if the two dudes at the end of the issue are based on Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.

YOUNG JUSTICE #34 (DC, 2001) – Peter David [W], Todd Nauck [A]. At Heroes Con, I was able to get all six of the issues of Young Justice that I was missing. Which makes me a bit sad because now I need something else to collect. This issue is the conclusion to the Wendy the Werewolf Stalker arc. I don’t remember much about it specifically, but as usual it’s hilarious and it passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, and it draws upon PAD’s experience working in television.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #85 (Marvel, 1982) – Denny O’Neil [W], Keith Pollard [A]. You’d think Denny O’Neil would be an ideal writer for this series given its mild resemblance to Green Lantern/Green Arrow, but this was a boring and formulaic comic and I can’t remember much of anything about it. I still want to collect more of this series.

MANIFEST DESTINY #20 (Image, 2016) – Chris Dingess [W], Matthew Roberts [A]. I’ve met Matthew Roberts a couple times and he’s told me that Chris Dingess really does his homework. We see that in this issue, where Maldonado’s ghost reveals that he was indeed a member of the Narváez expedition that Cabeza de Vaca was on, but he was not one of the four survivors (hence why his name is Arturo, not Alonso, as noted in my review of #19). Roberts even shows us the four survivors, and correctly depicts one of them as a black man. Besides that, the best thing in this issue is the last page, where Russell threatens to smash Bullock’s face, and Bullock says “I’d like to see you try” and then a sasquatch slaps him and knocks half his face off. Ow.

DC RETROACTIVE: WONDER WOMAN – THE ‘90S #1 (DC, 2011) – Bill Messner-Loebs [W], Lee Moder [A]. Each of these DC Retroactive issues includes a new story by a classic creative team, plus a reprint of an old story. I didn’t buy any of these issues when they came out. They were too expensive and they had unimpressive creative teams. But I had this specific issue on my want list because I saw some panels from it somewhere, I forget where. The plot of the new story is that Etta Candy asks Diana to babysit a bunch of spoiled, lazy tween girls. Diana whips the girls into shape, turning them from lazy slobs into near-Lumberjanes. It’s a really cute story which also effectively demonstrates Diana’s personality and outlook. The reprinted backup story is not as good, but it does make me interested in reading more of Bill Loebs’s Wonder Woman run, although I’ve heard some bad things about it.

VOTE LOKI #1 (Marvel, 2016) – Christopher Hastings [W], Langdon Foss [A]. I love the idea behind this series, and the execution is reasonably good. It’s a witty piece of political satire, though maybe too generic and non-partisan. I think my favorite part of the issue is Loki casually changing gender.

FLASH GORDON #5 (King, 1967) – Archie Goodwin [W], Al Williamson [A]. I got another copy of this issue at Comic-Con a long time ago, but it turned out to be missing its centerfold. This copy is complete. I love Archie Goodwin’s writing, but the plot in this issue is just average. Al Williamson’s artwork, though, is spectacular. His draftsmanship and his action sequences and his backgrounds are gorgeous, and his artwork doesn’t become so ornate and detailed that it impairs readability, as happened with his ‘90s Flash Gordon miniseries. Al Williamson drew Flash Gordon in comic book form on three occasions, each time for a different publisher and in a different decade, and each time he produced a classic piece of work. By the way, I should start collecting Williamson’s Star Wars comics.

JSA #2 (DC, 1999) – James Robinson & David Goyer [W], Stephen Sadowski [A]. Back in 1999, JSA was one of DC’s flagship titles. Drawing upon the sensibility of James Robinson’s Starman, it offered a vision of a DC Universe that respected and honored its past, while also being open to newness and change. I wish we still had that DC Universe instead of the one we have now. This particular issue follows the typical plot structure of old Justice League comics (and maybe old Justice Society comics, I don’t know): the team splits up into three squads to deal with three different aspects of a single threat. And at the end of the issue we find out that the mystery villain is Mordru – I wonder if this was his first appearance in a story not involving the Legion.

ASTRO CITY #36 (DC, 2016) – Kurt Busiek [W], Ron Randall [A]. Like the Jack-in-the-Box story from the previous volume, this story is okay but not one of Kurt’s best. Drama Queen’s origin story is reasonably powerful, and I like the conclusion where Ike decides to become a psychiatrist. Now that I think of it, this story reminds me of James Robinson’s Starman, which I was just talking about, in that all of the principal characters are participants in a family drama that started before they were born. Still, this was one of the more underwhelming stories in this Astro City run, though I suppose it was intended to be subtle rather than epic.

CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA #3 (Archie, 2015) – Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa [W], Robert Hack [A]. I went to the Archie panel at Heroes Con, and one of the panelists (I think Francesco Francavilla) said that this title and Afterlife with Archie are so late because Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa is backed up with other work. This is hardly surprising, but I think it was a questionable decision to ask him to write a second Archie title when he couldn’t meet his deadlines with the first one. You would think that after what happened with Kevin Smith, comics publishers would be more wary about hiring writers who are extremely busy with other stuff. Anyway, this comic is okay but not great; it’s basically the same as the other issues of this series. The Madam Satan backup is almost as interesting as the main story.

AVENGERS #103 (Marvel, 1972) – Roy Thomas [W], Rich Buckler [A]. I found this in a cheap box at Heroes Con; it’s in awful condition but is complete and readable. At this point I only need about five more issues to have a complete run from Avengers #103 to #200, and I’m getting really close to a complete run from #100 to #300. I didn’t notice until just now that this issue is written by Roy Thomas rather than Steve Englehart, but it makes sense, because this story is a direct sequel to the Sentinels three-parter from X-Men #57 to #59. It’s also much worse than that story, because as much as Rich Buckler tries to slavishly imitate Neal Adams, he is clearly no Neal Adams.

STORMWATCH #37 (Image, 1996) – Warren Ellis [W], Tom Raney [A]. This is the first issue of Warren Ellis’s Stormwatch run, which later evolved into The Authority, and it introduces Jack Hawksmoor and Jenny Sparks. I’ve never been a huge Ellis fan, and I even have something of a bias against him because of his pseudo-intellectual pomposity, but this is a pretty good comic. In one issue, Ellis turns what used to be an awful piece of Image crap into an intelligent and excitingly written revisionist superhero comic.

UNCANNY X-MEN #126 (Marvel, 1979) – Chris Claremont [W], John Byrne [A]. I only need eleven more issues to have the complete Claremont/Byrne run, but those eleven issues include #129, #141 and #142, and who knows when I’ll be able to afford any of those. This issue is part two of the Mutant X/Proteus four-parter. Proteus is not Claremont’s best villain, but this issue includes some fantastic action sequences. It also includes other interesting moments, notably the flashback where Jean Grey and Jason Wyngarde engage in a deer hunt with a human instead of a deer.

EXCALIBUR #88 (Marvel, 1995) – Warren Ellis [W], Larry Stroman et al [A]. Warren Ellis’s Excalibur is another comic I haven’t bothered to collect because of my skepticism about Ellis. But I am a big Kitty Pryde fan, and I remember seeing a positive review of this particular story, “Dream Nails,” in Frank Plowright’s Slings and Arrows guide. This issue isn’t spectacular but it is entertainingly written, though I think Stroman’s art is very ugly.

ADVENTURE COMICS #362 (DC, 1967) – Jim Shooter [W], Pete Costanza [A]. This was the only Shooter-written Legion issue of Adventure comics that I was missing. It was one of those comics that I didn’t bother to buy because I mistakenly assumed I already had it. “The Chemoids Are Coming” is far from Shooter’s best story – Mantis Morlo is a stupid villain who only ever made one subsequent appearance that I know of. But this issue is still head and shoulders above other Legion stories from this era by other writers. Notably, this story begins with a cute scene showing the Legionnaires relaxing in their headquarters. Later in the issue, Shooter takes us to Orando for the first time, and establishes that it has a medieval level of technology. I think this story is also the starting point of Projectra and Karate Kid’s doomed romance.

DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #18 (Gladstone, 1989) – Carl Barks [W/A]. This issue reprints Carl Barks’s “No Such Varmint,” with a beautiful new cover by Don Rosa, which I got Rosa to sign while at Heroes Con. According to the blurb on the back cover, Western prohibited artists from depicting snakes – I guess because they were considered scary to children? – but this particular story, which is all about snakes, was so brilliant that the censors ignored it. I’m not going to try to summarize the plot of the story, but it’s hilarious, and includes some gorgeous illustrations of a giant sea serpent. It’s also a great example of the conflict between Donald, with his chronic lack of discipline, and his nephews, with their high ambitions and strong work ethic. One funny thing about this story is Barks’s verbal depictions of the sound of Donald’s flute (“twee te tweetle” and so on).

SPIDER-GWEN #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Latour [W], Robbi Rodriguez [A]. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the last two issues were wasted on a crossover, now we have another story that doesn’t make sense without knowledge of that crossover. It seems that now Gwen’s lost her powers and can only restore them a limited number of times. I don’t know or care how this situation came about, and I think it’s stupid. Basically, this is the third consecutive issue of this series that I just couldn’t understand.

MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #11 (Marvel, 1992) – various [W/A]. The first two stories in this issue are stupid, but the third one is a fascinating curiosity. It’s Chris Claremont and Mike Vosburg’s unpublished story that was intended for Ms. Marvel #25, with a new seven-page conclusion, written by Simon Furman, that bridges the gap between this story and Avengers Annual #10. In this story, Carol investigates Mike Barnett’s murder and encounters Destiny, Avalanche and Pyro for the first time. In terms of quality, this story is up to the usual level of Claremont’s Ms. Marvel stories, though the conclusion by Simon Furman is a shoddy piece of hackwork. The history behind this story is equally fascinating. Ms. Marvel #25 would have come out in about August 1979. If that comic had been published in the form in which it appears in Marvel Super-Heroes #11, it would have been the first appearance of Destiny, Avalanche, Pyro, Rogue, Sebastian Shaw and Donald Pierce. Instead, Rogue first appeared in Avengers Annual #10 in 1980, and the other five characters didn’t appear until 1981. So you really have to wonder what Claremont intended to do with these characters, and how much he had to change his plans in order to use them in X-Men instead of Ms. Marvel. I guess there’s some room for doubt as to whether the scenes with Rogue and the Hellfire Club actually were written and drawn in 1979, or whether these scenes were added in 1992. But it really looks to me like the entire first 20 pages of this story were both written and drawn in 1979, and it seems plausible that there were already two complete issues of Ms. Marvel in the can when the series was cancelled. Assuming that this version of Ms. Marvel #25 really does represent Claremont’s original intentions, it’s an intriguing glimpse into an alternate reality that never existed.

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #11 (Exhibit A, 1996) – Batton Lash [W/A]. “Strange Bedfellows” consists of two inset stories, plus three framing sequences involving the three couples in the series (Mavis and Toby, Jeff and Dawn Devine, Alanna and Chase). The first inset story is about a shrewish wife who literally turns her husband into a blob of jelly; the second one is about a comedian who is cursed with a personal laugh track. Both these stories are hilarious, though the second one includes some uncomfortable stereotypes of Roma people. The three framing sequences are also really good, and much sexier than is normal for this series. The issue begins with a scene where you think Mavis is receiving oral sex, but it turns out she’s getting a foot massage. Later, there’s a scene where you think Chase and Wolff are having sex, but it turns out they’re both having separate phone conversations. Funny.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #231 (DC, 1975) – Bob Haney [W], Dick Dillin [A]. I usually like Bob Haney’s Super Sons stories; my favorite is the one where Superman Jr falls in love with Lex Luthor’s daughter. I even plan on reading the new Super-Sons title even though I’m not familiar with the creative team. However, this particular issue was not good. It starts with Superman Jr and Batman Jr putting their fathers on trial for being grandstanding egomaniacs. Haney fails to explain what exactly the Super-Sons are accusing their fathers of, or why. And then the Super-Fathers are found guilty and sentenced to jail, but again, why they were found guilty is not clear. From there on, the story gets even more confusing and implausible, and I’m not going to attempt to summarize it. Haney was probably trying to convey some sort of message about generational conflict, but he failed. At Heroes Con, I asked Ramona Fradon what Bob Haney was like, and she told me, according to my imperfect recollection, that he always wanted to be a novelist and was somewhat ashamed of working in comics.

New comics received on June 24:

MS. MARVEL #8 (Marvel, 2016) – G. Willow Wilson [W], Takeshi Miyazawa & Adrian Alphona [A]. The best scene in this issue is the flashback at the beginning, which shows Kamala’s great-grandparents* emigrating from Pakistan. This scene has no obvious connection to the rest of the story, besides being about civil war, but it creates a powerful sense of both uncertainty and hope. In the rest of the issue, Kamala works with some new assistants, including one who has precognitive powers. Just like in Minority Report, they use precognition to stop crimes that haven’t occurred yet, and this leads to the same ethical issues as in Minority Report. And one of the future criminals Kamala is pursuing turns out to be Josh. The other adorable moment in this issue is where Kamala demands a hug from Tyesha, and Tyesha obliges. They have such a great sister-in-law relationship. Another point I want to make is that G. Willow Wilson has successfully avoided allowing Ms. Marvel to be derailed by crossovers. Where other Marvel titles like Captain Marvel and All-New All-Different Avengers have suffered badly from involvement in crossovers, Ms. Marvel has succeeded in acknowledging the events of crossovers while still keeping its own story on track. I’m not sure whether this is because G. Willow Wilson is getting special treatment from the editors, or whether it’s just the result of good writing.

* We are not told which generation Kareem and Aisha are, but they must be Kamala’s great-grandparents and not her grandparents, or else Kamala would have been born when her mother was over 50.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #5 (Marvel, 2016) – David Walker [W], Flaviano [A]. This self-contained issue is a cute Rashomon-esque story, in which a fight between Luke, Danny and Manslaughter Marsdale is told in multiple contradictory ways. I was delighted when I realized what was going on here – it took me a second to decipher the name Ralphie Aaron Shomon. I do think that Batton Lash did this sort of thing more effectively in Wolff & Byrd #21. And the cool thing about the original Rashomon story is that the last version of the story is told by the dead man, so it would have been funnier if the final version of this issue’s story was told by the car, or something like that. But I’m nitpicking.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS #9 (Action Lab, 2016) – Jeremy Whitley [W], Rosy Higgins & Sorah Suhng [A]. The framing sequences in this issue are better than the main story, which is a flashback to the origin of the first Xingtao pirate queen. This story is too short to be really compelling, though I do like the way the demons are drawn. But the framing sequences include a lot of effective character development, including Raven realizing she’s in love with Ximena.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Amy Reeder & Brandon Montclare [W], Natacha Bustos [A]. The other day I told someone that this series isn’t perfect, but at least it’s trying. I would stand behind that assessment. I have lots of nitpicky problems with this comic, but Lunella Lafayette is a fascinating character and the writers’ hearts are in the right place. I love the idea of Lunella switching minds with Devil, though the execution could have been better.

KLAUS #6 (Boom!, 2016) – Grant Morrison [W], Dan Mora [A]. I’m still enjoying this miniseries, but it’s at least one issue too long. All the plot development in this issue could have been included in issue 5 instead.

WONDER WOMAN #1 (DC, 2016) – Greg Rucka [W], Liam Sharp [A]. I hated Wonder Woman: Rebirth #1, but this issue was a major improvement, and it reminds me a lot of Greg Rucka’s previous Wonder Woman run. I assumed that the commander at the start of the issue was Amanda Waller, and I was delighted to discover that she was Etta Candy. What an awesome way to reboot a character. The new Cheetah also looks pretty cool.

SUPERMAN #166 (DC, 1964) – Edmond Hamilton [W], Curt Swan [A]. “The Fantastic Story of Superman’s Sons!” is a classic Imaginary Story. Superman and his unidentified wife (who looks a lot like Lois) have two sons, Jor-El II and Kal-El II. Jor-El II has Superman’s powers but Kal-El II doesn’t, and he grows up with a terrible inferiority complex, which he eventually cures by saving his father’s life from a Phantom Zone villain. It’s a poignant story with an impressive epic scope, but it depicts Superman as kind of a crummy parent.

THE AUTHORITY #2 (DC, 1999) – Warren Ellis [W], Bryan Hitch [A]. I bought the first 12 issues of this series at Comic-Con several years ago, but I only ever read the first issue. This second issue is very well-drawn but the story didn’t make much of an impression on me.

I SAW IT #1 (Educomics, 1982) – Keiji Nakazawa [W/A]. Another comic I bought at Comic-Con several years ago but didn’t read. I decided to read it because I was reading Casey Brienza’s Manga in America, and she mentions that this comic was the first manga published in America, and its publisher, Leonard Rifas, was disappointed with its sales. I think one reason why is because this comic makes no attempt to explain what manga are or how to read them. It just throws the reader right in at the deep end. A reader encountering this comic in 1982, with no prior knowledge of manga, would probably have thought “WTF is this? Why is the art so simple? Why are there so many panels on each page?” Etc. Not to mention that this comic is full of Japanese cultural references that would have made little sense to Americans in 1982. Also, this is not exactly an entertaining comic book; it’s a bleak and depressing story of the bombing of Hiroshima. Even on an artistic level, it’s a weaker piece of work than Barefoot Gen, which is a much longer story on a similar topic. I Saw It only deals with the actual atomic bombing and its immediate aftermath, and does not explain the context that led up to the atomic bombing. It leaves itself open to the criticism that Nakazawa is trying to present the Japanese people as innocent victims, a criticism that was also leveled at Fumiyo Kouno’s Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms. In contrast, Barefoot Gen extensively depicts how the people of Hiroshima suffered not just from the bombing but also from the fascist and militarist policies of their own government, so it has a level of nuance that’s missing in I Saw It. Overall, I Saw It is an interesting historical artifact, but no wonder it was a commercial failure.

DNAGENTS SUPER SPECIAL #1 (Antarctic, 1994) – Mark Evanier [W], various [A]. This is another weird curiosity. But it doesn’t contain any significantly new DNAgents material – just a seven-page story that’s a heavily condensed retelling of the group’s origin, with that appears to have been lifted directly from the first issue or two of the original DNAgents series. There is also an essay by Mark Evanier, explaining what happened to the planned DNAgents TV show. In the essay, Evanier also suggests that this special issue was published as a “revival/preview for when we do [DNAgents] again,” but it’s been 22 years since this issue was published and there haven’t been any more DNAgents comics, so essentially this comic is a preview issue for a series that never happened. The only thing that makes this comic worthwhile is that it also contains a new Crossfire story by Evanier and Spiegle, which contains a brilliant twist ending. A psychotic Holocaust survivor tries to assassinate an actor who plays Nazi characters, thinking the actor is a Nazi. Crossfire is unable to prevent the assassin from getting to the actor… but the actor saves his life by rolling up his sleeve and revealing his own concentration camp tattoos. It’s a powerful moment that justifies the existence of this otherwise pointless comic.

THE AUTUMNLANDS #11 (DC, 2016) – Kurt Busiek [W], Benjamin Dewey [A]. Not a whole lot happens in this issue. The protagonists get attacked by some monster, and then they encounter some living statues that are tired of living and want to be killed. I notice that this series used to have 32 pages per issue, but now it’s down to 24 pages. I think this has resulted in a drop-off in quality, and it would be better if this series had 32 pages per issue again and came out less often.

JUGHEAD #7 (Archie, 2016) – Chip Zdarsky [W], Derek Charm [A]. I was hesitant to read this because it’s (I think) the first issue not drawn by Erica Henderson. But it was hilarious anyway. Archie and Jughead go camping, but their campsite turns out to be right next to the Reggie Mantle family reunion, and it turns out that Archie only agreed to go because there’s alslo a girls’ summer camp nearby. And then Archie and Jughead get lost in the woods. This issue also includes some very clever one-page gag strips by Harry Lucey, in which Jughead paints pictures that become real.

INVINCIBLE #15 (Image, 2004) – Robert Kirkman [W], Ryan Ottley [A]. This is the earliest issue of Invincible I have. At this point, I have a complete run from Invincible #23 to #109, but the issues earlier than #23 are the most expensive. This issue is somewhat similar to the Atlanta episode of Futurama. For convoluted reasons, Mark is supposed to marry the queen of Invincible’s version of Atlantis. It turns out that she looks like a fish, and also the wedding ceremony requires Mark to publicly copulate with her. Mark finds a clever way of avoiding the marriage and allowing the queen to marry the man (or fish) she really loves. It’s a cute and funny story, unlike some later issues of Invincible, as we will soon see. A subplot involves Mark’s mother becoming friends with SuperPatriot’s wife. It’s a bit surprising to see a character from another Image comic in the pages of Invincible – Savage Dragon does this all the time, but Invincible not so much.

USAGI YOJIMBO #155 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Stan Sakai [W/A]. Part one of “The Secret of the Hell Screen” is one of Stan’s best issues since the reboot. The scene where Usagi confronts the rude watchman is brilliant. Usagi is usually the very soul of politeness, but this scene indicates that even he has his breaking point, and that he’s terrifying when he’s angry. And like all the other Inspector Ishida stories, this story is an intriguing and creepy mystery. My one complaint is that the hell screen isn’t scary enough. We’re told that it’s terrifying and horrendous, but it sure doesn’t look that way to me.

FLASH GORDON #3 (Dynamite, 2014) – Jeff Parker [W], Evan “Doc” Shaner [A]. Another good issue, but I don’t have anything original to say about it. Flash has to fight in a gladiatorial arena against some people with animal heads, but he convinces some of them to fight alongside him against Ming.

ANGEL AND THE APE #5 (DC, 1969) – Bob Oksner [W/A]. I’ve had this comic for a long long time and I’ve never felt motivated to read it. I don’t now why not, because this is a beautifully drawn piece of absurdist humor. Bob Oksner was almost as good at drawing stunning women as Nick Cardy, and much better at doing sight gags. I don’t understand why this series has never been reprinted.

PHANTOM STRANGER #24 (DC, 1973) – Len Wein [W], Jim Aparo [A]. This is the first issue of Phantom Stranger that I’ve read. I have been neglecting this series unjustly, because this issue includes some beautiful Jim Aparo artwork. The story isn’t terrible either – it takes place during the carnival in Rio. This issue also includes a Spawn of Frankenstein backup story with Mike Kaluta artwork.

GRIZZLY SHARK #3 (Image, 2016) – Ryan Ottley [W/A]. An intentionally tasteless, disgusting piece of gross-out humor. This sort of thing is funny in small doses, but I’m glad this is the last issue.

DAREDEVIL #65 (Marvel, 1970) – Roy Thomas [W], Gene Colan [A]. Beautiful Gene Colan artwork is hampered by a boring and unoriginal story. While shooting a TV show, Karen Page is menaced by a villainous actor named Brother Brimstone, but Matt saves her life because he (i.e. Matt) has been stalking her.

THOR #197 (Marvel, 1972) – Gerry Conway [W], John Buscema [A]. I must have been feeling rather out of sorts this week, because I read a bunch of comic books that I didn’t particularly enjoy. I don’t have a whole lot of issues of Thor from between Jack Kirby’s departure and Roy Thomas’s late-‘70s run, and the reason why not is because this was a pretty bad period for Thor. Too many Thor comics from this era were just reruns of old Lee and Kirby stories. For example, this issue is a boring retread of the Mangog Saga.

DEVIL DINOSAUR #2 (Marvel, 1978) – Jack Kirby [W/A]. Another comic I didn’t enjoy as much as it may have deserved. The trouble with some of Kirby’s late works, including this one, is that it’s hard to tell one issue from another. Also, at this point Kirby’s artwork was no longer at its best. My favorite thing about this issue is the giant hairy spider that Devil Dinosaur fights.

SHOWCASE #99 (DC, 1978) – Paul Levitz [W], Joe Staton [A]. Finally, an actual good comic. Power Girl establishes her new Karen Starr identity, and saves Jay Garrick and Alan Scott from Brain Wave, a villain who looks almost exactly like Sivana. Karen is able to save the day because she’s become a computer expert thanks to a Themysciran “memory teacher” device, and therefore she’s able to use Brain Wave’s computer to fix the damage Brain Wave did. The curious thing about this story is that Paul Levitz doesn’t really explain what Power Girl did to Brain Wave’s computer, or how her computer knowledge allowed her to save the day. He didn’t need to explain, because back in 1978, computers were essentially magic.

ROCKET RACCOON AND GROOT #6 (Marvel, 2016) – Skottie Young [W], Brett Bean [A]. Rocket and Groot compete in a series of successively more bizarre games, but when they can’t decide who’s better, they decide to fight some aliens and see who can rack up more kills. This is kind of ultraviolent and disturbing, but of course Skottie Young handles it in a funny way. Overall this was an enjoyable issue.

DESCENDER #12 (Image, 2016) – Jeff Lemire [W], Dustin Nguyen [A]. This issue reveals the poignant origin of Tim-22. It turns out Tim-22 was supposed to be a companion to an old man, but the old man insisted he didn’t need any help, and forced Tim to stand in a closet for eight months. Then Tim was freed because of the robot revolution – the splash page of the giant robot destroying a city is one of the most powerful pages in this series yet. And he then had to kill a human child to save his own life. That’s a clear violation of the First and Third Laws of Robotics – a robot can’t protect its own existence by harming a human being – and yet it makes psychological sense. Tim-22 is still an awful, screwed-up villain, but now we understand why.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #29 (IDW, 2016) – Ted Anderson [W], Brenda Hickey [A]. The pairing of Rarity and Maud Pie makes perfect sense because on the one hand, they’re the two ponies who are interested in rocks, but on the other hand, they’re on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Rarity is a histrionic drama queen, while Maud Pie is completely inexpressive. Anderson and Hickey do a good job of exploiting the humor value of this pairing, but I’m not sure I believe the notion that Maud does have feelings and is just shy about expressing them. Actually I’m fine with that; what bothers me is the idea that Maud wants to express herself more openly, but is somehow able to. Well, actually I may have misread; Maud does write in her diary that “I wish I could be more open about my feelings, like Rarity,” but she immediately adds “But that’s just not the kind of pony I am!” That sounds more believable. Maud does have feelings, she just prefers to keep them on the inside.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #6 (Image, 2016) – Skottie Young [W/A]. Gertrude’s reign as queen of Fairyland lasts less than an issue. Skottie is kind of apologetic in this in his author’s note, but he seems to have decided that the premise of Gert as queen was less interesting than he initially thought. So who knows where this series is going next. But I trust Skottie to come up with an interesting new narrative direction. This series is like Grizzly Shark in that it relies on tasteless gross-out humor, but unlike Grizzly Shark, its premise is deep enough to sustain an extended series. My favorite thing about this issue is Hup of the Buffle Truffs, a pink furry winged teddy bear who turns out to also be a savage killer, much like my cat.

BEOWULF #4 (1975) – Michael Uslan [W], Ricardo Villamonte [A]. This is a convoluted, confusing, overambitious story. Besides Beowulf, it also includes the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel and Dracula and a warrior woman in a bikini. It’s never clear how all these elements fit together, and Michael Uslan’s writing is full of pseudo-profound nonsense. But I kind of enjoyed this story anyway because of how weird it was. I’d rather have a comic that tries to do too much rather than not enough. Ricardo Villamonte’s artwork is uneven but has occasional flashes of brilliance, and this issue includes some funny Easter eggs, like a magic incarnation that reads “SIHT POTNANOC EESSTEL!”, which is easily decoded as “Let’s see Conan top this!”

New comics received on July 1. This was not an ideal day for new comics because I was scrambling to finish up a piece of academic writing. I should have finished it before I started reading comics.

THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN #7 (DC, 2016) – Renae de Liz [W/A]. This was maybe my least favorite issue yet, but only because the quality of this series has been so uniformly high. This issue introduces Priscilla Rich, i.e. the original Cheetah. Also, we get some more information about the plot, and Zeus tries to get Diana to be his champion, but Diana correctly refuses, because it entails killing everyone in Patriarch’s World. I notice that in the panel where Diana says “home,” on the third page from the end, she looks like a little girl; I assume this is deliberate. In addition, we get some more characterization of Etta and Steve. I love how Etta seems to have no sense of embarrassment or self-consciousness – she’s not ashamed at all of being full-figured (not that she should be), and her reaction to Pam Smuthers’s attempts to humiliate her is to get angry. And Steve is adorable. I’m sorry there are only two more issues (I think), but Renae de Liz is an amazing writer/artist, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Ryan North [W], Erica Henderson [A]. A fantastic issue, though I was a bit too preoccupied to enjoy it to the fullest. After Ms. Marvel, USG is the best current Marvel or DC comic. In this issue, Squirrel Girl tries to gently rebuff Mole Man’s romantic advances, but he doesn’t take the hint and keeps trying to court her, even when Nancy gives him a well-deserved slap. And finally Mole Man decides to hold the entire world hostage unless Doreen goes on a date with him. This is very funny, and also relevant to real life, because this is exactly the way some men act when they get rejected by women. At Heroes Con, I asked Erica if she had read Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, and she said that she’d never heard of it, and that as far as she knew, it was just a coincidence that Koi Boi’s last name is Shiga. I want to ask Ryan North the same question but I’ve never met him.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #16 (IDW, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Sophie Campbell [A]. A fairly strong conclusion to the Dark Synergy story. Though I’m not sure what the fallout from this issue will be, or how Synergy is going to survive whatever Silica did to her – I’m not even sure I understand the relationship between Synergy and Silica. I also don’t know who the new characters on the last page are supposed to be. But Kimber and Stormer’s kiss on the lsat page is nice. My favorite part of the issue is the profile of Pizzazz’s cat, Madmartigan, especially the statement that her favorite possession is Pizzazz.

SPIDER-GWEN ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Latour [W], various [A]. I didn’t like this issue on my first reading, but I suspect that it’s actually an amazingly good comic and that I was just too tired to appreciate it. I need to read it again. The Donald Trump/Modok character is an amazing visual image which has understandably gone viral. After writing the previous part of this review, I sat down and read this comic again, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I did the first time around. On the first reading, I didn’t even realize that Baron Blood was supposed to be Prince. And I completely forgot about the villain who turns koalas into drop bears.

BLACK PANTHER #3 (Marvel, 2016) – Ta-Nehisi Coates [W], Brian Stelfreeze [A]. I forgot to order the first two issues of this series, and still haven’t read them. Therefore, this issue didn’t make sense to me at all. I do love the quotation from Henry Dumas, a writer I’m not familiar with at all.

USAGI YOJIMBO #8 (Mirage, 1994) – Stan Sakai [W/A]. An excellent issue. “Blood Money” is a sequel to “The Duel” from #26 of the Fantagraphics series, which I have not read. In that story, Usagi killed a professional duelist named Shubo, who was partnered with a gambler named… actually this character doesn’t seem to have a name. In this story, Usagi encounters the gambler and his new partner Kedamono. Meanwhile, Shubo’s widow, Kuniyo, also recognizes the gambler (but not Usagi, for some reason). Kedamono forces Usagi to fight him, mistaking Usagi’s politeness for weakness, and Usagi kills him, while Kuniyo poisons the gambler and takes his money. So both villains get their comeuppance, but neither Usagi nor Kuniyo ever learns the other’s identity, and only the reader understands the full picture. A weird thing about this story is that Usagi saves the day without really doing anything proactive; all he does is fight the duel with Kedamono, and he only does that because Kedamono demands it. This issue also includes a backup story in which a young Usagi meets Lord Mifune for the first time, while trying to return a sword that he stole from a dead samurai. In the panel where Lord Mifune appears, I initially thought he was the ghost of the dead samurai, and I assume I was supposed to think that. (N.B.: After writing this review, I discovered I already had a copy of this issue.)

UNCANNY X-MEN #112 (Marvel, 1978) – Chris Claremont [W], John Byrne [A]. This was the other Claremont/Byrne X-Men that I got at Heroes Con. It’s part two of the New X-Men’s second encounter with Magneto. I’ve only read this story once or twice, and so there was a lot here that was unfamiliar to me. The issue is mostly a big fight scene, but with gorgeous artwork, and it’s an interesting fight scene because of what it indicates about the New X-Men – in short, they get their asses kicked because they fight Magneto one at a time instead of working together.

ARCHIE #9 (Archie, 2016) – Mark Waid [W], Veronica Fish [A]. I keep saying that this series isn’t as good as Jughead, but I liked this issue a lot. Veronica moves in with Archie’s parents, but it turns out that because she’s always had servants, she’s incapable of doing simple things like shopping for groceries. The grocery store scene ought to be implausible, but Mark Waid somehow makes me believe it. There are also some cute scenes that suggest that Archie and Betty’s relationship is not over.

TALES OF SUSPENSE #73 (Marvel, 1965) – Stan Lee [W], Gene Colan [A] on first story; Stan Lee [W], Jack Kirby & George Tuska [A] on second story. This is an impressive Silver Age Marvel comic, though neither of the stories is an absolute classic. In the Iron Man story, Tony tries to save Happy Hogan from the Black Knight; in the Captain America story, Cap battles the Red Skull’s three Sleepers.

AW YEAH COMICS! ACTION CAT & ADVENTURE BUG #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Art Baltazar [W/A], Franco [W]. This is an enjoyable read, but the trouble with Baltazar and Franco’s comics – at least for an adult reader – is that once you’ve read one of them, you’ve read them all. Nothing in this issue particularly stood out to me.

NEW ROMANCER #4 (Vertigo, 2016) – Peter Milligan [W], Brett Parson [A]. As often happens with miniseries, I got a few issues behind on New Romancer, and then once I had all the issues, I didn’t feel any urgency about reading them. That’s unfortunate because this really is a well-written and intelligent comic. Like most Peter Milligan comics, it’s seriously weird and confusing, but Milligan has clearly done a lot of research on Byron, and he understands both the appealing and the repulsive aspects of Byron’s character. I need to read the next two issues sooner or later. Memorable scenes in this issue include Byron’s reunion with Ada, the daughter he abandoned, and his line “I was drunker than Lord Elgin when I wrote that.”

FLAMING CARROT COMICS #2 (Image, 2005) – Bob Burden [W/A]. Yet another quality comic that I’ve never paid much attention to. This comic has the same absurdist sense of humor as Reid Fleming, though with worse art. The plot involves two women fighting over the Flaming Carrot, and some pygmies building a giant ear out of bread. I won’t be in a hurry to get more of these, but I will pick them up if I see them in a cheap box.

STRANGE SPORTS STORIES #3 (Vertigo, 2015) – various [W/A]. The most disturbing and therefore most memorable story this issue is Ben McCool and Darick Robertson’s “Leap of Glory,” about a football game where players can sacrifice their lives to give their team a bunch of points. Inevitably, the game ends with all the players, coaches, spectators, and announcers sacrificing themselves. This is disgusting, and yet surprisingly plausible given the culture of U.S. sports. I also like CM Punk and Andy MacDonald’s “The Most Cursed,” which is a barely fictionalized tribute to the Chicago Cubs. Brandon Montclare and Natacha Bustos’s “Going Nowhere” is about sumo, and it seems very well-researched – the costumes and scenery in the story look very similar to photos and videos I’ve seen of actual sumo. Which is cool because they could have gotten away with not doing the research, and very few people would have noticed. However, this story has a vapid plot. The last story in the issue (actually the first in order) has nice art by Michael J. DiMotta, but I didn’t remember what it was about until I looked at the issue again.

CONAN THE CIMMERIAN #18 (Dark Horse, 2010) – Tim Truman [W], Tim Truman and Tomas Giorello [A]. I lost interest in Dark Horse’s Conan after Kurt Busiek’s run ended, and I only bought this issue because it was cheap. Part 3 of “The Free Companions” is a sequel to “Black Colossus.” Reading this story was a weird experience for me because I’m intimately familiar with Roy Thomas’s version of “Black Colossus.” His adaptation of this story in Conan #249 was the first Conan comic I ever read. Tim Truman’s sequel goes in a different direction from Thomas’s sequel, in Conan #250 and the following issues, and it was hard for me not to think that Truman was somehow getting the facts wrong. Most of the art in this story is by Truman himself, and it’s not his best; I feel like he’s declined since his peak in the ‘80s.

JSA #24 (DC, 2001) – David Goyer & Geoff Johns [W], Stephen Sadowski [A]. I reference my previous comments about this series. It’s ironic that when this series was coming out, people were praising David Goyer and Geoff Johns for their imaginative reinvention of the DC Universe, and now both Goyer and Johns have been complicit in running DC into the ground. “The Return of Hawkman” is an exciting and epic story that got a lot of praise at the time. What does annoy me about it is the male JSAers’ gaslighting of Kendra Saunders. There’s one scene where Jay tells Kendra to calm down, and Carter Hall literally says “It’s okay, Jay. You know how she can get a temper sometimes” – as if she wasn’t even there. I also have issue 25 and I’ll get to it sometime soon.

PLUTONA #5 (Image, 2016) – Jeff Lemire [W], Emi Lenox [A]. I’m a bit surprised that this is the last issue. The plot twist here is that, first, Plutona’s not dead; she wakes up and flies away. Second, when Teddy realizes that he didn’t get super powers by injecting himself with Plutona’s blood, he goes nuts and threatens the other kids with a knife. And then Diane whacks him with a stick, perhaps fatally. And the story ends with Mie’s little brother lying awake in bed, horrified. This is an inconclusive ending, but that’s on purpose; we’re meant to assume that the kids’ encounter with Plutona has marked them permanently. In essence, this was a horror comic, only we didn’t realize it until the end. Overall, this was a somewhat subtle and low-key work, and I see why some reviewers are disappointed with it, but I think Lemire and Lenox effectively achieved what they were trying to do.

X-MEN: WORST X-MAN EVER #5 (Marvel, 2016) – Max Bemis [W], Michael Walsh [A]. Curiously, this issue begins in the future, when Lord Riches rules the entire world and Bailey is a ne’er-do-well loser. It turns out this is an alternate future, and Miranda shows up to put the universe back on the right track. It also turns out that Miranda has been doing this since the 1960s, and it’s because of her that Marvel’s heroes never get older, Nick Fury became a black man, Bucky came back to life, etc. In other words, Miranda is singlehandedly responsible for every continuity error and retcon in the history of Marvel comics. This is impossible to accept at face value, but it’s funny. At the end of the issue, Bailey uses his one-shot power to blow himself up and kill Lord Riches, and the issue ends with a letter from editor Jordan White to Max Bemis, suggesting that it’s not the right time for Bemis’s proposed story about Bailey and that maybe this character can be revisited later. So I guess we’re supposed to assume that Miranda changed our universe so that the X-Men: Worst X-Man Ever miniseries was never published. Weird. Overall, this was a strange and not entirely successful miniseries, but I’m not sorry I read it, though I am perhaps sorry I paid full price for it.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #43 (IDW, 2016) – Thom Zahler [W], Tony Fleecs [A]. This issue begins with the Mane Six returning from an unspecified adventure in the kingdom of Abyssinia. I wonder if Thom knows that Abyssinia used to be the name of a real country. And then the ponies drink from a mysterious hot spring that causes them all to turn evil. I have sometimes wondered which of the Mane Six has the greatest potential to turn into a supervillain, and my answer was Rarity, and indeed, in this issue Rarity declares herself the empress of Ponyville (and also puts on a mask because, like Dr. Doom, she can’t stand to have anyone see that she’s not absolutely perfect). But Twilight Sparkle also declares herself the queen, while Rainbow Dash causes constant sonic rainbooms, and Applejack becomes a slavedriving real estate tycoon. And we’ve barely even seen Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie yet. This story will be continued next issue, and I’m looking forward to it.

INCREDIBLE HULK #108 (Marvel, 1968) – Stan Lee [W], Herb Trimpe [A]. Very nice artwork by the Trimpe/Severin team, but a somewhat unimpressive story in which the Hulk, Nick Fury and a Soviet colonel battle the Mandarin. The Mandarin had the potential to be a truly formidable villain, with his ten different superpowers and his massive resources, but he was hampered by being both a blatant stereotype and a relic of the Cold War.

NICK FURY, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 (Marvel, 1968) – Jim Steranko [W/A]. “Whatever Happened to Scorpio?” is Steranko’s last Nick Fury story, and one of his best. The photo colllage on page 4 is maybe the most striking thing in it, but nearly every page of this comic is a masterpiece. Steranko’s achievement is all the more amazing considering that his active career only lasted five years (1966-1970). His body of work was tiny but was so innovative and so ahead of his time that even today, it still looks radical. Maybe the reason for Steranko’s reputation is because his career was so short – unlike Neal Adams, he didn’t keep doing comics long enough to become a parody of himself.

SWEETNESS #1 (Z2, 2016) – Miss Lasko-Gross [W], Kevin Colden [A]. I only ordered this because I recognized the name Miss Lasko-Gross, and when it arrived, I didn’t expect much from it and I even regretted ordering it. Z2’s output has been kind of underwhelming. But it turns out this is actually a good comic. It’s a science fiction story about space smugglers, and what makes it interesting is the intelligent writing. The plot is intriguing and the dialogue is really good. Based on this, I want to keep reading this comic. However, Kevin Colden’s artwork reminds me uncomfortably of Mike McKone’s artwork, which I strongly dislike for reasons I can’t explain.

HILLBILLY #1 (Albatross, 2016) – Eric Powell [W/A]. I maybe shouldn’t have ordered this because I’m not a big Eric Powell fan – The Goon is one of those comics where the joke is funny for a while, but gets old quickly. But again, this comic was surprisingly good. It has excellent artwork that makes effective use of graytones, the dialogue is written in a distinctive voice, and it has an intelligent plot that seems to be based on Appalachian folklore. This is another comic I want to read more of.

HEAD LOPPER #4 (Image, 2016) – Andrew MacLean [W/A]. This came out a few weeks ago but I didn’t read it immediately because of its length. This issue, Head Lopper fights an epic battle with Lulach and Barra, and of course he wins, in epic fashon. The two-page splash with Head Lopper facing off against the three-headed serpent is a stunning piece of work. There are also some touching and funny moments here, like the late king’s last visit with his pregnant queen, and Head Lopper apologizing to the dead guy for cutting his head off. I’m glad that there’s more Head Lopper material coming, because Andrew MacLean is seriously good.

BITCH PLANET #8 (Image, 2016) – Kelly Sue DeConnick [W], Valentine De Landro [A]. I finally got to meet Kelly and Matt at Heroes Con, though only very briefly, and I only had time to tell them how much I enjoy their work. For the first time in this series, this issue shows us how transgender women are treated in Bitch Planet’s world (obvious spoiler: not well). And Meiko Maki’s dad realizes his daughter is dead, which is a major plot point. Also, I’m not entirely sure who Eleanor Doane is, but she appears on the last page. It may be a while before Bitch Planet #9 comes out, but I look forward to it. The back matter in this comic continues to be excellent, and at least as powerful and effective as the actual comic. This issue includes an essay by my fellow comics scholar John Jennings.

DEPT. H #3 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Matt Kindt [W/A]. At Heroes Con, I told Sharlene Kindt that she deserves an Eisner nomination for her coloring, and she may well get one, because Dept. H has not been eligible yet. This latest issue is exciting but sort of leaves the reader hanging. Raj gets trapped in the ocean, but when Mia goes to rescue him, she’s prevented from doing so because of a bunch of other crises. And then when those crises are resolved, Mia goes to bed instead of making another rescue attempt, and Raj is not mentioned again. So there’s a massive dangling plot thread here.

THE MIGHTY THOR #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Russell Dauterman [A]. This series is finally back on track after two bad filler issues, although not a whole lot has changed since the first issue. Jane Foster is still Thor and she’s still dying of cancer because her superhero adventures are interfering with her treatment. But despite the lack of progress, this was an exciting issue. I love the idea that there’s a secret organization of all of Marvel’s capitalist supervillains. Frr’dox is a new character but all the other members of this group are preexisting characters, though a couple of them were created by Jason Aaron previously.

DOCTOR STRANGE #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Jason Aaron [W], Chris Bachalo [A]. I love the cover of this issue, with a giant eye looking out of a well. This is the next-to-last chapter of Last Days of Magic, and that’s good, because this story has gone on too long. Notable occurrences in this issue are that, first, we see Zelma Stanton again, and second, Doctor Strange finally finds out about Wong’s ethically questionable secret-disciple operation.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #30 (IDW, 2016) – Christina Rice [W], Agnes Garbowska [A]. Like MLP: FIM #38 and #39, this issue suffers from being out of sync with the TV show. The featured characters are Twilight Sparkle and Princess Cadance, but Cadance is not a mother yet, and there’s no mention of her pregnancy. (Which is odd because “The One Where Pinkie Pie Knows” was the episode right after “Crusaders of the Lost Mark,” and the latter episode has already been mentioned in the comics.) Also, the story in this issue is annoying. Cadance is depressed because she’s less popular than Twilight, Luna or Celestia and everyone sees her as just “the pretty princess.” This is a fine premise, but the way it’s resolved is that Twilight tells Cadance she inspires people because she’s “kind, thoughtful, accessible, and accepting” and “full of love and light.” The trouble is, that could be a description of Snow White or Barbie or a million other sexist characters. (Not that Snow White and Barbie are necessarily sexist, but bear with me for the sake of argument.) The message here is that Cadance is admired because of traits which are passive and stereotypically feminine, and not because of anything she does. I agree that Cadance is an overshadowed and underused character, but if Christina Rice wanted to rehabilitate her, she could have found a better way to do it.

WONDER WOMAN #55 (DC, 1991) – George Pérez [W], Jill Thompson [A]. An excellent late Pérez issue. Dr. Psycho is Wonder Woman’s most disgusting and disturbing villain, and in this issue he nearly succeeds in driving Diana, Julia and Vanessa away from each other, while he apparently does succeed in killing a pregnant woman. This is a really powerful issue, and the artwork is great, even if Jill Thompson’s line-drawn art is less spectacular than her painted art.

UNCANNY X-MEN #240 (Marvel, 1988) – Chris Claremont [W], Marc Silvestri [A]. I’ve read lots of Inferno crossovers, but I’ve never read the core Inferno story, and somehow I got the impression that it was not good. But this issue is a pretty good X-Men story. It’s full of characterization and creepy foreboding, and it even includes some direct quotations from X-Men #175. I wonder how N’astirh is pronounced and where Claremont came up with that name.

INVINCIBLE #112 (Image, 2014) – Robert Kirkman [W], Ryan Ottley [A]. This is the issue where Robot murders half the cast of the series. I deliberately skipped this issue when it came out, but I bought it at NYCC because it was cheap, and I finally decided to read it because I was having a discussion on Facebook about why I had stopped reading Invincible. As I expected, this issue is disgusting, tasteless and offensive, and if I had read it when it came out, I probably would have dropped the series right there. Robert Kirkman is free to take this comic in whatever direction he wants, but I really feel like he’s run out of ideas and he’s just doing stuff for shock value. I think it’s probably best to pretend that Invincible ended with issue 100.

UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #2 (Marvel, 2016) – Christopher Hastings [W], Gurihiru [A]. When I read issue 1, I didn’t understand the premise, but now I get it. Gwenpool is a Marvel fan from the real world who has somehow gotten into the Marvel Universe, and as a result, she knows all the heroes’ secret identities and stuff. She tries to use that knowledge to become a superhero, but inadvertently becomes a villain instead. There’s an awesome moment in this issue where Gwenpool addresses Thor as Jane. Later in the issue, she comments “I’m in comic book world. I got a costume. Someone’s reading this…”

UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #3 (Marvel, 2016) – as above. This issue’s cover is a cute homage to My Neighbor Totoro. This issue is very similar to the previous issue. The best moment this time around is when Gwenpool tells Batroc that his name is derived from “batrachian,” i.e. frog, because he’s French. I never knew that.

INVINCIBLE #16 (Image, 2004) – Robert Kirkman [W], Ryan Ottley [A]. After a bad Invincible comic, a good one. Back in 2004, Invincible was perhaps the best superhero comic there was, and I’m sorry that it’s jumped the shark so badly. This issue introduces Angstrom Levy, and now I finally understand who he is: he’s a villain whose power is the ability to contact his alternate selves. This issue includes a one-page strip by a pre-professional Jason Latour, who ironically is now a much better writer than Kirkman.

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