More late reviews

9-11-16

I now have five weeks of comic books waiting to be reviewed. Let’s see if I can do it all in one day. (LATER NOTE: I couldn’t)

New comics received on August 12:

ALL-NEW ALL-DIFFERENT AVENGERS ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2016) – various [W/A]. I was really excited about this because it’s a collection of Kamala Khan’s fan fiction stories, and I’m in the middle of writing an article about Kamala’s fan practices – in fact I was supposed to have submitted the article three days after this issue came out, but the deadline was extended. The lineup of talent on this issue is very impressive. I believe that the story by Zac Gorman and Jay Fosgitt is the first Marvel work by either of them, and I only know of one other Marvel comic by Faith Erin Hicks. But anyway, while I love the idea behind this issue, I’m not equally in love with the execution. The stories mostly seem to be parodies of different types of bad fanfic, and I can recognize some of the tropes being parodied, but not all of them. I need to read this comic again more carefully, though.

LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY #3 (Boom!/DC, 2016) – Chynna Clugston Flores [W], Rosemary Valero-O’Connell [A]. Definitely a case of the concept being better than the execution. The plot of this crossover is reasonably exciting and allows both teams to display their unique strengths. But this comic is missing the characterization that makes both of its parent series so great, and it also doesn’t have the brilliant dialogue of Lumberjanes. I wish this series had been written by Shannon Watters and Brendan Fletcher, instead of Chynna.

THE VISION #10 (Marvel, 2016) – Tom King [W], Gabriel Hernandez Walta [A]. This was already a very sad comic, but this issue was perhaps the saddest one yet. The Visions try to react to Vin’s death, but they don’t really understand how to feel or express emotions, and that makes it even sadder. It’s too bad that there are just three issues left, but this sort of heightened emotional state can only be sustained for so long.

ANOTHER CASTLE #4 (Oni, 2016) – Andrew Wheeler [W], Paulina Ganucheau [A]. This has been an excellent miniseries – or at least I thought it was a miniseries, though there’s no indication of this in the actual issue. This issue was fun, but also the least impressive yet, because it’s just setting things up for the conclusion. At Heroes Con, I met Paulina Ganucheau and she confirmed that the symbols on the sword are indeed based on the Konami Code, and that joke has been there since the first issue.

THE FLINTSTONES #2 (DC, 2016) – Mark Russell [W], Steve Pugh [A]. Another weird issue of the weirdest comic of the year. This story is a fairly witty satire of both religion and consumerism. It also explores the bizarre implications of a society where people use live animals as appliances. My favorite appliance in this issue is the octopus dishwasher, but there’s also the cobra garden hose, the rabbit neck pillow, etc. I was surprised to see Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm in this issue; based on their absence from the previous issue, I assumed they hadn’t been born yet.

SPACE BATTLE LUNCHTIME #4 (Oni, 2016) – Natalie Riess [W/A]. I still don’t have the second issue of this series. This issue, Peony finally makes friends with the one-eyed blue dude, but then the melon-headed guy sends her off to be eaten by cannibals. It’s another fun but not great issue.

WONDER WOMAN #4 (DC, 2016) – Greg Rucka [W], Nicola Scott [A]. In the second chapter of the Year One story, Diana wins the contest and is sent off to Man’s World, though unlike in other retellings of her origin, she thinks she’s never going to be able to return to Themyscira. This is a story I’ve read many times before, but this version of it is exciting and well-written, and Nicola Scott’s art is impressive.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #7 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – Ed Piskor [W/A]. This issue takes the story up to 1982. A lot of interesting things happen this issue, but I’ve forgotten most of them.

NEW SUPER-MAN #2 (DC, 2016) – Gene Luen Yang [W], Viktor Bogdanovic [A]. Only a mild improvement over issue 1.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #131 (Marvel, 1970) – Stan Lee [W], Gene Colan [A]. Brilliant artwork and an okay story. A villain named The Hood, who turns out to be Baron Strucker, tries to defeat Cap by convincing him that Bucky has come back to life. Strucker does this by finding an amnesiac person who somehow looks and acts exactly like Bucky. In the following issue, it turns out that “Bucky” is a Life Model Decoy created by MODOK.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #2 (DC, 1989) – Keith Giffen [W/A], Tom Bierbaum & Mary Bierbaum [A]. Probably the most emotionally affecting thing about the v4 Legion was the sense of nostalgia it created for the Legion’s glory days. The best part of this issue is the series of gossip columns about Jo and Tinya’s wedding that appear on the first page. The actual comic part of this issue is not nearly as good; there are too many concurrent plotlines happening at once, and the story lacks any coherent direction.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #504 (Marvel, 2011) – Matt Fraction [W], Salvador Larroca [A]. In this Fear Itself crossover, Tony battles the Grey Gargoyle, who’s found one of the Serpent’s hammers. Meanwhile, Pepper Potts tries to hire Bethany Cabe as a security consultant for the latest incarnation of Stark Industries. I take this opportunity to point out that ever since the ‘90s, I’ve enjoyed Salvador Larroca’s art because of its realistic, convincing quality. It’s weird that he’s never been all that popular. In issue 19, … and I have no idea how that sentence was going to end.

New comics received on August 19:

LUMBERJANES #29 (Boom!, 2016) – Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh [W], Carey Pietsch [A]. The new storyline develops directly out of the previous one. The campers from the Zodiac Cabin, including Barney, have been turned to stone by a gorgon, and Diane/Artemis has come back to earth to hunt it. This issue doesn’t grab me as much as the beginning of the previous storyline did, but it’s still a lot of fun – although the best scene, where April wakes her friends up at an ungodly hour, was already included in a preview. Notable things we learn this issue are that Barney’s pronoun is “they,” Molly has some sort of unspecified family problems, and Ripley claims to be the youngest in her family – which contradicts issue 13, unless the baby in that issue was her nephew or niece or something. As a general comment, I notice that this series came out of its slump and returned to its previous level of quality as soon as Shannon Watters became the co-writer. I wonder how she and Kat Leyh are dividing up the writing chores.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #22 (Image, 2016) – Kieron Gillen [W], Jamie McKelvie [A]. An epic and brutally violent ending to the current story arc. Persephone’s faction of gods defeats Ananke’s faction. Ananke claims that her actions are justified because she’s trying to fight the “great darkness,” which was mentioned before but only in passing, and Ananke doesn’t explain what it is. And then Persephone kills her, which is a deeply questionable act, even though the reader (at least this reader) hated Ananke and is thrilled to see her go. I guess now we’ll find out what the great darkness is, but only after the special 1830s issue.

MANIFEST DESTINY #22 (Image, 2016) – Chris Dingess [W], Matthew Roberts [A]. “Sasquatch” continues. In the flashback sequence, it turns out that Maldonado was recruiting the captain and the major as servants of some sort of giant bird-demon. In the present-day sequence, the party decides to stop for winter. This was a pretty average issue.

THE BACKSTAGERS #1 (Boom!, 2016) – James Tynion [W], Rian Sygh [A]. I saw the preview of this in the back of another Boom Box comic, and I was impressed enough to order the first issue. The actual issue was aslo quite impressive. It’s a sort of absurdist comedy taking place at an all-boys high school, where the actors are the big men on campus. But instead of becoming an actor, the protagonist joins the backstage crew, who apparently are going to have all sorts of bizarre adventures because the backstage area is a gateway to some kind of alternate dimension. This series reminds me of Lumberjanes a bit, both because of the single-gender environment and the queer subtext, and Rian Sygh’s art is very appealing.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #7 (Marvel, 2016) – David Walker [W], Sanford Greene [A]. This was just an okay issue; I didn’t like it as much as the last one. It’s clearly the second issue of a three- or four-part story. The only clear reference to BLM in the issue is where Shadrick tells Tony that people like him don’t understand the criminal justice system because they can buy their way out.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #31 (IDW, 2016) – Tony Fleecs [W/A], Sara Richard [A]. The guest star this issue is Little Strongheart. “Over a Barrel” was one of the most problematic episodes of the entire series, and I won’t be sorry if we never see Little Strongheart or Chief Thunderhooves again, but this issue at least makes an effort to redeem these rather stereotypical characters. The best thing about this issue is Sara Richard’s painted artwork which depicts the story of the Rainbow Crow. I don’t know if this is an actual Native American myth, but at least it has a flavor of authenticity. I also like Little Strongheart’s explanation that her people aren’t primitive, they just like to keep her traditions alive.

KLAUS #7 (Boom!, 2016) – Grant Morrison [W], Dan Mora [A]. The conclusion to this series contains nothing surprising or unexpected. Magnus is killed by the demon he summoned, but Klaus kills the demon, saves the day, and marries Dagmar. But it’s still a satisfying conclusion even though it’s predictable. Overall this was a pretty good miniseries, and my favorite Grant Morrison work in a long time, even if it was a bit padded.

A-FORCE #8 (Marvel, 2016) – Kelly Thompson [W], Paulo Siqueira [A]. I think the best moment this issue is Nico’s conversation with Misty Knight, though that’s only one page. Otherwise, this issue suffers from being part of the Civil War II crossover, which can’t end soon enough for me. I wish Nico’s former Runaways teammates would appear in this series, or that she would at least mention them.

IRON FIST #8 (Marvel, 1976) – Chris Claremont [W], John Byrne [A]. This was okay, but I barely remember anything about it now. The plot has something to do with a villain named Chaka who’s trying to take over New York’s Asian crime scene.

THE THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR PRESENTS SPARKS NEVADA, MARSHAL OF MARS #1 (Image, 2015) – Ben Acker & Ben Blacker [W], J. Bone [A]. I bought a few of these Thrilling Adventure Hour comics a couple years ago, when I was just starting to order comics from DCBS, because they looked interesting. But I didn’t know what these comics actually were, and I never read them. Later I learned that these comics were adaptations of a radio drama podcast. When I finally got around to reading Sparks Nevada #1, I was impressed. It’s a clever blend of the Western and SF genres; it’s set on a Mars that resembles the Wild West, and the protagonists are a (human) sheriff and a Martian who’s his voluntary indentured servant. This latter character is obviously based on offensive Native American stereotypes like Tonto, but he’s funny enough that I don’t mind. I need to go back and read the rest of this series and the companion series Beyond Belief.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #16 (DC, 2016) – Sholly Fisch [W], Dario Brizuela [A]. The guest stars this issue are the Shazam Family. This is a somewhat formulaic Shazam story that hits all the old clichés (e.g. Mr. Mind, and Uncle Marvel and his shazam-bago). But despite or because of that, it’s a lot of fun; it’s more like a classic Captain Marvel comic than most contemporary Shazam comics are. Scooby-Doo Team-Up has become quite similar to the old Marvel Adventures line in that it presents kid-friendly but intelligently written superhero stories with a Silver Age flavor. If the issues I’ve read are any indication, it’s much more of a DC superhero comic than a Scooby-Doo comic.

DESCENDER #14 (Image, 2016) – Jeff Lemire [W], Dustin Nguyen [A]. I didn’t notice this until now, but each issue of the current storyline is the origin story of a different character. This issue is Bandit’s origin, or rather his history over the past ten years. It begins with Andy’s mother sacrificing herself to save her family, which is a heartbreaking scene, though I think we may have seen it already from a different perspective. The rest of Bandit’s memories are mostly wordless, and all the more poignant because of that; Bandit is a really effective animal character, kind of like his Jonny Quest namesake.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #8 (Image, 2016) – Skottie Young [W/A], Jeffrey “Chamba” Cruz [A]. The gimmick this issue is that Gert and her new sidekick Duncan are transported inside a fighting video game, and the in-game sequence is drawn by Chamba in a manga-esque style. Otherwise this is a rather formulaic issue.

New comics received on August 26:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #11 (Marvel, 2016) – Ryan North [W], Jacob Chabot [A]. This self-contained issue is probably the best possible introduction to this series. It consists of a dream sequence in which Squirrel Girl defeats three villains – Dr. Doom, Count Nefaria and Nightmare – using her knowledge of computer science. In the process, she gives the reader a basic introduction to concepts like binary code and Boolean logic, and as usual with Ryan North, all the factual information in this comic is accurate. Jacob Chabot does a reasonable job of filling in for Erica Henderson.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #10 (Marvel, 2016) – Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder [W], Natacha Bustos [A]. Kamala Khan’s guest appearance this issue seems like a gimmick, but I guess it’s a sign of progress that Marvel is using Kamala as a sales-magnet guest star, instead of Wolverine or Punisher. Kamala’s interaction with Lunella is unusual because Kamala rarely teams up with anyone younger than her, and I’m not used to Kamala being the older, more mature voice of reason. Reading this issue, I initially thought that Lunella’s behavior was sort of exaggerated and nonsensical, but then it hit me that this is actually realistic. Because of her age, Lunella is not good at expressing herself, she doesn’t always know how to react properly to stuff, and her emotions are exaggerated and histrionic. In other words, she acts like a third-grader. So Brandon and Amy are actually writing this character in a realistic way; I just wish I had realized this sooner.

SNOTGIRL #2 (Image, 2016) – Bryan Lee O’Malley [W], Leslie Hung [A]. This issue was confusing, and the recap on the inside front cover doesn’t really help. All I could remember from the first issue was that Snotgirl thinks she’s killed Coolgirl. It didn’t help that the semester has now started, and I teach every day except Friday, when I often have to go to campus to teach. So on Friday, when I get my comics, I’m often feeling barely conscious. Anyway, to the extent that I was able to understand this comic, I liked it reasonably well, but it’s not grabbing me as much as Scott Pilgrim or Seconds.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #9 (Marvel, 2016) – Kate Leth [W], Brittney L. Williams [A]. I wonder how Brittney Williams manages to do two full issues a month. Her artwork is not ultra-detailed, but still, that’s a lot of work. As noted in the previous review, I was barely awake when I read this comic, so although I liked it, I don’t remember much about it, except for the scene with Jubilee and her son.

CHEW #57 (Image, 2016) – John Layman [W], Rob Guillory [A]. This issue explains the cause of the avian flu, though I don’t quite understand the explanation. It seems to have been a misguided attempt to prevent an invasion by the aliens who were responsible for the fire writing. At the end of the issue, Tony is told that he has to eat Amelia. My friend James Moore’s cats, Wallace Wells and Marceline, appear on the letters page.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE TEMPLE OF OD #1 (IDW, 2016) – Brian Clevinger [W], Scott Wegener [A]. There is an odd (Od?) story behind this one. I didn’t recall having received this comic from DCBS. When I visited Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find (see below), I almost bought it again, thinking I must have forgotten to order it, until I checked my e-mail and confirmed that I had indeed ordered it. Then I was like, wait, if I ordered it, why didn’t I receive it yet? And I checked again and found that it was supposed to have been delivered in my August 26 shipment, so then I thought I must have received it but misplaced it by accident. And then today I looked in my pile of comics waiting to be reviewed, and there it was. It turned out that not only did I receive Atomic Robo and the Temple of Od #1, I read it the same day. I guess it wasn’t a very memorable comic. Now that I look at it again, the only thing I really remember is Robo’s reunion with Helen, Jack Tarot’s daughter from Deadly Art of Silence.

THE ISLAND #7 (Image, 2016) – various [W/A]. As of August 26, I was four issues behind on this comic, so I decided it was time to get caught up. The best part of this issue is the introductory art section by Kim Kirsch. These pages are in comics format, but they don’t tell a coherent or intelligible story, they just depict some scenes of life on an alien world. They create a convincing sense of a strange but believable world, and Kim Kirsch’s art is quite appealing, kind of like Brandon Graham’s own artwork. I wasn’t impressed by Johnnie Christmas’s “Firebug”; it was a formulaic piece of fantasy about a volcano goddess and her descendant. The text pages by Robin Bougie are well-written but annoying, in that I don’t buy comics in order to read text pages – if I wanted to do that, I’d read a book. This issue also includes part three of the ongoing story by Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward.

INCREDIBLE HULK AND WOLVERINE #1 (Marvel, 1986) – Len Wein [W], Herb Trimpe [A]. This is a reprint of Incredible Hulk #180 and #181, two issues I may never be able to own in their original form. If Wolverine hadn’t become a breakout character, these issues would be remembered as just two average issues from a pretty good run of Hulk comics. Wolverine’s distinctive personality was already present in his first appearance, although Len hadn’t yet decided that his claws were part of his hands rather than his gloves. This issue also includes an essay by Peter Sanderson, which I only skimmed, and a reprint of a story from Marvel Treasury Edition #26 in which Wolverine and Hercules get into a bar fight. This is a rare example of a story inked but not pencilled by George Pérez.

DENNIS THE MENACE #105 (Fawcett, 1969) – uncredited (according to Rodrigo Baeza, Mark Arnold is writing a book that will provide credits for all the Fawcett Dennis comics). In the first story this issue, Dennis and his dad go to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. In the backup story, Dennis uses a false beard to trick a bunch of people into not recognizing him. These stories are both very fun, but this issue also includes a feature called “Bungle Island” by Ed Nofziger, which is just shockingly incompetent.

HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #12 (Action Lab, 2016) – Kyle Puttkammer [W], Omaka Schultz [A]. For the third time in as many issues, the Hero Cats participate in a story from a different genre. This issue, the Hero Cats become involved in a Japanese martial arts story with ninjas. This story is kind of annoying because of its reliance on Orientalist cliches, though Puttkammer does at least make token efforts toward cultural sensitivity.

CHEW: DEMON CHICKEN POYO #1 (Image, 2016) – John Layman [W], Rob Guillory [A]. This is the last of three one-shot issues starring Poyo. It’s funny, but at this point I’ve had enough of Poyo; I feel like he’s a joke that’s run his course. Though it’s hypocritical of me to say that, given that I still read Groo.

IRON MAN #127 (Marvel, 1979) – David Michelinie [W], John Romita Jr [A], Bob Layton [W/A]. “A Man’s Home is His Battlefield!” is one of my favorite issues of Iron Man. I read it long ago in the Power of Iron Man TPB, and I bought the original issue some years ago, but never got around to rereading it until now. This issue is the epic conclusion to the first part of Michelinie, Layton and JR Jr’s classic run. Tony finally defeats Justin Hammer, who tried to destroy him by remote-controlling his armor. But Hammer already did so much damage to Tony’s reputation that even when Tony beats him, it’s only a partial victory. What makes this issue truly unforgettable is the conclusion. To forget about the gradual ruin of his life, Tony drinks himself into a stupor. As a result, he accidentally stands up Bethany Cabe and provokes Jarvis into quitting. The panel where Jarvis walks into the computer room and sees Tony with a prostitute on his arm is permanently etched in my memory. A funny historical note is that on the next page, Jarvis’s resignation letter is actually Dave Cockrum’s real resignation letter from Marvel. According to Bob Layton, this letter was inserted into the issue as a prank by some unidentified person in the production department. Anyway, all of this sets up the greatest Iron Man story ever, “Demon in a Bottle.” I used to have that issue, but I gave it away after I got the trade paperback; I need to buy it again.

AVENGERS #116 (Marvel, 1973) – Steve Englehart [W], Bob Brown [A]. This is a chapter of the Avengers-Defenders War, which, again, I’ve already read in TPB form. I guess this series is something of a classic, but it’s really not that great, not compared to some of Englehart’s other Avengers stories. It’s a rather generic and formulaic superhero story, a Marvel version of a JLA/JSA team-up, and it’s mostly important for being one of the earliest Marvel crossovers.

ISLAND #8 (Image, 2016) – various [W/A]. A very impressive issue. The introductory art pages by Xulia Vicente are quite good; I liked the revelation that the floating piece of rock was the body of some kind of dragon. The first long story this issue is by Michael DeForge, who is easily the highest-profile creator to have appeared in Island, and his involvement with this series ought to elevate its reputation. His story, “Mostly Saturn,” is typical of his work in that it’s a bizarre narrative delivered in a deadpan style. Next are some breathtaking art pages by Ben Sears. I’m pretty sure I’ve met him at Heroes Con, but this is the first time I’ve read his work, and I need to read more of it. The issue ends with the final chapter of Simon Roy’s “Habitat.” I still don’t understand everything that’s going on in this story, but it’s a fascinating and weird piece of science fiction. Overall, this issue shows the heights that Island is capable of reaching.

GREEN LANTERN #121 (DC, 1979) – Denny O’Neil [W], Don Heck [A]. A boring story with boring artwork, in which Hal and Ollie battle a boring villain called El Espectro. The notable event this issue is that Kari Limbo proposes marriage to Hal. I believe their wedding was the next issue, only it was called off because Kari learned that Guy Gardner was still alive.

THUNDERBOLTS #13 (Marvel, 1998) – Kurt Busiek [W], Mark Bagley [A]. After their epic confrontation with the Avengers, the Thunderbolts are transported to the planet of Kosmos, which was introduced in Tales to Astonish #44, and was visited by Goliath in Avengers West Coast #92 and Avengers #379-382. Kurt Busiek must be the only person in the world who read either of the latter two stories. His encyclopedic knowledge of even the least significant Marvel stories is amazing. Other than that, this is a well-written comic, but I’ve never really been able to get into Thunderbolts. The characters are all quite complex and deep, but I don’t find any of them particularly appealing, except maybe Jolt.

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