I might as well post these reviews now, even though it hardly seems to matter.
At the beginning of October, I went to New York Comic Con. It was fun, but I did not enjoy it as much as last year, mostly because I was too tired. I was coming off several very busy weeks and was never able to really muster any enthusiasm for attending a comic convention. I think I may have been doing too many comic conventions lately; maybe I should skip NYCC next year and go to Dragon*Con instead.
The back issue selection at NYCC was worse than last year; there were very few comics for less than a dollar, and I was disappointed that the prices didn’t go down significantly on Sunday. I still bought a lot of stuff, but not as much as last year – which may be a good thing, given that I have a huge backlog of unread comics and no time to read them. I barely even have time to write these reviews.
From now on I’m going to give the title of the main story in each issue as well as the writer and artist.
The comics I read on the week of October 7 include both comics I bought at NYCC, and comics from the new shipment that was waiting when I got home.
LEGEND OF WONDER WOMAN #6 (DC, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Renae de Liz. This is the issue I forgot to order when it came out. It’s another excellent issue, though I’m a bit sad that now there’s no more of this series. I hope the sequel really does come out. Notable scenes in this issue are Etta evicting Pamela Smuthers from the stage, in the background of Diana’s conversation with Steve, and the costume-designing sequence.
UNCLE SCROOGE #213 (Gladstone, 1987) – “City of Golden Roofs,” (W/A) Carl Barks. The conceit here is that Donald challenges Scrooge to see who can make a fortune quicker, starting from scratch. They both get jobs as salesman in Southeast Asia, ultimately arriving in the namesake city, which is based on Angkor Wat. It’s a witty and brilliantly plotted piece of storytelling, but is somewhat tarnished by a rather unflattering portrayal of Southeast Asian people. I assume this story was inspired by The King and I, the film version of which came out the previous year.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #169 (Marvel, 1977) – “Confrontation,” Len Wein, (A) Ross Andru. It turns out I already had a copy of this issue, though the copy I got at the convention was better than the one I already had. This is the issue where JJJ thinks he has proof that Peter is Spider-Man, but Peter “proves” otherwise.
PAPER GIRLS #10 (Image, 2016) – “What is Past is Epilogue,” Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Cliff Chiang. Another issue full of confusing but fun mayhem. It turns out that “don’t trust other Erin” refers to the little other Erin, not the big one. And by the end of the issue, all the papergirls have arrived in the future, which is truly weird. This series is fun, but very difficult to follow.
THE FLINTSTONES #4 (DC, 2016) – “Domestications,” Mark Russell, (A) Steve Pugh. The sabretooth tiger’s line “I prefer you to starvation,” at the start of the issue, is a perfect summary of the cat-human bond. The main theme of this issue is the debate between marriage and the old way of life, which involved sex caves. I was curious to learn more about the latter, but I guess this is an all-ages comic, sort of. The marriage jokes are pretty good, especially the scene where Maude pretends Henry is dead. There’s also a subplot about the appliances.
GOLDIE VANCE #6 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, Hope Larson, (A) Brittney Williams. Besides Black Panther, this is probably the best new series of 2016. This issue continues the astronaut story, as Goldie looks for Cheryl and somehow finds herself competing in a beauty contest.
THE MARVEL NO-PRIZE BOOK #1 (Marvel, 1982) – “Lest We Should Goof…!”, Jim Owsley, (A) Bob Camp and many others. This fascinating historical curiosity is a collection of mistakes from old Marvel comics, with commentary by Stan Lee (not actually written by him). Some of these are quite well-known, like Peter Parker being called Peter Palmer, or Captain America saying “it won’t be me.” But there are many others I never noticed, such as the contradictions in Peggy Carter’s backstory. I really love this sort of hyper-detailed commentary, and I’m sorry that this comic book wasn’t even longer.
ANIMOSITY #2 (Aftershock, 2016) – “The Funeral,” Marguerite Bennett, (A) Rafael De Latorre. The first issue of this series got a lot of critical attention, and I’ve ordered the reprint of that issue, plus all the other later issues, on ComicBookDB. Animosity is a post-apocalyptic narrative in which the apocalypse is that all the animals learn to talk. This premise has a lot of humor potential, and there are lots of funny jokes in this issue, like the cat selling Xanax and Adderall, or the references to Watership Down and Animal Farm. But this series is also a serious examination of animal rights and human-animal relations. I can’t wait to read more of it.
THE CHAMPIONS #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Champions,” Mark Waid, (A) Humberto Ramos. I love the idea of a team of all the young heroes, and I love the characters in this series, especially Kamala and Viv. But I think the execution leaves something to be desired. Kamala’s speech at the end of the issue leaves me unclear as to what the purpose of the Champions is. What does she mean by “enforcing justice without unjust force”? It’s so vague that it could mean anything. If this comic is supposed to be an explicit reference to things like BLM, then Mark should have the courage to say so. In general, I feel that, while Mark used to be the industry’s top writer of teen superheroes (besides PAD), he has now fallen behind the curve. I’m going to keep reading this series, but this first issue was disappointing.
SHADE THE CHANGING GIRL #1 (DC, 2016) – “Earth Girl Made Easy,” Cecil Castellucci, (A) Marley Zarcone. Another strange debut issue from Young Animal. I believe this is Cecil Castellucci’s first published comic book; I enjoyed her graphic novel The Plain Janes (and my little sister loved it), but I never got around to reading the sequel. This issue is heavily inspired by Peter Milligan and Chris Bachalo’s Shade, but has more of an emphasis on Meta and how weird it is. Overall, I like this issue better than Doom Patrol #1, and I look forward to reading more of this series.
GRAYSON #1 (DC, 2015) – “Grayson,” Tim Seeley & Tom King, (A) Mikel Janin. This series was critically acclaimed, but I only got into it after it was already cancelled. This is a fun first issue. Mikel Janin’s art is excellent, and the story emphasizes the sexy and dangerous side of Dick’s personality.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #131 (Marvel, 1974) – “My Uncle… My Enemy?”, Gerry Conway, (A) Ross Andru. This is the one where Doc Ock almost marries Aunt May. It is definitely a minor classic, and includes some very effective characterization. The reason Doc Ock wants to marry Aunt May is ridiculous – it turns out she’s somehow inherited an island with uranium reserves – but you also feel like he has genuine affection for her. Meanwhile, Peter and Mary Jane are going through some relationship drama. Ross Andru’s artwork is very good. A funny mistake in this issue is that in Amazing Spider-Man #120, Doctor Octopus kills a man named Jean-Pierre Rimbaud. But in #131, Hammerhead refers to this man as Arthur Rimbaud, who of course was a famous poet.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #139 (Marvel, 1971) – “The Badge and the Betrayal!”, Stan Lee, (A) John Romita. Easily the best part of this issue is Jazzy Johnny’s artwork. What a shame that his run on this title was so short. The story is not nearly as good. Cap becomes an undercover cop to investigate why cops have been mysteriously vanishing, and it turns out the Grey Gargoyle is responsible.
AVENGERS #111 (Marvel, 1973) – “With Two Beside Them!”, Steve Englehart, (A) Bob Brown. I only need a few more issues to have a complete run of Avengers #103 to #303. This issue is the second part of a two-parter in which the Avengers and Daredevil fight Magneto. It includes some fun relationship drama between Daredevil, Hawkeye and Black Widow, but it’s clear that at this point, Englehart was still getting his feet wet.
BLACK PANTHER #2 (Marvel, 1998) – “Invasion,” Christopher Priest, (A) Mark Texeira. At NYCC, I attended at least one panel about Black Panther, and it became clear that Priest’s Black Panther was a key inspiration for Ta-Nehisi Coates’s current run. So I took the opportunity to buy some cheap back issues of Priest’s run. The narrative style of this issue is quite similar to that of Quantum & Woody. But this issue is a poor jumping-on point; it begins with a dude sitting in a waiting room next to the devil, and there’s no explanation of how this situation came about. I need to read more of this run before I can have an informed opinion about it.
WONDER WOMAN #179 (DC, 1968) – “Wonder Woman’s Last Battle,” Denny O’Neil, Mike Sekowsky. I paid $6 for this, which is a bargain, although one of the pages is loose. This is one of the pivotal issues of the series, though it’s only the second issue of the New Wonder Woman era. In this issue, Diana loses her powers, I Ching makes his first appearance, and Dr. Cyber is mentioned for the first time. This comic is kind of silly from a modern perspective – when I saw the line “rubbing your hands in rice grains will give them toughness,” I thought it was funny, and I still do. I Ching of course is a whopping stereotype. But this comic is also genuinely exciting and innovative. In 1968, Wonder Woman was a mediocre embarrassment, a comic no one, least of all its creators, really cared about. O’Neil and Sekowsky deserve credit for making Wonder Woman interesting again.
DAREDEVIL #81 (Marvel, 1971) – “And Death is a Woman Called Widow,” Gerry Conway, (A) Gene Colan. This issue introduces Black Widow into the series. She would soon become the regular co-star, and the series was retitled Daredevil and Black Widow from #92 to #107. Conway and Colan’s Daredevil and Black Widow stories were probably the high point of the series at the time; they helped to give Daredevil its own identity and to distinguish it from Amazing Spider-Man. In this issue, Matt and Natasha are both on the rebound from failed relationships, so they seem like a natural couple. Gene the Dean’s art is as amazing as ever. This issue also includes a reprinted Thing/Torch story from Strange Tales, which turns out to be very funny. I think this was the month when Marvel temporarily raised the price and page count of all their titles in order to bait DC into doing the same.
FUTURE QUEST #5 (DC, 2016) – “The Wheel of History,” Jeff Parker, (A) Doc Shaner; also a backup story. This issue is full of fun mayhem, but it’s very similar to previous issues – which is not a bad thing, it just means there’s not much to be said about it. The backup story introduces some new characters, the Impossibles.
INVINCIBLE #22 (Image, 2005) – untitled, Robert Kirkman, (A) Ryan Ottley. The main event this issue is that Amber figures out that Mark is a superhero, based on his repeated poorly excused absences. This is a good example of Kirkman’s habit of deconstructing old superhero cliches. It is very rare for a superhero’s love interest to spontaneously figure out his or her identity, although it does happen (Bethany Cabe and Silver St. Cloud come to mind). But in real life, Clark Kent wouldn’t be able to disappear every time a job for Superman came up, at least not without arousing suspicion. Kirkman does a good job of handling both Amber’s discovery of Mark’s identity, and Mark’s reaction thereto.
THE PHANTOM #50 (Charlton, 1972) – four different stories, unknown, (A) Pat Boyette. The artwork in this issue is good, but the stories are mediocre at best and blatantly racist at worst. I don’t think this series got really good until the brief Don Newton run a few years later.
ARCHIE GIANT SERIES #570 (Archie, 1987) – “Blast from the Past” and two other stories, (W/A) Bob Bolling. This is one of several late Bolling Little Archie stories whose existence I only discovered recently, because they were published in Archie Giant Series instead of the main Little Archie title. The longest story in this issue is “Blast from the Past,” in which Little Archie uses an old World War I cannon to stop Mad Dr. Doom and Chester from robbing a bank. I kind of wish these two villains would show up in one of the current Archie titles, although Mad Dr. Doom would probably have to be renamed. This story includes a literal Chekhov’s gun, in that the cannon is introduced before it gets fired.
POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #58 (Marvel, 1979) – “El Aguila Has Landed!”, Mary Jo Duffy, (A) Trevor von Eeden. This issue introduces El Aguila, a Latin American vigilante, who also appears in the last issue of this series that I read. Luke and Danny sympathize with him, but a client demands that they stop him, and it turns out Luke and Danny can’t refuse the client because he already paid them a retainer. This issue is a good introduction to Duffy’s Power Man & Iron Fist, and makes me want to read more of this run.
New comics received on October 14:
GIANT DAYS #19 (Boom!, 2016) – “Music Festival Time!!!”, John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. Susan, Daisy and Esther go to a music festival, where Susan gets roofied, and then all three of them nearly drown in a flash flood. This issue was as funny as usual, but the jokes fell kind of flat to me because I’ve never been to a music festival – and after reading this comic, I never want to go to one.
GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #2 (DC, 2016) – “Second Semester, Part 2,” Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan & Karl Kerschl, (A) Adam Archer. For a while I was feeling lukewarm about this series, but now I’m enjoying it again, maybe because I missed it while it was on hiatus. The plot this issue is that a new teacher is hypnotizing students into joining something called Witch Club. Adam Archer’s art is similar to that of Karl Kerschl, but his emotional subtlety is impressive. I love Maps’s expression when she says “It’s okay. I’m okay.”
HOWARD THE DUCK #11 (Marvel, 2016) – “Howard’s End,” Chip Zdarsky, (A) Joe Quinones. A sweet and funny conclusion to the only good Howard the Duck comic not written by Gerber. Howard dies, but is revived thanks to divine intervention from the Sparkitects. Howard and his friends walk off into the sunset, and the series ends with a hint that Howard and Bev are getting back together. A highlight of this issue is Biggs, who behaves just like my cat would behave if he could talk, and who appears to be based on Joe Quinones’s cat. Overall, Chip and Joe’s Howard the Duck was both an affectionate tribute to Gerber, and a distinctive and original piece of work. They deserve congratulations on the end of an excellent run.
SHUTTER #23 (Image, 2016) – untitled, Joe Keatinge, (A) Leila del Duca. This issue begins several months after the shocking conclusion to #22, and it looks like at least some of the Kristopher children survived the massacre of the family, though I’m not quite sure which ones. Also, Chris Kristopher himself is somehow alive again. I thought this was kind of an ineffective conclusion to the new storyline; I don’t understand how we got here from where we were before.
MONSTRESS #7 (Image, 2016) – untitled, Marjorie Liu, (A) Sana Takeda. I always hesitate to read this comic because it feels so raw and brutal. This is a world where characters suffer permanent damage and where not everything turns out all right. The proof of this is the large number of characters with missing arms. But this comic is more fun than I give it credit for. This issue is full of not only talking cats, but also anthropomorphic tigers. It also gives us a better sense of the size and diversity of Maika’s world. I do think that Monstress is one of the best and most important comic books at the moment, and I should try to muster more enthusiasm for it.
LUMBERJANES/GOTHAM ACADEMY #5 (Boom!/DC, 2016) – untitled, Chynna Clugston Flores, (A) Kelly Matthew & Nicole Matthews. I still think this series hasn’t lived up to its potential, but at least this issue was better than the last few. The Lumberjanes and Academy kids finally confront the skeleton dudes, resulting in some fun action sequences. The last page of this issue reminds me of the last page of Daredevil #232.
WONDER WOMAN #8 (DC, 2016) – “Interlude,” Greg Rucka, (A) Bilquis Evely. Instead of the regular chapter of “Year One,” this issue is Barbara Minerva’s origin story. It’s as well-written as any Greg Rucka comic book, but I don’t understand the point of the story. What does Barbara mean when she says she went the wrong way?
THE GREAT LAKES AVENGERS #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “Same Old, Same Old Great Lakes Avengers,” Zac Gorman, (A) Will Robson. I was unimpressed with this comic, but I remember being rather tired and cranky when I read it, and I may not have given it a fair shake. Zac Gorman’s writing is witty and shows keen awareness of contemporary culture; something about it just left me cold. I’ll try to be more open-minded when I read the next issue.
POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #9 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, David Walker, (A) Sanford Greene. The prison break story ends with a big fight, after which Luke finally gets his chance to tell Carol Danvers off. His speech to her is a milder version of the things I’ve been saying about her in several recent reviews. But this was a bit of a disappointing issue overall. One of the replies on the letters page hints that Jessica Jones won’t be appearing in this comic anymore because she has her own solo series now, and I think that’s a pity.
SPACE BATTLE LUNCHTIME #5 (Oni, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Natalie Riess. This issue advances the story in a predictable way. Peony escapes from Cannibal Coliseum, while Chef Neptunia goes looking for her. While the plot of this issue is predictable, there are a few nice touches that make it memorable. The recap page is actually fun – it’s a comics page rather than a text summary – whereas such pages are usually just afterthoughts. Ariella Magicorn is a funny new character, and I love the idea that Zorp and Vorp used to be “part of the same pan-dimensional polytope cluster.”
WEST COAST AVENGERS #46 (Marvel, 1988) – “Franchise,” (W/A) John Byrne. Normally I avoid John Byrne’s WCA like the plague, but this issue is the first appearance of the Great Lakes Avengers, so it was interesting to compare it with the first issue of their new series. Unlike Gorman or Dan Slott, John treats the GLA like complete jokes, and shows little interest in their personalities or private lives. And the jokes mostly fall flat, since John has no sense of humor. This issue also reveals his inability to draw female faces: his Mockingbird looks exactly like his Sue Storm. It should be obvious by now that I deeply hate John Byrne’s comics (or at least his post-1986 solo work), but this is at least not the worst thing he’s done.
SUPERNATURAL LAW #24 (Exhibit A, 1999) – “You’ll Never Suck Blood in This Town Again,” (W/A) Batton Lash. This was the first issue published under the title Supernatural Law. It’s confusing because it’s the second half of a two-parter, and I can’t remember if I’ve read the first part. Also, there are a lot of new characters in this story and it’s hard to keep them all straight. This story is sort of a crossover between Ally McBeal and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or as Batton calls them, Ally McGraugh and Myrtle the Vampire Hater. The runing joke in this issue is that Ally McGraugh claims to be a feminist icon, yet she suffers from an eating disorder and she throws herself at men.
Somewhere around this point, it occurred to me that I was not having enough fun reading comics; I was treating it like a chore, and was taking it too seriously. I need to keep in mind that this is supposed to be fun.
DC COMICS PRESENTS #67 (DC, 1984) – “’Twas the Fright Before Christmas!”, Len Wein & E. Nelson Bridwell, (A) Curt Swan. A charming and cute story in which the guest star is none other than Santa Claus. Appropriately, the villain is the Toyman. Superman’s encounter with Santa happens after he’s been knocked unconscious at the North Pole. The writers effectively create a sense of uncertainty as to whether Superman’s visit to Santa is real or a dream, and therefore whether or not Santa exists in the DC universe.
SNARKED! #10 (Boom!, 2012) – “Fit the Tenth: Beware the Cyberwock,” (W/A) Roger Langridge. At NYCC, I managed to complete my run of Roger Langridge’s masterpiece. This issue, the Walrus finally develops a heart, and risks his life to save his companions from the Gryphon. Meanwhile, Scarlett’s father finally remembers his daughter’s name. I still have two more issues of this series to read, but I almost don’t want to read them, because then there won’t be any more.
WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #20 (Exhibit A, 1999) – “Sonovawitch! Chapter Three,” (W/A) Batton Lash. I enjoyed this more than the previous Wolff & Byrd comic I read, though I forget why exactly. Maybe it has to do with my realization, discussed above, that I wasn’t having enough fun when reading comics. This issue is also the conclusion of a multipart story, but it makes more sense on its own than #24 did, and it’s full of funny relationship drama, including Mavis’s refusal of Toby’s marriage proposal.
SUPERMAN #8 (DC, 2016) – “Escape from Dinosaur Island,” Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, (A) Doug Mahnke. I’ve heard good things about this series, and it turns out to be a good comic indeed. This series focuses on Superman’s relationship with his son Jon. I don’t understand why Superman has a son, but oh well. The way Tomasi and Gleason write this relationship is just perfect; Jon is a realistic child, and Clark is a wonderful father. They remind me of me and my dad when I was Jon’s age. The story, involving Dinosaur Island, is intriguing but is just an excuse for Clark and Jon to have an adventure together. Doug Mahnke’s art is quite good.
DOCTOR STRANGE #12 (Marvel, 2016) – “Blood in the Aether, Chapter One,” Jason Aaron, (A) Chris Bachalo. Doctor Strange confronts the creature he was keeping in his basement, which names itself Mister Misery. Meanwhile, Baron Mordo shows up in New York. This was a very average issue; it seemed like Jason was just marking time between more important stories.
JLA #25 (DC, 1999) – “Scorched Earth,” Grant Morrison, (A) Howard Porter. This is one of the middle chapters of a longer story in which the JLA battles the Ultra-Marines. It doesn’t make much sense out of context, and I’ve never much liked Howard Porter’s art.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #222 (DC, 1983) – “Beasts II: Death Games,” Gerry Conway, (A) Chuck Patton. Much of this issue consists of fights between anthropomorphic beast-men, who bear a strong resemblance to the New Men of Wundagore. As a result, this issue often feels like a Justice League story in name only; there’s at least one long scene with no Leaguers in it. My sense is that the last 40 issues of this series were pretty bad.
BATMAN #339 (DC, 1981) – “A Sweet Kiss of Poison…”, Gerry Conway, (A) Irv Novick. This is one of Poison Ivy’s earlier appearances, and it’s clear that at this point her character was not well-defined. In this story, she’s not an eco-terrorist but a common criminal with a plant gimmick. The backup story is much much better. In “Yesterday’s Heroes,” by the same creators as the main story, Dick Grayson performs at the circus and realizes that he’s content with his various identities. It’s a very sweet story, although it’s not totally consistent with his character arc in New Teen Titans – in fact, I don’t think this story mentions the Titans at all. This issue came out at the same time as NTT #11, and by issue 27 of that series, it was clear that Dick was having a serious identity crisis which would culminate in his reinvention as Nightwing.
SUPERMAN #355 (DC, 1981) – “Momentus, Master of the Moon!”, Cary Bates, (A) Curt Swan. The main story in this issue is stupid; it’s a bunch of nonsense about lycanthropy and gravitational energy. But it’s funny because the villain, Asa Ezaak, is an obvious parody of Isaac Asimov. He has the same hairstyle as Asimov, and like Asimov, he’s a popular lecturer who prides himself on having written several hundred books. Bates’s portrayal is rather unflattering, and I wonder how he really felt about Asimov; I also wonder if Ike ever knew about this comic. The backup story, by the same creative team, takes place in 2020 and involves a team-up between three generations of Superman.
THE THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR PRESENTS: BEYOND BELIEF #3 (Image, 2016) – “Sticks and Stones May Murder Your Friends and Influence People!”, Ben Acker & Ben Blacker, (A) Phil Hester. There are lots of fun moments in this issue, but it’s difficult to understand, and this is odd since I only missed one of the two previous issues.
CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #24 (Marvel, 1973) – “Red Swords, Black Wings!”, George Alec Effinger, (A) Val Mayerik. This may be the first thing I’ve read by George Alec Effinger. I’ve had his collection Maureen Birnbaum, Barbarian Swordsperson for many years, but have never felt sufficiently motivated to read it. This issue is an adaptation of a Lin Carter story about Thongor of Lemuria. On the evidence of this issue, Thongor is the exact same character as Conan except with no sense of humor, and this comic is effectively just a bad Conan story. This issue also includes a reprinted Lee-Ditko horror story, which is one of several Lee-Ditko stories in which an alien invasion is prevented by accident.
STARMAN #78 (DC, 2001) – “1951, Part Two: — What?”, James Robinson & David Goyer, (A) Peter Snejbjerg. One of the few issues of this series that I haven’t already read. The 1951 Starman story was kind of a pendant or bonus chapter to the series as a whole; its main purpose was to tie up loose ends. The main thing that happens in this issue is that Jack tells David that he (David) is going to die after he returns to the present, and David is okay with it. Which creates an interesting and poignant paradox, since it implies that David knew he was going to die all along, but never told anyone.
(It turns out I already *had* read this issue, but I will allow this review to stand.)
SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #117 (DC, 1969) – “The Planet of the Capes!”, Otto Binder, (A) Pete Costanza. Like many ‘60s DC comics, this issue has a hilarious premise, but fails to exploit that premise effectively. On an expedition with Professor Lang, Jimmy gets transported to a parallel universe where people who wear superhero capes are masters, and people without capes are slaves. Sadly, the explanation is disappointing and improbable. I’m not even going to say what it is, because it’s dumb. Notably, this issue seems to be the first mention of Shadow Lass outside Adventure Comics. Her cape appears in the story, though she herself doesn’t appear on panel.
SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU? #51 (DC, 2015) – “Out of Line,” Sholly Fisch, (A) Robert Pope; also “Fashionistas,” Jack Briglio, (A) Karen Matchette. This series is less interesting than Scooby-Doo Team-Up because of its lack of DC Universe characters. Neither of the stories in this issue was memorable at all.
WONDER WOMAN #61 (DC, 1992) – “To Avenge an Amazon,” George Pérez, (A) Jill Thompson. In this “War of the Gods” tie-in issue, Diana has somehow gotten herself killed. Her friends and allies react to her death and vow to avenge her. Just like “Time Passages” (#8), one of George’s best Wonder Woman stories, this issue doesn’t feature Diana herself, but instead teaches us about her by depicting her impact on other people. However, this issue is less effective than “Time Passages” because the reader knows that Diana’s death isn’t going to stick, and the plot is hard to follow, especially the part involving Circe and Cheetah.
MIGHTY SAMSON #5 (Gold Key, 1966) – “The Death Geysers,” unknown, (A) Frank Thorne. This comic is a post-apocalyptic narrative set in the ruins of New York. In this issue, the title character and his friends Sharmaine and Mindor encounter a man who’s been turned into a shapeshifting monster by radiation. This comic is a bit like Hercules Unbound or Kamandi, but is worse than either, and its primary source of interest is the early Frank Thorne artwork. I see a bit of a Wally Wood influence in the art, but I don’t know if Thorne was ever part of Woody’s studio.
DAREDEVIL #214 (Marvel, 1985) – “The Crumbling,” Denny O’Neil, (A) David Mazzucchelli. The artwork in this issue is amazing. By 1985, David Mazzucchelli’s style was fully developed, and this issue is almost as well-drawn as Daredevil: Born Again or Batman: Year One. I’m especially impressed by his compositional ability; at various points, he creates a dramatic effect by leaving out the background and the panel borders. The writing in this issue is not the equal of the artwork. It’s the conclusion to a multipart story about Micah Synn, the savage chief of a white African tribe. Denny O’Neil was a problematic writer to begin with, and his ‘80s Marvel comics were worse than his ‘60s and ‘70s DC comics.
ZWANA, SON OF ZULU #1 (Dark Zulu Lies, 1993) – “Enter the Zulu,” Nabile Hage, (A) John Ruiz. I found this comic in a cheap box at the convention in August. I had never heard of it before, but it was so strange I had to buy it. It stars an African superhero whose secret identity is a student at “Black African State University.” As its title indicates, this is a superhero comic written from a radical black perspective. In Demanding Respect, Paul Lopes quotes Nabile Hage as saying that his goal for this comic was to integrate the direct market, since there were no black-owned comics publishers at the time. It is not surprising that this project failed and that the first issue of Zwanna was also the last. The level of craftsmanship in this comic is very low. The plot is hopelessly confused and aimless, and the art is only average at best. This comic is also extremely explicit and unsubtle. Zwanna is an unabashed male power fantasy, and the villains are a bunch of cross-dressing Confederate reenactors. Zwanna stabs one of them to death with a spear through the chin. Given the explicit content of this comic, as well as its potentially controversial racial politics, I’m surprised that it contains ads for major motion pictures and video games. I guess at the time, advertisers were willing to buy advertising space in any comic book, regardless of its content.
While this comic was not a success, it’s an interesting historical precedent. In 1993, comic book publishers lacked either the ability or the desire to market their products to black readers. Milestone had some success at attracting a black readership, but ultimately failed. At the time, the default comic book audience was assumed to be white. Now maybe that assumption is starting to change. I went to a bunch of different panels at NYCC that focused on black comics, and I heard a lot of positive buzz for comics like Black Panther and Black, the first issue of which was sold out when I went to look for it. In the ‘90s, comics like Zwanna, Son of Zulu and the Milestone titles were unable to connect with significant numbers of black readers. But now, both major publishers like Marvel and smaller publishers like Black Mask seem to have made a much more serious effort to reach out to black audiences, and have achieved much more success. The reasons for this are worth thinking about, but are beyond the scope of this review.
MARVEL TEAM-UP #52 (Marvel, 1976) – “Demon on a Rampage,” Gerry Conway, (A) Sal Buscema. This issue appears to be a sequel to Captain America #202, which was written by Kirby, and is therefore a poor fit for Gerry’s more realistic and down-to-earth style of writing. I don’t remember much else about this comic. The ending, which shows that Cap and Spidey are envious of each other, is kind of poignant.
LADY KILLER 2 #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Joelle Jones. Josie assassinates some people, then teams up with a man named Irving who offers to dispose of bodies for her, then assassinates some more people. If you’ve read one issue of this comic, you’ve read them all.
HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #10 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Ed Piskor. The pleasant surprise this issue was when I realized that it was the origin story of Public Enemy. I just finished reading Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, and there are some notable points of similarity between that comic and HHFT.
Man, I read a lot of comic books that week. I received the following comics on October 21. As usual, I was very sleepy when I read them.
UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #13 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, Ryan North, (A) Erica Henderson. This issue’s cover is a cute parody of Avengers #223. The issue itself is not one of Ryan and Erica’s best. The Northern Ontario setting and the Canada jokes are funny, but Enigmo is more disturbing than funny. I hope this story is over soon.
PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #11 (Marvel, 2016) – “Don’t Stop Me-Ow,” Kate Leth, (A) Brittney Williams. Another comic that underwhelmed me, probably because I was too tired to fully enjoy it. As usual this was a well-written and funny story, with some fun dialogue between Patsy and Felicia. But I had trouble keeping all the characters straight, especially in the scene that takes place outside Patsy’s apartment. I’m a bit surprised to learn that Ian swings both ways.
MANIFEST DESTINY #24 (Image, 2016) – “Sasquatch, Part 6,” Chris Dingess, (A) Matthew Roberts. Finally we’re starting to get some tentative answers. It’s obvious that Sacagawea’s baby is the War Child mentioned in Helm’s message. I didn’t quite get what was happening on the last page, until the letters column mentioned that there’s a barely visible arch in the image.
ASTRO CITY #40 (DC, 2016) – “The Party of the Second Part,” Kurt Busiek, (A) Carmen Carnero. The second part of the Marta two-parter reintroduces the Silver Adept, and also gives us more information than we’ve ever had before about the magical side of the Astro City universe. Kurt’s version of Astro City’s magical realms is a nice tribute to Ditko’s Dr. Strange. The resolution to Marta’s character arc is fairly satisfying, but I’m a bit skeptical that she was able to solve a problem no one else could. It’s a bit like the ending of the Green Lantern film. I also think that even at the end of the issue, she’s still stuck in a dead-end romance.
JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #20 (IDW, 2016) – “Enter the Stingers, Part Two,” Kelly Thompson, (A) Meredith McClaren. I still don’t like Meredith McClaren’s art; she draws some weird-looking mouths. I hope we get Sophie Campbell back after this current arc. This is a fun story, though. The political struggle between the Holograms, Misfits and Stingers is entertaining, and each character gets some time in the spotlight.
SPELL ON WHEELS #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, Kate Leth, (A) Megan Levens. I enjoyed this new comic about a coven of witches, but I can’t remember much about it now. I expect when #2 comes out, I will have to remind myself what #1 was about.
LOVE & ROCKETS #1 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – various stories, (W/A) Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez. This may have been my most anticipated comic this week, but it’s fairly similar to a typical issue of either of the last two L&R volumes. My favorite story this issue was the first one, Jaime’s “I Come from Above to Avoid a Double Chin.” The long Gilbert story, like much of Beto’s recent work, was just confusing and aimless. I think the last time I was really impressed by one of Gilbert’s stories was when he killed off Sergio and Gato, although I have not read Marble Season.
USAGI YOJIMBO #158 (Dark Horse, 2016) – “The Fate of the Elders,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. This was the best issue since the reboot, and a possible Eisner nominee for Best Single Issue. In this one-part story, Usagi visits a famine-stricken area and helps a young man carry his elderly mother up a mountain, where her husband is waiting. It was easy to figure out that the old man was dead, but – SPOILER WARNING – I had no idea that the young man was going to leave his mother to starve. As with many of Stan’s best stories, this ending fills me with complex and contrary emotions. I feel horrified at this awful custom, which is all the more shocking given the son’s obvious love for his mother, as well as the fact that Japanese culture places such a high value on filial piety. At the same time, I’m impressed by the mother’s brave sacrifice, and the last panel suggests that Usagi feels the same way. Overall, this story proves that Stan is still perhaps the best storyteller in the industry.
WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #530 (Gladstone, 1986) – “The Three Boxes,” (W/A) Carl Barks, plus other material. “The Three Boxes” is the first story in which Gyro Gearloose makes more than a cameo appearance. It has a silly premise in which Gyro invents some boxes that can give animals the ability to talk. Unlike most of Gyro’s inventions, this one is not even remotely plausible. But Barks is able to use this absurd premise as the basis for some funny jokes. This issue also includes a Carl Buettner story starring Bucky Bug, which did not deserve to be reprinted. Besides being written in annoying rhyming language, it includes racist depictions of black people. The last story in the issue is “The Legend of Loon Lake,” starring Mickey and Goofy. This story also includes some offensive images of Native Americans, but at least it’s exciting and well-plotted. I think I’ve read one of the other parts of this story in some other Gladstone comic.
THE BACKSTAGERS #3 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, James Tynion IV, (A) Rian Sygh. At NYCC, I went to a panel on LGBTQ comics that included James Tynion, and he confirmed my suspicion that The Backstagers is supposed to have a gay subtext. My description of Backstagers as a male version of Lumberjanes appears to be accurate. This was the best issue yet. It focuses on Beckett, the light manager, who is proud of his light board and doesn’t want to let anyone else use it. However, he is forced to let Sasha into his light room, and disaster ensues. The emotions in this comic are over-the-top and histrionic, but also genuine, and I feel I’m starting to understand these characters.
THE MIGHTY THOR #12 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Untold Origin of Mjolnir,” Jason Aaron, (A) Russell Dauterman & Frazer Irving. Two excellent artists illustrate a story that doesn’t really tell us anything new. I’m sure at least some of the information in this issue is retconned – at the beginning of the issue, the librarian mentions that there are several versions of Mjolnir’s origin. But i couldn’t tell what exactly was new about this version,
BLACK PANTHER #7 (Marvel, 2016) – “A Nation Under Our Feet, Part 7,” Ta-Nehisi Coates, (A) Chris Sprouse. I am told that the writer’s name is prononuced Ta-na-HAH-see. I think I must have been suffering from reader’s block on Friday, because this comic just didn’t make much of an impression on me.
BOOM BOX MIX TAPE 2015 (Boom!, 2015) – various stories by various (W/A). Yes, this says 2015, not 2016. I have no idea why it took so long to come out. This issue includes short stories based on a wide range of Boom! comics, including Power Up, which I had almost forgotten about. The highlight is probably the Giant Days story, which is drawn as well as written by John Allison, but the Lumberjanes story is also very touching. And the series of Help Us! Great Warrior one-pagers were much better than the actual Help Us! Great Warrior comic. I think this character may be too insubstantial to carry an entire full-length story.
BLACK PANTHER #3 (Marvel, 1999) – “Original Sin,” Christopher Priest, (A) Mark Texeira. This is just as confusing as the previous issue. I hope this comic will start making more sense as I continue to read. It’s an odd coincidence that the villain, Achebe, just happens to have the same name as the most famous African writer.
WONDER WOMAN #50 (DC, 1990) – “Embrace the Coming Dawn,” George Pérez, (A) Jill Thompson. This oversized anniversary issue is one of the high points of George’s Wonder Woman run, which is my favorite version of the character by far. The Amazon embassy arrives in Manhattan, and most of the issue is devoted to showing how various characters react to this historic event. There are all kinds of lovely scenes here, including Diana’s private chat with Superman, and Vanessa’s appearance in a ridiculous dress. There’s also an odd scene where Terry Long reveals that he and Donna can’t make it to the ceremony. The really odd part here is that Diana says she’s sorry that Donna can’t meet Hippolyta. Come on, I read Tales of the Teen Titans #50 and I know that Terry and Hippolyta have met. This is the problem with post-Crisis DC continuity – that we were supposed to pretend that old stories didn’t happen the way we remembered them. Anyway, besides that, this is a very happy comic book – the feeling of joy at the end is overwhelming. George said in some interview somewhere that he likes to draw happy people, and this issue is certainly an example of that (even if he didn’t draw it).
CATWOMAN #7 (DC, 2002) – “Disguises, Part Two,” Ed Brubaker, (A) Brad Rader. Despite the subpar artwork, this is a gripping and powerful issue. When Holly suffers a serious gunshot wound, Selina takes her to Leslie Thompkins for treatment, then teams up with Slam Bradley to investigate who did it. This issue is a good example of Ed’s skill at writing gritty crime fiction. Now that I mention that, I’m not sure why I’m not more interested in his creator-owned work with Sean Phillips.
HELLBLAZER #81 (DC, 1994) – “Rake at the Gates of Hell, Part Four,” Garth Ennis, (A) Steve Dillon. I read this issue just after hearing about Steve Dillon’s tragic death. I don’t believe I ever met him, but he was a great artist. At this point in this story arc, east London is engulfed in a brutal race riot, and Constantine is hiding out in a church, where he has a long uncomfortable conversation with a priest. I’m not sure quite what’s going on here, or how it fits in with the larger arc of Ennis’s Hellblazer, but it’s a well-written and well-drawn story.
UNCANNY X-MEN #212 (Marvel, 1986) – “The Last Run,” Chris Claremont, (A) Rick Leonardi. I think this is the earliest Claremont X-Men issue that I had not previously read. At this point, I have every issue from #143 to #243, and I only need five more issues to have #143 to #279. And I’ve read all the earlier issues in the form of Classic X-Men reprints. Anyway, the Mutant Massacre is a strong piece of work, though it’s one of Claremont’s bleaker and more depressing stories. The Marauders’ destructon of the Morlocks seems very poorly motivated; it seems like just wanton murder for its own sake. Which may be the point. Rick Leonardi’s artwork in this issue is excellent, and it’s a shame that he never became a superstar; he was far better than Marc Silvestri, if nothing else.
STRANGE TALES #160 (Marvel, 1967) – “Project Blackout,” (W/A) Jim Steranko; and “If This Planet You Would Save!”, Raymond Marais, (A) Marie Severin. Like almost every Steranko Nick Fury story, “Project: Blackout” is an artistic masterpiece. The plot is forgettable, but the machinery, the action sequences, and the page layouts are stunning. The artwork in the Dr. Strange story is good, but not nearly as good. When I reviewed Tales to Astonish #96 in 2013, I wrote that I couldn’t find any information about Raymond Marais, and I still can’t.
DOCTOR STRANGE #13 (Marvel, 2016) – “Blood in the Aether, Chapter Two: Night of Four Billion Nightmares,” Jason Aaron, (A) Chris Bachalo. Much better than the previous issue. The notion of traveling through dreams is familiar from The Sandman, but Jason Aaron executes this idea well. Doc’s dream sequence is fun; I like how his female companions keep multiplying when he’s not looking.
REVIVAL #43 (Image, 2016) – untitled, Tim Seeley, (A) Mike Norton. The big revelation this issue is that Lester Majak both killed Dana and caused the apocalypse, by sacrificing Dana in a ritual intended to defeat death. More on this next issue (which I have already read as I write this). This series is building up to an exciting conclusion.
NO MERCY #10 (Image, 2016) – untitled, Alex de Campi, (A) Carla Speed McNeil. I’m glad this series is back; the last issue was in April, I think. The highlight of the issue is Travis’s psychedelic experience, which is beautifully depicted by Carla. There’s also a scene where the partner of Alice (who I assume must have died in a previous issue) is pressured into signing some contracts. This scene is intentionally disturbing; it’s really obvious that the university is trying to manipulate her, and that they’re discriminating against her on the basis of her sexual orientation. And it’s totally plausible that a university would do this.
HERO CATS OF STELLAR CITY #13 (Action Lab, 2016) – “Hero Cats of the Apocalypse,” Kyle Puttkammer, (A) Sey Viani. An imaginary story in which Ace becomes the “Last Cat on Earth” after the planet is invaded by zombies, vampires, aliens, kaiju, etc. Some of these monsters bear an uncanny resemblance to the other Hero Cats. There’s not much of a plot here, but it’s a funny comic.
I HATE FAIRYLAND #10 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Skottie Young. Another self-contained issue, in which Gert has to choose between taking the left or the right passageway in a dungeon, and she makes the wrong choice, resulting in a horrible apocalypse. Then Future Gert has to come back in time and persuade Present Gert to make the right choice. It’s a funny (and beautifully drawn) story, especially since Skottie leaves it to the reader to imagine how Gert’s actions could have such a wildly disproportionate effect. This issue includes four blank pages, which is a bit lazy, but oh well.
SUPERMAN #9 (DC, 2016) – “Escape from Dinosaur Island, Part 2,” Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, (A) Doug Mahnke. An exciting adventure story which is full of good characterization. Clark and Jon have such an adorable relationship. As I suspected after last issue, the castaways who Clark and Jon are supposed to rescue are the Losers.
JONESY #7 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, Sam Humphries, (A) Caitlin Rose Boyle. I’ve been lukewarm about this series, but this was the best issue yet, by far. Most of the previous issues were lighthearted fluff, but this issue is a serious exploration of Jonesy’s relationship with her divorced mother. Jonesy claims to hate her mom, but it turns out Jonesy really thinks her mom has abandoned her. The splash page where Jonesy says “I want you to love me” is the high point of the entire series thus far. And the way Jonesy’s mother explains the divorce is perfect; it’s a model of good parenting. This would be an ideal comic for kids who are in a family situation similar to Jonesy’s.
DEPT. H #7 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Matt Kindt. The weakness of this series, compared to MIND MGMT, is that Matt is not doing nearly as much with the format. Each issue of MIND MGMT was distinctive and unique because of the fake ads and the other formatting tricks, but each issue of Dept. H feels the same as all the others. In this issue, one of the characters kills another of the characters, and we get a little bit of new information about what the underwater facility is for.
MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #47 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, Ted Anderson, (A) Agnes Garbowska. In the second part of the mayoral election story, Filthy Rich is elected, but proves completely unqualified for the job. After he nearly destroys the town through his incompetence, he resigns and the citizens demand that Mayor Mare become mayor again. This story is heavily reminiscent of the Simpsons episode “Trash of the Titans,” and, of course, it’s also a not-so-subtle commentary on the presidential election – which is two days away as I write this. I am confident that in real life, the competent, efficient woman will prevail over the rich but stupid and overconfident man. I just hope the country won’t have to be nearly destroyed first. (EDITED LATER: Um, well. Huh. Crap.)
I’ve never paid much attention to Agnes Garbowska’s art because she’s less flashy than Andy Price or Jay Fosgitt, but she’s a talented pony artist, and she draws great facial expressions.
INHUMANS #5 (Marvel, 1976) – “Voices from Galaxy’s End,” Doug Moench, (A) Gil Kane. I’ve had this comic for quite a while. I finally read it because this series is mentioned in Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, which I was reading at the same time. One of the characters in that book also mentions that George Pérez, who drew the earlier issues of Inhumans, couldn’t draw Farrah Fawcett (in Logan’s Run) to save his life. Anyway, this issue has some good artwork, but suffers from severe overwriting. The story involves yet another battle between the royal Inhumans and Maximus. The good guys win in the end, but Black Bolt is so sad that he starts screaming and destroys the city, which is a dumb ending.
DEFENDERS #30 (Marvel, 1975) – “Gold Diggers of Fear!”, Bill Mantlo, (A) Sam Grainger. Even in 1975, that title (a reference to the film Gold Diggers of 1933 and its similarly titled sequels) must have gone over the heads of most readers. This was another comic that I’ve owned for a while, but finally decided to read because it comes from the same period as The Fortress of Solitude. Sadly, this is a pretty bad issue, and not just because it’s a fill-in issue that interrupted Steve Gerber’s brilliant Defenders run. It seems like Mantlo was trying to imitate Gerber’s absurdist style of humor, but he failed. This issue’s plot and its villain, “Tapping Tommy,” are ridiculous in a stupid way, whereas Gerber’s plots and characters were ridiculous in a funny way.
OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #6 (Marvel, 2008) – “The Unparalleled Mink in: Night Terrors,” Jonathan Lethem, (A) Farel Dalrymple. This comic is still confusing to the point of incomprehensibility. I don’t think I’ll be able to understand it until I read the whole thing in order, and probably not even then. But now that I’ve read one of Lethem’s novels, I understand this comic better. Omega the Unknown is referenced frequently in The Fortress of Solitude. I think Lethem responded to that series so strongly because the protagonist, James Michael Starling, was so similar to him at the time – a bookish, lonely 11-year-old boy growing up in a grim inner-city neighborhood. Lethem’s own Omega comic is sort of a fan fiction, in that it attempts to recapture what appealed to him about Gerber and Skrenes’s original. I don’t think he entirely succeeds in doing that, but at least now I get what he was trying to do.
OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #7 (Marvel, 2008) – untitled, creators as above. See previous review. This issue begins with a very strange sequence that’s drawn in a childish style. Farel Dalrymple’s artwork is an independent reason to read this comic, even if one has no interest in Lethem’s story.