Late reviews for July


I’m almost a month behind on these reviews. I just moved from Oxford, Ohio to Charlotte, North Carolina (thank God) and I’ve had limited time or energy to read comic books. I only just finished setting up my drawerboxes and arranging them into the proper order.

New comics received on Friday, July 8th. This was four days before the movers came and I was overwhelmed with packing and other preparations, so I didn’t get much reading done this week.

FUTURE QUEST #2 (DC, 2016) – Jeff Parker [W], Evan “Doc” Shaner, Ron Randall and Jonathan Case [A]. Another well-written, exciting and well-drawn comic. Less impressive than last issue only because it’s not the first issue. The highlight was the surprise Jezebel Jade appearance on the last page.

PAPER GIRLS #7 (Image, 2016) – Brian K. Vaughan [W], Cliff Chiang [A]. I don’t believe I voted for this series in either Eisner category for which it was nominated, but I still think it’s a deserving Eisner winner. My biggest problem with this series is that I’m still confused as to what exactly it’s about and where the plot is going. The hug between the two Erins is a lovely moment, and the fight between the two giant water bears is awesome. BKV must be a big fan of these creatures because they also showed up in Saga #35.

GIANT DAYS #16 (Boom!, 2016) – John Allison [W], Max Sarin [A]. I still don’t understand the title of this comic book. In this issue, Daisy volunteers to do campus tours for prospective students. As a result she is forced to hang out with a bunch of horrible people, as well as one decent person who has already decided to go to a different university. Meanwhile Susan goes on a bunch of disastrous speed dates. Overall this issue is another good example of the Giant Days formula.

REVIVAL #41 (Image, 2016) – Tim Seeley [W], Mike Norton [A]. This is the end of what appears to be the next-to-last storyline of this series. By the end of this issue, General Cale has been publicly discredited on national TV and Em is apparently about to give birth. I’ve been increasingly confused as to what exactly is going on in this comic, though I still enjoy it, so hopefully the conclusion will clarify things.

SILVER SURFER #5 (Marvel, 2016) – Dan Slott [W], Mike Allred [A]. There is unfortunately no complete list of all the people on the cover. Some of them are easy to recognize (e.g. Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Kyle Baker) but others are just people that Mike Allred happens to know. The actual issue is a little scattershot. After saving Earth from Zenn-La, Norrin becomes a global celebrity, but he’s depressed that no one remembers Zenn-La. There’s a cute metatextual scene where Jeremy, the little kid from the previous volume, shows Norrin some old Marvel comics where all references to Zenn-La have been excised. To distract himself, Norrin takes Dawn to look for her absent mother. I was wondering if Costas Prado might be the first Cape Verdean character in superhero comics history, given that he lives in Massachusetts and has a Portuguese-sounding name, but it turns out he’s Brazilian.

FLINTSTONES #1 (DC, 2016) – Mark Russell [W], Steve Pugh [A]. I knew this was going to be a weird comic, but I didn’t expect it to be this weird. It’s like the Flintstones crossed with The Office or Mad Men or something (or at least that’s my impression, given that I’ve never watched either of those shows). It’s full of sight gags and political references and weird jokes that don’t always work, and I’m not sure the story goes anywhere. It’s fun, though, and I’m excited for the next issue.

BOUNTY #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Kurtis Wiebe [W], Mindy Lee [A]. This is Kurtis Wiebe’s third ongoing series, and let’s hope it lasts longer and comes out more regularly than the first two. This comic was a bit hard to follow, but it’s an exciting and well-drawn piece of space opera, with a mostly female cast. It would be too simplistic to call it the science fiction version of Rat Queens, but it is a bit like that. I just hope it doesn’t suffer the same fate as Pisces.

VOTE LOKI #2 (Marvel, 2016) – Christopher Hastings [W], Paul McCaffrey [A]. Strange to say, this series is still not political enough – that is, the political satire is too generic and unrelated to actual politics. That prevents it from being a truly serious piece of satire, like Prez, but it’s still a funny and enjoyable comic. I’m writing this review on August 1, in the middle of the Khizr Khan controversy, and I can confidently say that Loki would be a far better President than Trump and would be a much more formidable general election candidate.

SUPER ZERO #6 (Aftershock, 2016) – Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti [W], Rafael de Latorre [A]. This issue, Dru finally gets super powers and uses them to stop the alien invasion, seemingly at the cost of her own life. I’m a bit surprised at the turn this series took in the last two issues; I thought it was taking place in a realistic universe, but instead it takes place in a science fiction universe. I wonder if this detracts from the serious argument that Amanda and Jimmy were making about superhero fandom and obsession with superheroes.

USAGI YOJIMBO #13 (Mirage, 1995) – Stan Sakai [W/A]. Most of this issue is an extended flashback. In the flashback, Usagi learns that Mariko has married Kenichi. His heartbroken expression on learning this news is the highlight of the issue; his eyes get so big that he looks like an anime character. Next, Usagi is hired to escort a princess named Kinuko, who turns out to be a spoiled brat, but inevitably they fall in love. The issue ends there. The backup story explains the origin of Keiko, the little girl who’s Jei’s sidekick. Keiko is a poor orphan being raised by her grandfather, but her grandfather is cruelly murdered by samurai. Jei shows up and kills the samurai, but then Keiko is left completely alone. So she decides to follow Jei, which, in context, seems like the only reasonable decision. This story is an effective depiction of the brutality of peasant life in Edo Japan.

New comics received on July 15, the day I moved into my Charlotte apartment. At this point, I was in the middle of the most hectic and stressful move of my life. On July 13, I moved out of my old apartment but then had to spend the night in Dayton because my flight to Charlotte was cancelled. The following day, I got to Charlotte after my apartment complex’s leasing office was closed, and a future colleague was kind enough to put me up for the night. So by the time I was able to get into my new apartment, I had slept in four different rooms in as many days. And I had my cat with me the whole time. It was not fun. Anyway, that explains why I didn’t read a whole lot of comics that week.

GOLDIE VANCE #4 (Boom!, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Brittney Williams [A]. I heart this comic so much. I think it’s the best new ongoing series of the year (Future Quest is the second best) and I’d like to see it win an Eisner. And of course I’m thrilled that this won’t be the last issue. In this issue, the first storyline is resolved in an effective and surprising way, and there are some romantic sparks between Goldie and Diane.

LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY #2 (DC, 2016) – Chynna Clugston Flores [W], Rosemary Valero-O’Connell [A]. This crossover is worse than either of the two series it’s based on, but it’s still fun, and this second issue is an improvement on the first. The cultural differences between the Lumberjanes and the … Academicians, I guess, are interesting, and Chynna Clugston Flores does an admirable job with characterization, given the large number of characters.

THE LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN #8 (DC, 2016) – Renae de Liz [W/A]. Somehow I forgot to order issue 6 of this series, which explains why I thought the series was poorly paced. This is another excellent issue, whose highlight is a surprise appearance by a young Alfred Pennyworth. I’m thrilled to learn that there’s going to be another “season” of this comic, because DC cannot let Renae de Liz’s phenomenal talent go to waste.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #21 (Image, 2016) – Kieron Gillen [W], Jamie McKelvie [A]. An exciting issue in which the contention between the two factions of gods escalates quickly. I initially had trouble remembering which god was on which side, but I figured it out. The death of Minerva’s parents was just about the least surprising thing ever, but it makes me hate Ananke even more than I already did.

THE VISION #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Tom King [W], Gabriel Hernandez Walta [A]. In this issue, we learn that Victor agreed to work with the Avengers because he’s addicted to vibranium. We also learn that Vin is dead. And he’s never coming back. And Victor killed him. This revelation is all the more shocking because of the deadpan way in which it’s delivered. And its horror is not lessened by the fact that we knew something like this was coming. The Vision isn’t my favorite Marvel comic right now – that would be Ms. Marvel or Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – but this twelve-issue maxiseries will be remembered as one of the most intelligent, grimmest, and most powerful comics ever published by Marvel.

ROCKET RACCOON AND GROOT #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Nick Kocher [W], Michael Walsh [A]. I’m not familiar with Nick Kocher, but this issue is an excellent self-contained story, about a friend of Rocket who keeps faking his own death. This issue covers a large span of time and packs in a massive number of jokes and running gags, yet it never gets confusing. Highlights include the building named Drumpf Plaza, and the line “Spit it out! My adult son is fighting a space squid thing!”

SPACE BATTLE LUNCHTIME #3 (Oni, 2016) – Natalie Riess [W/A]. I forgot to order issue two of this series, and have not gotten it yet. This issue is a lot of fun, but my complaint is that the aliens aren’t alien enough. Besides the one dude who looks like two pyramids stacked together, the rest of the aliens just look fairly normal. That is to say, this comic could be even weirder than it is.

POWER MAN & IRON FIST #6 (Marvel, 2016) – David Walker [W], Flaviano [A]. This issue is a Civil War II crossover in that it deals with the aftermath of War Machine’s death and She-Hulk’s life-threatening injuries (like Patsy Walker #8, reviewed below). This is probably the best kind of crossover tie-in issue because it makes sense if you haven’t been reading the main series of the crossover; you just have to know that She-Hulk is hurt and possibly dying, and it doesn’t matter why. In the second half of the issue, Danny and Cage get hired to help out some people who are being targeted by “predictive justice” police (see the review of Ms. Marvel #9 below for a discussion of this rather stupid idea). As this subplot continues, David Walker comes very close to explicitly supporting Black Lives Matter. He has one character say “never call the cops,” and then later, Danny attacks a cop and says “Let the man breathe!” Supporting BLM is a courageous decision, given that it’s likely to lead to negative feedback and boycotts from racist people, and I’m curious to see how far David Walker will go in this direction.

DESCENDER #13 (Image, 2016) – Jeff Lemire [W], Dustin Nguyen [A]. This issue is the origin of Telsa. The daughter of a high-ranking official in the UGC, she watches her mother get killed by robots, then joins the UGC herself under a false name because her father won’t let her. There are some obvious cliches in this issue, including the bar that’s very reminiscent of the Mos Eisley cantina, but in general it’s another fun issue of Descender.

NEW SUPER-MAN #1 (DC, 2016) – Gene Luen Yang [W], Viktor Bogdanovic [A]. Gene Luen Yang’s much-hyped new Superman title is a serious disappointment. The gimmick of this comic is that it stars a new Superman who’s from Shanghai. However, the Chinese setting turns out to be just window dressing, because the characters act exactly like Americans. There are small indications that the characters are Chinese (the lunch of rice and pickles, the newscaster asking Superman if he acted out of a sense of duty). However, to quote what I said about this comic on Facebook:

“The Chinese setting of this comic is just window dressing — this story is supposed to be taking place in Shanghai, but the characters are all acting exactly like Americans. It could have been set in New York City instead, and the entire plot would have been exactly the same.

There are two problems with this. First, the plot of this issue is not good or original — it’s just a generic superhero origin story. The use of China as a setting just masks the fact that the story lacks any substance.

Second, the Chinese teenagers in this story behave exactly like American teenagers. Based on my experience working with a number of students from mainland China over the last year, I think this is implausible. My Chinese students do not behave like Americans of the same age. They have different social norms and different styles of communication, and they come from a culture with different traditions and different values. The characters in New Super Man #1 are more like American teenagers who happen to speak Chinese.”

(Now, when I posted this on Facebook, one person disagreed with me, saying that it makes sense that people in Shanghai would act in a more Americanized way. Still, I don’t buy that their behavior would be totally indistinguishable from the behavior of Americans their age.)

I think what’s going on here is that, number one, Gene Luen Yang is just not a good DC comics writer. I haven’t read The Shadow Hero yet, but my impression is that Gene’s superhero comics lack the originality and creativity of his creator-owned work or even his work-for-hire at Dark Horse. Second, as Gene himself said in his ChLA keynote address, he’s not as familiar with China as he is with the lives of Chinese people in America, and as a result, he’s not nearly as good when he writes about native Chinese people as when he writes about Chinese Americans.

New comics received on July 23. This was the day the movers were supposed to come, and they did come, but not until 9 PM. Meanwhile, I had been suffering from terrible insomnia because I was sleeping on an aerobed that kept leaking. So I was not in an ideal frame of mind for reading comic books. Still, I did manage to read far more comic books this week than during either of the previous two weeks.

LUMBERJANES #28 (Boom!, 2016) – Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh [W], Ayme Sotuyo [A]. An excellent conclusion to a terrific story arc. Most of what happens here is fairly predictable, but I wasn’t expecting Barney to become a Lumberjane. The gender politics of this are kind of weird: you can’t really see this as Barney reclaiming his masculine identity, because in the world of Lumberjanes, the definitions of masculinity and femininity are the reverse of what they are in normative American culture. Oh, and also Diane is back. I was really not expecting that.

SNOTGIRL #1 (Image, 2016) – Bryan Lee O’Malley [W], Leslie Hung [A]. This is the first new Image comic this year that I’m really excited about; Image seems to be developing fewer exciting new projects this year compared to the past few years. I don’t know if Snotgirl can be considered one of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s major works, given that he’s only writing it. But you can clearly tell that it’s him, and it has the same aesthetic sensibility as Scott Pilgrim or Seconds. I can’t quite tell where this comic is going yet, but I’m excited about it.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Brittney Williams [A]. This is the first issue of this series that’s not primarily humorous. Like Power Man & Iron Fist #6, it deals with Patsy’s reaction to She-Hulk’s near-fatal injuries. This issue suggests that Patsy and Jen are best friends, which is not necessarily supported by past continuity, but oh well. Most of Kate Leth’s recent work (this series and Goldie Vance) has been humorous, but in this issue she shows she can also write a very good sad story. And she does it by infusing the sadness with humor. Most of the issue focuses not on Patsy’s grief over Jen’s injuries, but rather on Patsy’s memories of the good times she and Jen shared.

MANIFEST DESTINY #21 (Image, 2016) – Chris Dingess [W], Matthew Roberts [A]. Part three of “Sasquatch.” Not a whole lot happens here, and I’m not convinced that this needed to be a six-part story.

At this point, the movers came with my stuff, including my boxes of unread comics, such as:

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #14 (Exhibit A, 1997) – Batton Lash [W/A]. I believe I read this story before, as part of the fourth Case Files volume. But I didn’t remember much about it other than the broad outline of the plot, so it was worth revisiting. In “Bad Blood,” Ayn Rice (an obvious parody of Anne Rice, with a bit of Ayn Rand) gets involved in a legal dispute with Dracula over the ownership of a house. And this feeds into one of the ongoing romantic subplots because Ayn Wrice’s lawyer is Chase Hawkins. The main thing I remembered about this story is the ending, where Ayn Wrice asks Dracula to make her a vampire, and he refuses because she wants it too much. But there are lots of other funny jokes and character interactions in this story.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #638 (DC, 2005) – Greg Rucka [W], Matthew Clark [A]. When Lois tries to convince Clark to have a baby, Mr. Mxyzptlk shows up and gives Lois and Clark a vision of an alternate future where they become parents. This is a surprisingly cute and touching story, though I don’t think it had any long-term consequences; I don’t believe that Lois and Clark ever did try for a baby, and Chris Kent didn’t appear until over a year later. This story includes some pages that are parodies of the work of Frank Miller, Bill Watterson, and (I think) Bruce Timm. The Frank Miller page includes a nearly full-page panel of Black Canary, even though she has nothing to do with the story; I assume this is a parody of Miller’s inclinations toward T&A.

SHAZAM! #25 (DC, 1976) – Denny O’Neil [W], Dick Giordano [A] on lead story; E. Nelson Bridwell [W], Kurt Schaffenberger [A] on backup story. The first story this issue is the first comic book appearance of Isis, and serves as a preview for Isis’s ongoing series. It’s a rather generic story which does not succeed at arousing enthusiasm for the new character. The backup story, in which Billy Batson appears on a TV show about young people in American history, is slightly better though still just average.

KILL SHAKESPEARE #2 (IDW, 2010) – Conor McCreery & Anthony Del Col [W], Andy Belanger [A]. I met Conor McCreery at ICFA a few years ago, and I was excited to read this comic, but when I did read the first issue, I was disappointed. And after reading the second issue, I’m still kind of disappointed. There’s an interesting premise here, but I can’t really explain what that premise is. This comic takes place in a world where all the Shakespeare characters are real, and Shakespeare himself is somehow in charge of the world, but beyond that, I don’t quite get what’s going on. As a metafictional fantasy story based on Shakespeare, this comic is worse than Sandman #19 and #75 or Poul Anderson’s A Midsummer Tempest.

CATWOMAN #15 (DC, 2003) – Ed Brubaker [W], Cameron Stewart [A]. An amazing issue. It’s been a year and a half since I read issue 14, so I’m not quite sure what’s going on here, except that Selina is trying to get revenge on the people who critically injured Slam Bradley. But Cameron Stewart’s visual storytelling is brilliant, and Ed Brubaker effectively communicates Selina and Holly’s grief over Slam Bradley’s condition, and Selina’s determination to get revenge.

BROTHERS OF THE SPEAR #3 (Gold Key, 1972) – Gaylord DuBois [W], Jesse Santos [A]. This issue has a fairly standard Gaylord DuBois plot, where the city of Tungelu gets taken over by Tuareg invaders, and Dan-el and Natongo have to capture it back. The sheer amount of stuff that happens in this story is impressive – in just a few pages, Dan-el and Natongo get shipwrecked, nearly eaten by hyenas, and sold into slavery. Jesse Santos’s art is less radical than in his collaborations with Don Glut, but still pretty good. One thing that impressed me about this comic is Gaylord DuBois’s more than basic knowledge about Africa – like, at one point he refers to “shiftas,” which is an actual East African word for bandits. I even wondered if he had ever been to Africa, but apparently he just read the same books that Edgar Rice Burroughs read.

DOCTOR STRANGEFATE #1 (Amalgam, 1996) – Ron Marz [W], José Luis García-Lopez [A]. Despite the JLGL artwork, this is not one of the better Amalgam comics. Unlike the writers of Amalgam comics like Spider-Boy or Bullets & Bracelets, Ron Marz doesn’t take advantage of the comic potential of blending the Marvel and DC universes. This comic reads like a standard Dr. Strange story. It’s also too heavily tied to the ongoing plot of the Marvel vs. DC crossover.

CHEW #56 (Image, 2016) – John Layman [W], Rob Guillory [A]. Tony starts eating Mason Savoy’s ear, but finds out that Mason deliberately ate beets before his suicide, in order to prevent Tony from learning anything. So we have to wait a few more issues to find out the big secret of this comic. I’m glad that there are just four issues left; this comic is a lot of fun, but it’s time for the creators to move on. The Cereduratus, who can cause lethal ice cream headaches, is one of the funnier food-related powers in the series.

GWENPOOL #4 (Marvel, 2016) – Christopher Hastings [W], Gurihiru [A]. I didn’t realize Christopher Hastings was writing both this series and Vote Loki. He’s not the best writer at Marvel, but he’s funny. This was less fun than the last three issues, though. Gwenpool defeats Modok with help from Cecil’s ghost, and then the issue ends as she’s about to find out who Modok was working for. I kind of thought this was the last issue, but I guess this is an ongoing series.

A-FORCE #7 (Marvel, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Ben Caldwell [A]. This is fairly good but not incredible. I like the “power of love” moment, and Ben Caldwell’s artwork is sometimes brilliant, but this series still doesn’t grab me as much as Jem and the Holograms.

BETTY & VERONICA #1 (Archie, 2016) – Adam Hughes [W/A]. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a comic written by Adam Hughes before, but he’s a surprisingly good writer. And his art is as beautiful as ever, though I feel ashamed of liking his art because it’s so full of T&A. Particularly nice touches include the dog narrator and the page that’s completely full of word balloons.

USAGI YOJIMBO #156 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Stan Sakai [W/A]. The second chapter of “Secret of the Hell Screen” is as exciting as the first. Lord Shima is a really obvious prime suspect, but maybe too obvious. I look forward to reading the solution to this mystery.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #204 (DC, 1971) – Denny O’Neil [W], Dick Dillin [A]. This is one of, I think, three appearances by the New Look Wonder Woman outside her own title. The others are Brave and the Bold #87 and #105, both of which I’ve already read. This issue is fairly good. It has an implausible plot in which Superman and Wonder Woman have to save a young man who is singlehandedly responsible for avoiding a dystopian future, but there’s a nicely ambiguous moment where they aren’t sure whether they’ve accomplished their mission or not. There’s another nice scene where Clark and Diana are about to kiss, but they realize that it’s better if they don’t. I think it’s better if Superman and Wonder Woman have a purely professional and friendly relationship. Or at least it’s better than the Superman/Wonder Woman romance that DC is currently trying to force on us.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #165 (DC, 1979) – Gerry Conway [W], Dick Dillin [A]. A second Dick Dillin comic in a row. Dick Dillin is often considered a very boring artist, and he was, but I enjoy his art anyway; he’s the essential Bronze Age Justice League artist, if only because he was the only artist on that title during the Bronze Age. This issue focuses on Gerry’s pet character, Zatanna, and explains the origin of the Homo Magi and the story of how Zatanna’s parents met. And then at the end of the issue, Sindella dies. It’s an effective story, though it’s hampered by Gerry’s histrionic prose style.

ASTRO CITY #37 (DC, 2016) – Kurt Busiek [W], Brent Anderson [A]. I was not enthusiastic about this issue at first, but This issue is another flashback story narrated by the Broken Man, who I guess is Astro City’s version of Uncle Creepy or the Vault Keeper, and it consists of several historical vignettes linked together by the theme of music.

DNAGENTS #18 (Eclipse, 1985) – Mark Evanier [W], various [A]. This issue consists of several segments, each illustrated by a different artist and focusing on a different DNAgent. It’s a pretty average issue of DNAgents, but it’s notable for being one of the last works of Mike Sekowsky.

CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA #5 (Archie, 2016) – Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa [W], Robert Hack [A]. If I remember this issue correctly, Sabrina tries to resurrect her dead boyfriend Harvey but resurrects her father instead. So we can expect some bizarre incest shenanigans, reminiscent of Saga of the Swamp Thing #29. Instead of a reprinted backup story, this issue has a preview of Afterlife with Archie.

CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA #6 (Archie, 2016) – as above. This issue reveals the origin of Sabrina’s cat Salem, as well as two snakes that apparently belong to Sabrina’s aunts. It’s another very gruesome and shocking horror story, but I’m not sure this is the sort of thing I like, and I don’t know if I’d be reading this comic if it wasn’t a spinoff of Afterlife with Archie. Also, personally, if I were transformed into an immortal cat that could talk, I really wouldn’t mind.

AQUAMAN #38 (DC, 1997) – Peter David [W], Jim Calafiore [A]. This late issue of PAD’s Aquaman run is unexpectedly good. The plot is that Aquaman tries to raise money by turning Poseidonis into a tourist attraction. But the highlight of the issue is a scene where Vulko expresses his deep disappointment in Aquaman’s recent behavior, and when Aquaman says “And you can still call me Arthur,” Vulko replies “No. No, I don’t think I can.” PAD’s run on Aquaman was epic and humorous at once, and had a truly unique aesthetic. I need to complete my collection of this series.

DOOM PATROL #43 (DC, 1991) – Grant Morrison [W], Steve Yeowell [A]. This issue begins with a quotation from Lucy Clifford’s horror story “The New Mother,” which was a heavy influence on Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. I’m familiar with this story from its retelling in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Even that watered-down version is horrifying, and no wonder it fascinated both Neil and Grant. The rest of the issue deals with Flex Mentallo and the Men from N.O.W.H.E.R.E., and is as surreal and bizarre as any Morrison Doom Patrol comic.

SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND LOIS LANE #90 (DC, 1969) – unknown [W], Irv Novick [A]. Like many Silver Age Lois Lane stories, in this issue Lois is subjected to a series of horrible traumas, which the reader is somehow supposed to consider humorous. Lois falls in love with a time-traveling Kryptonian named Dahr-Nel, who proposes to her. Before she can give him an answer, Superman unexpectedly tells Lois to drop everything and meet him at City Hall for a wedding. Of course Lois is overjoyed that she’s going to be Mrs. Superman – and of course it turns out the wedding is a fake. Superman is using Lois as bait to catch a criminal who swore to kill Superman’s wife on their wedding day, only he forgot to tell Lois! After Superman gives Lois a lame-ass apology, she understandably decides to marry Dahr-Nel instead, but Dahr-Nel promptly gets himself killed. So at the end of the story, Lois is left with nothing except the hope that someday Superman will agree to marry her. I don’t know what kind of person would find this sort of thing funny.

L.E.G.I.O.N. ’89 #2 (DC, 1989) – Keith Giffen & Alan Grant [W], Barry Kitson [A]. Vril Dox leads his team on a mission to destroy the Computer Tyrants of Colu, and shows himself to be just as cynical and manipulative toward his own teammates as his enemies. This story is a fairly good introduction to the series, but it suffers from what TVTropes calls Early Installment Weirdness. It’s unusual to see Vril Dox going on a mission himself, rather than serving as an administrator and strategist.

DEPT. H #4 (Dark Horse, 2016) – Matt Kindt [W/A]. Mia finally gets her chance to go rescue Raj, and as she looks for him, she has flashbacks to her mother’s death. This was a good but not great issue.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #7 (Image, 2016) – Skottie Young [W/A]. Gert goes on a quest for I can’t remember what, and she encounters a boy who’s somehow been transported from Fairyland to Earth. I have that “Fairy Freezy” song in my head, even though I don’t know the tune.

FAITH #1 (Valiant, 2016) – Jody Houser [W], Pere Perez & Marguerite Sauvage [A]. This was fun, but I barely remember anything about it.

HOWARD THE DUCK #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Chip Zdarsky [W], Joe Quinones [A]. I’m sorry that there’s only one more issue of this series, but it appears to be ending because Chip and Joe want it to, not because of low sales. This is a sweet and funny comic, and while the Lea Thompson guest appearance feels like a publicity stunt, Chip makes her an interesting character, very similar to Beverly Switzer.

CAPTAIN KID #1 (Aftershock, 2016) – Mark Waid & Tom Peyer [W], Wilfredo Torres [A]. I bought this comic because of the intriguing premise: it’s Captain Marvel in reverse, in that the protagonist is an aging man who turns into a young superhero. Miracleman explored this territory but only in a limited way. The trouble with this comic is it covers too much territory and it’s not clearly focused on its central premise. Waid and Peyer pay some attention to the central idea of an older man who can transform into a younger man, but they also waste time on exploring other ideas that are much less interesting, like the woman who traveled back in time and ended up in the wrong year.

I still have more reviews to write, but I’ll just post these now.


Comics criticism: Basic questions to ask when reading a comic.

This is intended as a resource for students or for academics who are new to reading comics critically. It is a list of basic questions one might want to ask when reading a comic book or graphic novel. Most of these questions have to do with the visual or artistic aspect of a comic — what it looks like — rather than the literary or narrative side (storyline, themes, characterization, etc.). I focus on this because teachers and students tend to have a basic understanding of how to analyze the story of a graphic novel; in doing so, you can apply the techniques you learn in high school English classes. But no one really tells you how to analyze a comic book from a visual perspective, and that’s why a guide like this one might be useful.

1. Art style (draftspersonship). In general, what does the artwork look like? What sort of linework does the artist use? How much detail does the artist employ in drawing people and objects — where does the artwork fall on the continuum between minimalist (John Porcellino) and hyperdetailed (Geof Darrow)? How does the artist depict characters, including their faces and figures? How does the artist draw backgrounds? If the penciller and inker are not the same person, how does the inking affect the appearance of the pencils? (This aspect of comics is similar to mise-en-scène in cinema.)

2. Visual storytelling – within the panel. In general, how is each panel composed? From what viewpoint are the panels drawn — are there more close-ups, more long shots, etc.? What “camera angles” does the artist use (bird’s eye view, worm’s eye view, etc.)? How are the panels framed — what does the artist choose to include in each panel, and what does s/he choose to leave out? Does the artist use motion lines to indicate that something is moving? Does the artist use emanata to represent abstract concepts, such as by using a light bulb over a character’s head to represent an idea? (This aspect of comics is similar to cinematography in cinema.)

3. Visual storytelling – between panels. How are adjacent panels related to each other? Which of McCloud’s six types of panel transitions (action-to-action, aspect-to-aspect, etc.) is most prevalent? How many action sequences are there, and how good is the artist at depicting action? How much closure does the reader have to do — that is, how much work does the reader need to do in order to understand what happens in the gaps between panels? (This aspect of comics is similar to editing in cinema, with an exception. In cinema, editing is responsible for the temporal pace of the film; the editor determines the rhythm of the shots and the amount of time that takes place in each shot. In comics, the pace of reading is determined by page layout and composition.)

4. Page layout and composition. How is each page structured? How many panels are there on each page? What size and shape are the panels? How are the panels arranged relative to each other — for example, does the artist use a 2×2 grid, a 4×2 grid, or what? Does each page have the same page layout (as is often the case in American or European comics) or does each page have a different layout (as is often the case in manga)? What do the panel borders look like — are they solid borders or just single lines?  In what order is the page supposed to be read, and how does the panel structure help guide the reader through the page?

5. Lettering. What does the text in the comic look like? What is the style of the letters? Does the comic use hand-lettering or a font? Is the text in ALL UPPER CASE or in mixed case? How does the lettering contribute to the overall visual appearance of the comic — does it try to be as unobtrusive as possible, or is it a major element of the overall “look” of each page? (For an example of the latter, see Ellen Forney.) Are there sound effects, and if so, what do they look like? Are there caption boxes, thought balloons, neither, or both?

6. Color. Is the comic in black and white or in color? If in black and white, how many shades of gray are there? If in color, how many colors? What general mood is created by the colors or shades of grey — is the comic bright and cheery, dark and gloomy, or what? How does the artist use color as a compositional element or as a way of directing the reader’s gaze? If the comic is in color, what coloring technique was used — the traditional four-color process, computer coloring, watercolor, painting, or what?

7. Materiality and paratext. Are you reading the comic in print or digital form? If in digital form, what sort of device are you reading it on, and what application (e.g. ComiXology) are you using? Are you able to view the entire page at once or only parts of it? If you are reading the comic in print form, is it a comic book, a paperback book, a hardcover, or what? In either case, are you reading the comic in the form in which it was originally published? If not, what changes were made in order to adapt the comic to the form in which you are reading it? Does the comic include any paratextual materials, i.e. materials that are not part of the comic itself but are ancillary to it? (Examples: advertisements, letters pages, introductions, afterwords.)

You will notice that these are all basic questions — they’re all things you should ask yourself when you start reading a comic, as opposed to when you return to it in order to interpret or criticize it. Most of these questions only ask you to notice things or make factual judgments. After you figure out the answers to these questions, the next step is to explain these answers — to try to justify why the artist made certain choices rather than others. For example, after you understand how each page of the comic is laid out, you can take the next step and try to understand why the artist chose to use that particular type of page layout, and how the page layout helps to shape the meaning of the comic.