Final review post of 2016

12-25-16

I got lazy and didn’t write any reviews for two weeks. This will be the last review post of the year.

SHARKNIFE/HYSTERIA FCBD 2005 (Oni, 2005) – “Sharknife,” (W/A) Corey Lewis, and “An Uzi on the Island,” (W/A) Mike Hawthorne. This FCBD comic is a very early work of Corey Lewis. I think it may be included in the Sharknife book that I already have, but I haven’t read it yet. This early work is quite well-drawn, though it tells a simplistic story about a fight between two monsters in a sushi restaurant. This flip book also includes a story by Mike Hawthorne, which I did not enjoy.

INSEXTS #5 (Aftershock, 2016) – “Cynocephali,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Ariela Kristantina. An average issue. There’s not much difference between one issue of this series and another, which may be why I stopped reading it.

New comics received on December 9:

MOTOR CRUSH #1 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brenden Fletcher & Cameron Stewart, (A) Babs Tarr. This was one of my most eagerly anticipated debut issues of the year, and it did not disappoint. Domino Swift is an excellent protagonist. The motorcycle action sequences are excellent, but this comic also has an interesting plot, and the shock ending was truly unexpected. This comic is very similar to the Batgirl run by the same creative team, but different enough that it should hopefully be able to attract both existing Batgirl readers and new fans.

GOLDIE VANCE #8 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) Hope Larson, (A) Brittney Williams. This wasn’t my favorite issue, but it was an effective conclusion to the scuba diving story. Overall, Goldie Vance was the best new series of the year. My Eisner ballot for Best New Series would be Goldie Vance, Black Panther, Slam!, Motor Crush, Animosity, and Future Quest.

SPACE BATTLE LUNCHTIME #7 (Oni, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Natalie Riess. Neptunia saves Peony from the cannibal cooking show, but then he stupidly gets himself disqualified from SBL, so next issue Peony will have to battle the watermelon-headed dude for the championship. Peony was a bit too much of a helpless hostage this issue, though at least she got to deliver the final blow to Princess Magicorn. I look forward to the last issue, and I’m excited to see what this cartoonist does next, whether it’s Space Battle Lunchtime II or something else.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #24 (Image, 2016) – “Once Again / We Return / Tempting Fate,” (W) Kieron Gillen, (A) Jamie McKelvie. Part one of the “Imperial Phase” story arc is full of sexual and political drama, as Woden tries to blackmail the other gods with a video of Ananke’s murder. The characterization in this issue, as in the series in general, is brilliant. I find it especially interesting how Persephone is gradually losing the reader’s sympathy.

GIANT DAYS #21 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. Esther, Daisy and Susan’s house is burglarized, and they investigate who did it. I’ve heard that police departments hate it when laypeople try to solve crimes on their own, but it’s funny when the Giant Days characters do it.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE TEMPLE OF OD #5 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brian Clevinger, (A) Scott Wegener. I disliked this miniseries at first, but each issue has been better than the last. As usual, the science in this comic makes no sense, which is kind of the entire point, and the action is thrilling. Unsurprisingly, at the end of the miniseries, Robo does not get the girl. The letters page of this issue has an interesting description of how Brian Clevinger writes this series.

ANIMOSITY #1 (Aftershock, 2016) – “The Wake,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Rafael De Latorre. My copy is a reprint, and I’m glad this comic was reprinted because I didn’t know about it until I saw scans from it on social media. I’ve already seen some of the best pages from this issue, but it’s fun seeing them in context. And of course the idea behind this series is fascinating. A possible weakness of this series is that all the animals have human-like personalities regardless of their species, though this was probably a deliberate choice.

REVIVAL #45 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Tim Seeley, (A) Mike Norton. This series has moved quite far away from the things that initially attracted me to it – the rural Wisconsin milieu has become an incidental part of the series, where it used to be the primary appeal. But this is still a fun comic. The best part of this issue is the line “our kids think we’re superheroes.”

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #271 (DC, 1981) – “What is the Dark Man?”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Jimmy Janes. I think this was the last issue of LSH v2 that I hadn’t read, and there is a reason for that: Gerry Conway was the worst Legion writer ever. This issue shows all of his characteristic faults. It has a stupid and forgettable plot. The answer to the question in the title is that the Dark Man is Tharok’s clone, which is neither surprising nor exciting. It focuses too much on Timber Wolf at the expense of all the other characters. This is an example of Gerry’s tendency to overemphasize the most Marvel-esque Legionnaires – that is to say, the Legionnaires with obvious flaws and histrionic personalities, like Timber Wolf and Wildfire – and to ignore the characters with more subtle and nuanced personalities. Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning had the same problem, but at least their stories were much better.

FLASH GORDON: KING’S CROSS #2 (Dynamite, 2016) – untitled, (W) Jeff Parker, (W/A) Jesse Hamm. An exciting story by the most underrated writer in the industry. I’m not familiar with any of the continuity that led up to this series, but this comic is not confusing at all; rather, it makes me want to go back and read Dynamite’s other King Features comics. While Jesse Hamm is no substitute for Doc Shaner, his art is quite effective.

BOUNTY #5 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kurtis Wiebe, (A) Mindy Lee. I can’t summarize what happened in this issue, but it was a fun conclusion to the series. However, this comic didn’t excite me nearly as much as Rat Queens did. I’m not sorry if this is the last issue (no further issues have been solicited yet), because I’d rather have Kurtis spend his time writing more Rat Queens and Pisces. The best thing in this issue is the scene where the protagonists are robbing a museum exhibit of old video game systems.

BUCKY O’HARE #3 (Continuity, 1991) – untitled, (W) Larry Hama, (A) Michael Golden. Perhaps the only good comic from this publisher. Larry Hama’s writing is entertaining, though not especially deep, and Michael Golden’s artwork is brilliant. The number of panels on each page of this issue is very low – most pages have three panels at the most – and I wonder if this was either because of an experimental printing technique, or because Golden was trying to draw like a manga artist.

CEREBUS #122 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1989) – “Jaka’s Story 9,” (W/A) Dave Sim. The individual chapters of “Jaka’s Story” are really not readable out of context. I have no idea what’s supposed to be going on here or why I should care. My general impression is that “Jaka’s Story” is a story in which nothing happens at all, and surely that can’t be true. I look forward to reading it in collected form, but I have to read three other Cerebus phone books first. I do like all the ancillary material in these issues, and Dave and Gerhard’s art is excellent, especially compared to Dave’s early work.

FANTASTIC FOUR #94 (Marvel, 1970) – “The Return of the Frightful Four!”, (W) Stan Lee, (A) Jack Kirby. This issue includes two significant milestones: the Richards baby is officially named Franklin Benjamin, and Agatha Harkness and her cat Ebony appear for the first time. Ben Grimm’s amazed reaction at hearing Franklin’s middle name is an adorable moment. Agatha’s introduction is also an exciting scene. She defeats the Frightful Four more or less singlehandedly, and Ben is terrified of her. Unfortunately, my copy of this issue is in barely readable condition and I wish I could replace it.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #557 (Disney, 1991) – “Avalanche Valley,” (W/A) Carl Barks, plus other stories. This issue begins with a Barks ten-pager from 1951. Having just made a lot of money by selling a song he wrote, Donald takes the nephews to a mountain resort. He insists on playing his own song constantly, even though it appears to be causing avalanches. It turns out the song is causing the avalanches, but not in the way the reader initially thinks, and the explanation of the avalanches is somewhat surprising. However, at the end of the story, Donald is stuck under a pile of snow for the entire winter, which makes me wonder how the nephews are supposed to provide for themselves until he escapes. The other stories in this issue are all quite bad.

DEFENDERS #94 (Marvel, 1981) – “Beware – the Six-Fingered Hand!”, (W) J.M. DeMatteis, (A) Don Perlin. I only have a few issues of Defenders from after Gerber left. My impression is that the last 110 issues of this series were pretty undistinguished, and this issue does not change my mind, although it does have some characters I like, including Son of Satan, Hellcat and Valkyrie. It’s also the first appearance of Gargoyle. But the best thing about this issue is the Michael Golden cover.

FLASH GORDON #5 (Dynamite, 2014) – “No One Shall Pass,” (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Sandy Jarrell, Richard Case and Evan Shaner. Flash, Dale and Zarko are eaten by a giant piece of space biomass, then after they escape, they visit Sky World where Flash and Zarko fall victim to flying sirens. Doc Shaner only drew the second half of this issue. His art is brilliant, especially the establishing shot of Sky World, but the other artist is much worse.

MICKEY MOUSE #253 (Gladstone, 1989) – “Bellhop Detective, Chapter III,” (W/A) Floyd Gottfredson, (W) Merrill de Maris. This story is reprinted from a 1953 newspaper sequence. I’ve never fallen in love with Gottfredson the way I’m in love with Barks, but this comic is an exciting and well-drawn piece of work, with a classic cozy-mystery plot that ends with a parlor scene. Mickey’s bellhop uniform in this story is very similar to Spirou’s costume. I guess both these costumes were based on actual bellhop uniforms of the time.

DOOM PATROL #2 (DC/Young Animal, 2016) – “Negative World: Brick by Brick 2,” (W) Gerard Way, (A) Nick Derington. This series’ first issue made no sense to me at all, hence why I didn’t read the second issue immediately, but the second issue is easier to understand. Casey encounters Robotman and the Men from NOWHERE, and then at the end of the issue she meets Flex Mentallo and Danny the Street. In case I forget this when I write my review of issue 3, I should mention how in this issue, as in Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, Robotman plays the role of the straight man. He tries to understand the illogical events around him from a human perspective. The fact that Robotman plays his role is ironic because his defining character trait is that he’s stuck in a nonhuman body, and yet he’s the only member of the team who thinks like a normal human being.

New comics received on December 16. That week I was in the middle of my end-of-semester crunch and I had a Giant Stack of Grading to get through. So I couldn’t read very many comics at first, though I made up for it later in the week.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #15 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Mighty Mewnir,” (W) Ryan North, (A) Erica Henderson w/ Zac Gorman. As a cat owner, I was obviously very excited that the star of this issue would be Mew, and I was also curious how Ryan and Erica would pull it off. The answer is that they executed it with their usual brilliance. The story of Squirrel Girl’s encounter with Mew is told entirely from Mew’s perspective, so we only get to witness the events for which Mew is present, and most of the panels show us only Mew herself or things Mew can see. I like this idea of showing the events from a cat’s literal point of view, which is very low to the ground. It reminds me of how Temple Grandin diagnoses problems with livestock behavior by physically positioning herself so she can see what the animals are seeing. There’s also a cool visual device where many of the word balloons are cut off by the edge of the panel, indicating things that Mew either can’t hear or doesn’t care about. The plot is also very clever. Mew indirectly defeats Taskmaster, in a way simple but logical way. And the dream sequences are cute. This issue is obviously reminiscent of the Pizza Dog issue of Hawkeye, and while it’s not as artistically ambitious as that issue was, it does offer an original, creative approach to the problem of telling a story with an animal protagonist.

WONDER WOMAN #12 (DC, 2016) – “Year One, Part Five,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Nicola Scott. I think I missed at least one page while I was reading this issue, because when I looked at it again just now, I didn’t remember the “it is very sugar” line. Perhaps I missed this page because I was somehow distracted by the giant eight-page foldout in the middle of the comic. I wish DC would stop including such things in their comic books. Anyway, this issue reveals that just like in other Wonder Woman origin retellings, Diana was summoned to Patriarch’s World to battle Ares. Besides that, there’s a cool training montage in which Diana talks to a falcon and sticks her tongue out at a lizard. And then she drops the bombshell that she had a female lover named Kasia. The idea that Themyscira is a lesbian society is no longer truly controversial. But I believe this is the first official confirmation that Wonder Woman has had a same-sex relationship. And I think this moment is something of a milestone, given Wonder Woman’s importance as a character. (I guess Rucka already revealed that Diana was gay back in September, but this is the first story that explicitly describes her as such.)

MEGA PRINCESS #2 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Brianne Drouhard. This is a cute and fun comic. One measure of how fun this comic is, is the sequence with the river crossing puzzle. This puzzle is a tired old cliché and I would normally be annoyed to see yet another instance of it. But Kelly’s version of this story is so cute and entertaining that I was interested in it anyway. (And also, this comic is intended for an audience that doesn’t know this puzzle already.) My problem with this comic is that it’s trying to do too much. There are too many different things happening in it at once, and it’s not clear what the central theme is.

SUN BAKERY #4 (Press Gang, 2016) – “Layered Jacket #2: On the Edge of Dream” and other stories, (W/A) Corey Lewis. More exciting, fun comics in a graffiti-esque style. I think the highlight of the issue is LJ pulling Carl Sagan out of his jacket. I still think Corey Lewis’s style is very similar to Brandon Graham’s. And Rey himself admits, somewhere in one of these issues, that he’s not the best writer. But he’s very talented and I want to see what he does next.

HAWKEYE #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “Prime Suspects,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Leonardo Romero. Yet another really impressive debut issue. The villain is an Internet troll, so that alone makes this the best comic ever. As an aside, I really think that Internet harassment is a crime, and that it needs to be policed much more aggressively. When the victim in this issue says that “even the nice [cops] didn’t know what to do,” that rings very true. At least in this issue, the troll is caught and punished, which almost never happens in real life. Besides that, this comic is truly well-written and well-drawn. Leonardo Romero’s art is both excellent, and very reminiscent of David Aja’s art, which creates the sense that this series is a follow-up to Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye.

NO MERCY #12 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Alex de Campi, (A) Carla Speed McNeil. Most of this issue focuses on Deshawn and Tiffani, who are being held captive by Central American guerrillas. The scene where Tiffani reveals that she can speak Korean is really cool; it suggests that the kids have some agency, despite the awful situation they’re in. But that agency only goes so far, because the rebels don’t keep their promise to free Tiffani and Deshawn if she gets them a better deal.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #35 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Rob Anderson, (A) Jay Fosgitt. The stars this issue are Twilight Sparkle and Starlight Glimmer, who I think is worst pony. Jay Fosgitt’s art is up to its usual quality, but the story is kind of boring.

BLACKEST NIGHT: WONDER WOMAN #3 (DC, 2010) – “Wonder Woman: Blackest Night,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Nicola Scott. This issue has the same creative team as the even-numbered issues of the current Wonder Woman series, but is nowhere near as good. It’s so heavily tied in to the Blackest Night crossover that it’s not worth reading on its own. Diana becomes a Star Sapphire, then fights a Red Lantern version of Mera, and there’s no reason why the reader should care.

CEREBUS #126 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1989) – “Jaka’s Story 13,” (W/A) Dave Sim. One reason why I’m reading all these Cerebus issues is just to get them out of my unread boxes. It’s almost worth reading them just so I don’t have to read them anymore. The main story in this issue is as incomprehensible as usual. At least it includes a preview of “The One” by Rick Veitch, with an introductory essay by Alan Moore, though neither of those makes much sense either.

DESCENDER #17 (Image, 2016) – “Orbital Mechanics 1 of 5,” (W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dustin Nguyen. Finally we’re done with the origin stories and we can move on with the main plot. This issue, Andy has make-up sex with Queen Between, Telsa and Quon try to escape, and Tim-22 pursues the good Tim and seemingly kills him. This is a fun issue, and a good start to the new storyline.

DOOM PATROL #3 (DC/Young Animal, 2016) – “It’s a Doomed World After All: Brick by Brick Part 3,” (W) Gerard Way, (A) Nick Derington. This comic has perhaps my favorite cover of the year – it’s the one where Casey is reading an issue of Danny Comics and Fugg is peering out of it. The inside of the comic is almost as good. We finally learn what’s been going on so far: Casey is a fictional character created by Danny the Street, who thinks she’s real. Kind of a cool idea. I already said once that I like Nick Derington’s art, and I repeat it now.

CEREBUS #123 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1989) – “Jaka’s Story 10,” (W/A) Dave Sim w/ Gerhard. I read this comic out of order, but it’s hard to tell. I assume that once I read this story all the way through, I’ll understand why some lines of dialogue keep repeating – for example, Pud telling Jaka that his wife died, or the conversation that starts with Pud asking Jaka if she’s happy here. But when I read the comic out of order, these repetitions just create a sense of déjà vu.

THE FLINTSTONES #6 (DC, 2016) – “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” (W) Mark Russell, (A) Steve Pugh. This series has settled into a familiar pattern where each issue is a parody of some aspect of modern society. This issue is about apocalypse predictions. Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm work as interns for a scientist, who predicts that a comet is going to strike the planet. Everyone believes him, and as a result society completely collapses, until it turns out that he was wrong. Of course the issue is full of various other puns and sight gags.

SHADE THE CHANGING GIRL #3 (DC/Young Animal, 2016) – “As Bad as Mad,” (W) Cecil Castellucci, (A) Marley Zarcone. This was my favorite Young Animal title at first, but I had trouble understanding this issue. I don’t quite get who Shade is or what she’s doing. Also, I don’t understand where or what Meta is, although that may be deliberate.

12-28-16

Resuming these reviews after a couple days off.

DOOM PATROL #48 (DC, 1991) – “Entertaining Mr. Evans,” (W) Grant Morrison, (A) Richard Case. I enjoyed this, but I can’t remember much about it now. It involves a bizarre villain called Shadowy Mr. Evans who is causing the people of a place called Happy Harbor to engage in bizarre sexual behavior. I do remember thinking while I read this issue that, although Richard Case was not a brilliant artist, he was somehow perfectly suited to Grant’s Doom Patrol.

ROCCO VARGAS VOL. 2 (Catalan, 1990) – “The Whisperer Mystery,” (W/A) Daniel Torres. This is a translation of a Spanish album. It presupposes knowledge of the previous volume of the series, and does not include a plot summary. As far as I can tell, Rocco Vargas is an action hero/bar owner who lives in a world inspired by Golden Age science fiction and ‘50s futurist design. The artist, Daniel Torres, is part of the same Clear Line revivalist tradition as Yves Chaland and Joost Swarte. While the plot of this comic is somewhat hard to follow, the artwork is amazing and the writing is sophisticated, witty and exciting. After finishing this comic, I wanted to buy the 1998 Dark Horse hardcover volume that included this volume as well as three others – but that volume was over $100 on Amazon! Though now that I look again, the price has gone down quite a bit, so maybe I will be able to afford it.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #44 (DC, 1993) – “Projectra Returns, (W) Tom Bierbaum & Mary Bierbaum, (A) Stuart Immonen. I had a dream about the Legion of Super-Heroes the other night, and it made me want to read some Legion comics. As I have said before, I really miss the Legion of Super-Heroes. I lived with this comic for more than half my life, and it had a massive influence on me. I love My Little Pony for many of the same reasons I love the Legion, but it’s not quite the same.

Anyway, I used to hate the V4 Legion because of its dark and grim tone, but it’s a lot better than no Legion at all, and the creators were deeply committed to the franchise. The Bierbaums were fans first and creators second, and their work reflects their deep understanding of the franchise. This issue does have some rather dark moments. First, Mordru beats up his wife Mysa Nal, and then Projectra is traumatized by seeing her husband Karate Kid’s corpse rise from its grave. But this issue also has some warmer and friendlier moments. Notably, when Jeckie shows up at Legion headquarters, Ayla Ranzz gives her a hug. This moment stands out to me because Jeckie and Ayla were never depicted as close friends – I can’t remember any other time that they interacted at all. And yet it makes sense that Ayla would hug Jeckie, both because it matches Ayla’s personality, and because all Legionnaires are each other’s friends.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #46 (DC, 1993) – untitled, same creators as above. Like issue 44, this issue belongs to a story arc in which Mordru resurrects the corpses of dead Legionnaires. I neglected to mention that issue 44 introduced perhaps the four least significant Legionnaires ever, the Khunds Firefist, Veilmist, Blood Claw and Flederweb. In this issue, Blood Claw is killed by one of Mordru’s zombies, and no one particularly cares. The reader is far more affected by the multiple scenes in which Legionnaires are forced to confront their dead loved ones. Watching Rokk Krinn battle his dead brother’s corpse is just awful. In fact, it’s so awful that it feels emotionally manipulative.

FANTASTIC FOUR #167 (Marvel, 1976) – “Titans Two!”, (W) Roy Thomas, (A) George Pérez. George is listed as a “guest artist” in the credits box, but he became the permanent artist with #170. The best thing about this issue is Ben Grimm’s unintentionally funny statement that he and the Hulk are “an item.” One assumes that Roy Thomas did not know what “an item” meant. Otherwise, this issue is an unexciting Hulk/Thing story, though the art is very good.

FLASH #105 (DC, 1995) – “Through a Glass Darkly,” (W) Mark Waid & Michael Jan Friedman, (A) Ron Lim. This starts out funny, but takes an unexpectedly dark turn. Wally is trapped in the Mirror Master’s mirror dimension, and to free himself, he has to help the Mirror Master locate a certain woman. It turns out the woman, Emelia, is the Mirror Master’s former girlfriend, who left him because he abused her and threatened her life. To prevent him from finding her again, she had to hide in a house with no reflective surfaces at all. And even then he still finds her. Wally saves Emelia in the end, but this issue is a very dark and disturbing portrayal of a woman who can’t escape from her abuser. And I’m not sure if that was what Mark intended.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #50 (DC, 1993) – “A Transcendence,” (W) Tom Bierbaum & Mary Bierbaum, (A) Darryl Banks; and “A Battle with BION,” (W) Tom McCraw, (A) Stuart Immonen. The first half of this double-sized issue is the Bierbaums’ last story for this title. On his deathbed after he expended all his power to defeat Mordru, Jan Arrah has visions of what all his fellow Legionnaires are doing. This sequence is the Bierbaums’ affectionate farewell to the Legion; it serves as an excuse for them to check in on all their characters for one last time. It’s full of cute moments, like Imra realizing that her newborn twins are telepathic, and Tenzil marrying Saturn Queen. The second half of the issue is by the new creative team of McCraw and Immonen. As the title indicates, the entire story is taken up by a big fight between the Legion and BION, and it’s not as good as the first half of the issue. Tom McCraw was probably the worst Legion writer of the ‘90s.

STINZ: FAMILY VALUES #1 (Mu Press, 1994) – “Baby Games” and “Hit or Miss,” (W/A) Donna Barr. I’m friends with Donna Barr on Facebook, but this is the first of her comics I’ve read. It takes place in a country resembling Germany, where all the characters are centaurs. The protagonist, Stinz, is a former military commander who is now a family man. In the first story, Stinz’s son has to deal with the news that he’s unexpectedly becoming a big brother. In the second story, Stinz’s estranged older daughter returns home and discovers that her father is less abusive now than during her childhood. Overall, this is a warm and cheerful comic, but it also has a darker element; you get the sense that even if Stinz is older and more mature now, his past behavior has left an unremovable stain on his family.

ARCHIE GIANT SERIES #607 (Archie, 1990) – “Target for Tonight” and other stories, (W/A) Bob Bolling. The longest story in this issue is one in which Archie prevents Mad Dr. Doom and Chester from robbing a bank on Christmas Eve. This is a fun story that includes two of Bob Bolling’s trademarks: first, Mad Dr. Doom, Chester, and the Time Taxi; and second, stupid but clever puns. On the first page, Archie says “Mom told me the real Santa is stuck in a chimney somewhere in the Fiji Islands,” and Archie’s father replies, “Bet that doesn’t soot him at all!”

GWENPOOL HOLIDAY SPECIAL: MERRY MIX-UP #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “I Saw Mommy Kissing Galactus, Bringer of Gifts,” (W) Ryan North, (A) Nathan Stockman; and other stories. The premise of this issue is that Gwenpool’s world has different holiday traditions from ours; in particular, Galactus gives gifts instead of Santa. The Ryan North story in which Miles Morales meets Galactus is almost worth the price of the issue by itself. Unfortunately, the rest of the material in this issue is not as good. The Christmas Carol parody starring the Red Skull, written by Nick Kocher, is in very poor taste and probably shouldn’t have been published. In this day and age, we shouldn’t be treating Nazis as material for comedy.

WONDER WOMAN #36 (DC, 2009) – “Warkiller, Part 1 of 4: Heart of Fire,” (W) Gail Simone, (A) Aaron Lopresti. Diana has a funny encounter with Titania, which ends with them complaining about men rather than fighting. Hilariously, it turns out Titania was stood up for a date by the Atom. But during their conversation, Diana reveals that she wanted to marry Tom Tresser and have a child with him, and he refused because he’s afraid of commitment or whatever. That’s too bad, because Diana’s romance with Tom is just about the only interesting heterosexual relationship she’s ever had (I don’t think Diana and Superman are an exciting couple).

MADMAN ADVENTURES #2 (Tundra, 1993) – (W/A) Mike Allred. This is the earliest Madman comic I’ve read. In this story, Madman gets stuck in the Mesozoic Era, where a crazy old scientist, also a stranded time traveler, tries to seduce and/or kill him. This comic is reasonably fun, but it hardly looks like Mike Allred artwork at all – it looks more like the artwork of Mark Schultz, who did the inking.

FIRST ISSUE SPECIAL #12 (DC, 1976) – “Starman,” (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Mike Vosburg. This was the only appearance of Mikaal Tomas until James Robinson brought him back in the ‘90s. If not for Robinson, this character would have been justifiably forgotten, because his origin story is boring and also suspiciously similar to Captain Mar-Vell’s origin. In the context of Mikaal Tomas’s later history, this comic becomes a bit more interesting. On the text page, Gerry Conway suggests that Mikaal Tomas might belong to the same species as Shadow Lass, and Robinson later established that this is indeed the case.

NEW MUTANTS #56 (Marvel, 1987) – “Scavenger Hunt!”, (W) Louise Simonson, (A) June Brigman. This issue has the same creative team as Power Pack. Weezie is very good at writing kids who act like kids, meaning that they’re often bratty, bad-tempered, and combative. This issue, the New Mutants and the Hellions compete with each other to find a new mutant, Bird-Boy, and the encounter brings out the worst tendencies of both groups. The focal character this issue is Magma, who is probably the worst New Mutant, and has been pretty much forgotten. But at least Weezie comes up with a good explanation for why Magma doesn’t fit in this series. As a lifelong aristocrat, she doesn’t feel at home with the New Mutants and would be better off as a Hellion, and indeed, at the end of this issue she does join the Hellions. Now that I think of it, June comes up with a nice visual shorthand for depicting the difference between the teams. At the beginning of the issue we see the New Mutants having breakfast, and they’re eating donuts and cereal and toast, and sitting with their feet up on the table. Then we see the Hellions having breakfast, and they’re sitting up straight and eating off fine china.

RAGMAN #2 (DC, 1976) – “75-25 or Die,” (W) Robert Kanigher, (A) “Redondo Studio” (with layouts by Joe Kubert). This must have been a personal project for Robert Kanigher. It draws heavily on his Jewish background, and it has a certain affectionate quality to it, whereas many of his other comics were just written for a paycheck. And Ragman is an awesome character. It’s too bad that the execution of this issue is somewhat lacking. Rory Regan saves a woman named Opal from criminals, then falls in love with her, to the point where he breaks up with the girlfriend he already has. However, Kanigher completely failed to convince me that Rory and Opal are attracted to each other, and that affected my enjoyment of the rest of the issue.

TARZAN #245 (DC, 1976) – “The Jungle Murders,” (W) Joe Kubert, (A) Redondo Studio. I read this because it has the same style of artwork as the previous comic I read. As with Ragman #2, the layouts are by Joe Kubert but the artwork is only credited to the “Redondo Studio.” I actually kind of like this collaboration because it combines Kubert’s brilliant storytelling with draftsmanship that’s more detailed and less sketchy than Kubert’s. The ultimate example of this sort of art was Rima the Jungle Girl, where Nestor Redondo drew over Kubert layouts. Anyway, this issue has nice art, but the story is a bunch of typical ERB cliches.

CRIME SUSPENSTORIES #13 (Russ Cochran, 1995, originally 1952) – four stories, (W) Al Feldstein, (A) various. The first story this issue, “Hear No Evil” by Jack Kamen, is about a woman who marries a rich deaf man, then plots to kill him and run off with another man. The twist ending is that the husband has regained his hearing, so he was able to eavesdrop on the plot, and the person whose death is shown at the beginning of the story is the lover, not the husband. I thought that the deaf man’s recovery of his hearing was unrealistic, and a better ending would be if the deaf man knew how to read lips, despite his previous statement that he couldn’t. The second story, drawn by Sid Check, is actually two stories about the same characters. In the first story, “First Impulse!”, a woman murders her fiancé because she thinks he’s cheating on her with her sister, but then discovers he’s faithful to her. In the other story, “Second Chance,” the woman instead decides not to murder him, but discovers that he really is cheating on her. Weird Fantasy #15, published the same year, also included two related stories with different endings, “The Quick Trip” and “The Long Trip.” The third story, “A Question of Time,” is drawn by Al Williamson, but it feels like he spent too much time on the beautiful opening panel and had to draw the rest of the story much more quickly. The last story, “Forty Whacks” by Kamen, is a retelling of the story of Lizzie Borden.

New comics received on Friday, December 23:

USAGI YOJIMBO #160 (Dark Horse, 2016) – “Death by Fugu,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. I’m a little surprised that this issue doesn’t resolve any of the dangling threads from last issue. Instead, it’s a mystery in which a chef is accused of killing someone with fugu. This issue inevitably reminds me of the “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish” episode of The Simpsons. But unlike the writers of that episode, Stan Sakai has clearly done his research on fugu, and he avoids reproducing the myth that eating fugu is a death sentence. Indeed, the whole point of the story is that fugu is only dangerous if prepared incorrectly (though I guess that was also part of the plot of the Simpsons episode). The end of this issue is very depressing and surprising, and I’m kind of surprised that the issue just ends there.

SLAM! #2 (Boom!, 2016) – “Pushy Riots vs. Meteorfights,” (W) Pamela Ribon, (A) Veronica Fish. Slam! #1 was an excellent debut issue, and this issue is perhaps even better. The two protagonists, Knocko ut and Ithinka Can, are now part of rival teams. But Knockout’s team, the Pushy Riots are serious and hypercompetitive, while Ithinka Can’s team, the Meteorfights, are fun and friendly. Therefore, Knockout is having a much harder time, especially since the star of her team hates her for no apparent reason. This issue is very enjoyable to read; I can’t help but love the characters, and I sympathize with their problems.

SILVER SURFER #8 (Marvel, 2016) – “Tall Tales,” (W) Dan Slott, (A) Mike Allred. This story is all about size and scale. Surfer and Dawn are swallowed by Jumbonox the Ginormous, and they escape by telling a story about the Surfer’s tiny herald (or Harold), Tindly Hardlesnop. The obvious moral of the story is that no matter how big or small you are, there’s always someone bigger or smaller. I like this idea, but I wish Jumbonox had been even bigger; even on the opening two-page splash, he doesn’t look big enough.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #13 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Brittney L. Williams. This issue is funny and cute as usual, but this Black Cat storyline has been the low point of the series so far. There are too many characters and I can’t tell them all apart.

ANIMOSITY #4 (Aftershock, 2016) – “Traps,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Rafael De Latorre. In a flashback, we learn that Jesse has an older half-brother we haven’t met. Then in the present timeframe, there’s a lot of violent death and murder. This was the least interesting issue yet; it felt like an issue of The Walking Dead where all the characters happened to be animals.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #49 (IDW, 2016) – “Accord, Part the Second: In All Chaos There is a Cosmos, in All Disorder a Secret Order,” (W) Rob Anderson, (A) Andy Price. Again, Andy Price’s brilliant artwork redeems what could have been a boring story. The best part is the sequence in Accord’s mind. Appropriately, Andy depicts Accord’s mind as a gray, rectilinear place full of bureaucrats in cubicles.

ETHER #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Matt Kindt, (A) David Rubin. This was fun, but not quite as good as last issue. I think the best part was the octopus taxi. This series runs the risk of becoming just a conventional murder mystery which happens to take place in a fantasy world (see my comments on Animosity #4 above), and I hope Matt and David can avoid that danger.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT #6 (Russ Cochran, 1993, originally 1950) – four stories, (W) Al Feldstein, (A) various. I wonder if EC’s twist endings were a bit overrated. In the EC comics I’ve read lately, there haven’t been any endings that really surprised me. This issue begins with “The Thing from the Grave,” drawn by Feldstein. This is a generic zombie story, although it does remind me a bit of the original Swamp Thing story, in that it features a character who comes back from the grave to avenge his murdered wife. “Blood Type V,” drawn by Ingels, is a fairly generic vampire story. “Death’s Turn,” with art by Jack Kamen, is probably the best story in the issue. The owners of a struggling amusement park hire a man to design them a new roller coaster, then murder him once it’s finished. But the first time they ride it, they break their necks, because it turns out that the roller coaster goes so fast that no one can ride it and live. I don’t know if that’s plausible, but it’s funny. Finally, in “The Curse of the Arnold Clan,” with art by Johnny Craig, a man’s family is cursed so that every fifty years, the oldest member of the family will be buried alive. The protagonist is the oldest member of the family, and he knows about the curse. Yet he goes digging in a graveyard on the night the curse is scheduled to take effect, with predictable results. Really, he deserved to get buried alive.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST: SWEET CHRISTMAS ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2016) – “Sweet Christmas,” (W) David Walker, (A) Scott Hepburn. Besides Slam! #1, this was the most entertaining comic of the week. Luke, Danny and Danielle visit a toy store at midnight to get the latest hot toy, and then Jessica Drew shows up and asks for parenting advice. And then it turns out that the hot toy of the season is a trick created by Krampus to steal children’s souls. Mayhem ensues, until Santa Claus shows up to save the day. This comic is exciting and also a deeply affectionate meditation on parenting. Luke and Jessica behave like real parents, and Danielle behaves like a real child. Even the story that Jessica tells Luke is an example of that. It’s probably the most disgusting thing in the entire history of Marvel comics, yet it’s the sort of thing that probably does happen to actual parents. You get the feeling that David is drawing on his own parenting experience. I do think that Danielle’s age in this issue is inconsistent with her previous appearances in this series, but oh well. I am glad that David got to use Danielle again; for a while Jessica Jones and Danielle were appearing in every issue of Power Man and Iron Fist, and then they mysteriously vanished with no explanation, because Bendis wanted to use them instead.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #3 (DC/Young Animal, 2016) – “Deep Issues,” (W) Gerard Way & Jon Rivera, (A) Michael Avon Oeming. Cave, Chloe and Wild Dog encounter a giant carnivorous plant and a giant worm. Then Chloe learns that her mother was a subterranean princess, and then it turns out that all the people from Muldroog are dead. The best thing in this issue is Chloe’s reaction to learning the truth about her mother. First she’s horrified and furious, then after she has time to think about it, she calms down and reconciles with her dad. Chloe’s behavior is unusually realistic. In most comic books, when a person learns a big secret, they react in a much more histrionic and angry way.

JEM: THE MISFITS #1 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Jenn St.-Onge. This is better than the current storyline in the primary Jem title. We begin with a scene where Eric tells Pizzazz that the only way she can save her career is by having the Misfits appear on a reality show. While we wait to see how the rest of the band reacts to this ridiculous idea, we flash back to Pizzazz/Phyllis’s childhood. The flashback effectively explains how she got to be the way she is: she grew up in an overprivileged environment, but with awful, neglectful parents. She decides to start a band, and she recruits all the other Misfits not through her money and privilege, but through force of personality. This scene emphasizes why Pizzazz is perhaps the best antagonist in comics at the moment. She’s mean and self-destructive and has a lot of other negative traits, yet she also has such spirit and willpower that the reader has to admire her. The brief origin stories of the other Misfits are also quite revealing. And I love the sequence where Pizzazz says “let me tell you what the new plan is” and then the next page is a splash page of all the other Misfits shouting NO!, and then the page after that is the Misfits appearing on TV to announce their new reality show.

BOOM BOX MIX TAPE 2016 (Boom!, 2016) – various (W/A). This anthology includes various stories featuring existing Boom! Box characters, most of them involving music – though oddly, my favorite may have been the Slam! story, which doesn’t mention music at all.

SPIDER-WOMAN #1 (Marvel, 2015) – untitled, (W) Dennis Hopeless, (A) Javier Rodriguez. I didn’t buy this when it came out, because Dennis Hopeless wrote Avengers Arena and therefore I had a very negative impression of him. But I later acquired this issue for less than cover price, and it turns out to be excellent. It’s a realistic, well-written and well-drawn story about a superheroine trying to balance her career with pregnancy. The scene at the party, where Jessica electrocutes Tony Stark for asking who the father is, is excellent. And there’s some really fun visual gags at the end when Jessica visits the alien maternity hospital.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #6 (Image, 2016) – “In This Garden,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) Fábio Moon, plus backup story. I didn’t read this comic sooner because I’m hopelessly confused by this series. Fábio Moon’s art is brilliant, but the story makes no sense. There are lots of things going on at once and none of them make any sense. I don’t think I’ll be able to understand this comic unless I read it all at once after it’s finished, and maybe not even then.

BACKSTAGERS #5 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) James Tynion IV, (A) Rian Sygh. This issue includes one utterly brilliant moment. Let me quote my explanation of it on Facebook: “ My thought process as I read Backstagers #5: Huh, these characters look like alternate reality versions of the Backstagers. Oh, they’re from Beckett’s old school. But some of them are boys, so Beckett must have transferred from a co-ed school. No, wait, they all have female names. But that means Beckett… oh my god.” And then Beckett and his former classmates have a conversation which is ostensibly about transferring schools, but is actually about transitioning. I guess James Tynion already said in interviews that Beckett was transgender, but I must have missed that, because this moment came as a pleasant shock to me. I think comics like Backstagers and Lumberjanes and Unbeatable Squirrel Girl are playing an important role in normalizing transgender identity. These comics have even made me subtly shift my own views on this topic.

Sadly, Ray Goldfield tells me that Backstagers has not been selling as well as the Boom! Box titles with female protagonists, and that it’s going to end with issue 8, rather than being renewed like Goldie Vance was. That’s a shame.

SPELL ON WHEELS #3 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Megan Levens. The best issue of a miniseries which has been unimpressive so far. On the trail of their stolen items, the protagonists encounter a woman who’s being tormented by her husband’s ghost, because she started a relationship with another woman after he died. The touching part about the story is how the widow convinces her husband – who would obviously have voted for Trump if alive – to overcome his religiously motivated bigotry. This issue was the first time I really cared about this comic.

HAUNT OF FEAR #3 (Russ Cochran, 1993; originally Haunt of Fear #17, 1950) – various (W/A). In “Nightmare,” (W/A) Johnny Craig, a man repeatedly dreams he’s been buried alive, then wakes up to find that he’s still dreaming. Finally, he really does get buried alive without trying to save himself, because he thinks he’s asleep. The really weird part about this story is that the protagonist is named John Severin. I wonder what the real John Severin thought of having his name used in this way. “Television Terror,” (W/A) Harvey Kurtzman, is very clever. The entire story is shown from the point of view of a television camera, so we never actually get to see the supernatural phenomena because they happen off-camera. “Monster Maker,” (W) Gardner Fox and (A) Graham Ingels, is a step down in quality; it’s a blatant Frankenstein rip-off. Finally, “Horror Beneath the Streets,” (W/A) Al Feldstein, is a funny piece of metafiction. It stars Bill Gaines and Al Feldstein themselves. It explains how they encountered the Crypt Keeper and Vault Keeper one night on the way home from work, and were forced to sign a contract to publish stories about them. Overall, this is the best EC comic I’ve read lately.

DOCTOR STRANGE #15 (Marvel, 2016) – “Blood in the Aether, Chapter Four: The Face of Sin,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Chris Bachalo and Jorge Fornes. The villain this issue is the Orb. He claims that he’s become the new Watcher and that he’s sworn to just watch people and not interfere, but his behavior is the reverse of that. The Orb is never quite as scary or as funny as he ought to be. Overall this is a lackluster issue, especially because half of it is drawn by Jorge Fornes, who is much worse than Chris Bachalo.

BATMAN/SPIRIT #1 (DC, 2007) – “Crime Consequences,” (W) Jeph Loeb, (A) Darwyn Cooke. Like almost everything Darwyn drew, this issue is a masterpiece. I hate Jeph Loeb’s writing and I think there are few writers who are more overrated. But Jeph’s script for this issue is competent, if unexciting. And Darwyn’s artwork plays such a major role in conveying the story, that it more than makes up for the deficiencies in the plot and script. Darwyn’s storytelling and draftsmanship in this issue are just incredible. One thing that amazes me about this issue is his visual characterization. There’s one panel this issue where seven villains appear at once (or eight counting Scarface separately), and you can deduce each villain’s personality from his/her/its posture and facial expressions. I do think this story exaggerates the differences between Batman and the Spirit, portraying Batman as a cold, humorless Batdick and the Spirit as a carefree figure of fun. But unfortunately, that is consistent with the way that DC has chosen to depict these characters.

DETECTIVE COMICS #447 (DC, 1975) – “Enter: The Creeper,” (W) Len Wein, (A) Ernie Chua. After Batman/Spirit #1, I felt like reading a comic that portrayed Batman in a more moderate way. The Batman story this issue, which guest-stars the Creeper, is reasonably good but not great. What really interested me about this issue was the Robin backup story, which is credited to Bob Rozakis, Martinez and Mazzaroli. I had never heard of either of the latter two artists, and the GCD entry for this issue did not give their first names. All I was able to determine by Googling was that Martinez’s first initial was A. So I went on Facebook and asked Bob Rozakis who they were, and he replied that they were South American artists who Neal Adams recommended to Julie Schwartz. Based on that, I was able to determine that they were both from Argentina. A. Martinez was a pseudonym for the late Chiche Medrano, and “Mazzaroli” is José Massaroli, who is still drawing Disney comics. It makes sense that Martinez is Argentinian because his Robin story is drawn in a characteristically Argentinian or Italian style, and looks rather different from normal DC comics artwork. I felt proud of myself for having figured all of that out. It’s odd that one of DC’s flagship titles would have included a story by two artists who never did any other work for DC; then again, it was only a backup story.

JONAH HEX #9 (DC, 1978) – “The Carlota Conspiracy,” (W) Michael Fleisher, (A) Ernie Chan. Unusually for a Western comic, this issue has a Bernie Wrightson cover. Otherwise it’s a pretty typical Jonah Hex story, in which Jonah visits Mexico and gets embroiled in a plot to steal a shipment of gold. As usual, this comic is a lot of fun, but the Mexican stereotypes are unfortunate. There’s one character who’s clearly a prostitute, even though the Comics Code didn’t allow the writer to say so.

BRAT PACK #1 (King Hell, 1990) – “A Novel in Five Parts,” (W/A) Rick Veitch. This series is something of a classic, and is probably Rick Veitch’s best-known work. Somehow I’ve never gotten around to reading it. This first issue is heavily indebted to Watchmen and DKR in its approach to the superhero genre, but is much more parodistic and blackly humorous. It begins with a radio talk show host asking his listeners to call in and vote on whether the local superhero sidekicks should be killed, and if so, how. This is an obvious and hilarious reference to the fan vote on whether to kill Jason Todd. After that, the plot is a little hard to follow, but it involves four teenage sidekicks of adult superheroes. Three of them are horrible, rude brats who engage in criminal and destructive behavior, while the one who’s based on Robin is a victim of rape, at the hands of both his mentor and his teammates. At the end of the issue, a villain named Doctor Blasphemy murders all four of them with a car bomb, and the reader is happy to see them go, or at least the first three. But now their superhero mentors need new sidekicks, and that’s where the next issue picks up. In general, this is a brutal piece of satire, with none of the human warmth of Watchmen, but it’s very funny and clever.

(Note: When I went to put this comic away in my boxes, I found that there was already a copy of Brat Pack #1 there! This is a surprise to me because I have no recollection of having read this comic before. Nothing in it rang a bell to me at all.)

TARZAN #253 (DC, 1976) – “Tarzan the Untamed, Part 4: A Death for a Death!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) José Luis García-López. The first story in this issue is so much worse than earlier DC Tarzan comics, that it makes me realize how briliant Kubert’s Tarzan was. (I’ve read most of that run, but I feel I may not have fully appreciated it while I was reading it.) Gerry Conway’s writing is verbose and histrionic; he wastes the reader’s time saying things that are already clear from the panels. In contrast, Kubert’s writing was succinct and free of purple prose, and he never let his words interfere with his visual storytelling. A further problem is that this story lasts only 11 pages. The rest of the issue is a reprint of one-third of issue #213. It’s no wonder this series only lasted five more issues.

DYNAMO #1 (Tower, 1966) – various (W/A). I bought this comic about three years ago and never read it, which is weird because it’s an amazing comic. I guess I was daunted by its length. In the first story, drawn by Wally Wood, Dynamo and NoMan battle some aliens on the moon. Woody’s artwork here is incredible. I think he’s one of the top five artists of American comic books, and this story demonstrates why. The science in this story is kind of ridiculous, but it’s surprising to remember that when it was published, people hadn’t been to the moon yet. At one point, NoMan says that he’s going to be the first man on the moon. Elsewhere in this story, Dynamo tells Alice he loves her, but then Alice never appears again in the story, which is kind of odd. The funniest story in the issue is “A Day in the Life of Dynamo,” (W) Ralph Reese, (A) Mike Sekowsky. Dynamo wakes up and decides to ask the boss for a raise – which was one of the unique things about this comic: the superheroes in it were employees. But as soon as he gets to the office, Dynamo has to go fight the Red Dragon and the Iron Maiden, while also trying to get Alice to go out with him, and he never even gets the chance to ask for a raise. “Back to the Stone Age,” (A) Reed Crandall, is mostly notable for Crandall’s ugly drawings of dinosaurs. “Dynamo Meets the Amazing Andor,” (A) Steve Ditko, is the origin story of the latter character, who shows up later in the main THUNDER Agents title. Finally, “Wonder Weed, Super Hero,” (A) John Giunta, is very similar to a Silver Age Jimmy Olsen story. Weed is hypnotized into thinking he’s a superhero, and for some reason I can’t remember, the superpowered THUNDER Agents encourage this delusion by making him think he’s doing super-feats.

THE FILTH #1 (Vertigo, 2002) – “01. Us vs Them,” (W) Grant Morrison, (A) Chris Weston. This issue has some excellent art, but like most Grant Morrison comics other than Klaus, it makes no sense. I feel like the only way to understand this comic would be to read the whole thing all the way through, twice.

A COSPLAYERS CHRISTMAS (Fantagraphics, 2016) – “The Quest for the Holy Grail” and “Last Minute Holiday Shopping,” (W/A) Dash Shaw. I probably shouldn’t have ordered this because I disliked the previous Cosplayers comic. It felt like a patronizing treatment of cosplay. But this one is better. In the first story, one of the protagonists, Annie, decides to get her friend Verti a replica Holy Grail for her Indiana Jones costume. After a frustrating (and very plausible) encounter with a thrift store owner, Annie ends up having to make the Holy Grail herself. The clever part of this story is that the Holy Grail is also a Holy Grail in the figurative sense, in that Annie has to go on a long and arduous quest in order to obtain it. In the backup story, Verti needs to get Annie a gift in exchange, so she makes Annie a wizard’s staff out of a stick. Compared to the original Cosplayers, this issue gives me more of a sense that Dash Shaw respects the people he’s writing about.

CASANOVA: ACEDIA #7 (Image, 2016) – “Head on Fire,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) Fábio Moon. This issue is even more impenetrable than the last one.

CEREBUS #136 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1990) – “Jaka’s Story 23,” (W/A) Dave Sim. In this issue, something happens! A hideous old woman named Mrs. Thatcher tells Rick that Jaka aborted their baby. Rick punches Jaka and runs off. This is a powerful moment, though it would have been more powerful if I’d understood what led up to it.

BRAT PACK #2 (King Hell, 1990) – untitled, (W/A) Rick Veitch. This issue gives us a bit more context by telling us that True-Man, the analog to Superman, vanished nine years ago, and since then the city has been governed by vigilantes who have a zero-tolerance approach to crime. Then the adult superheroes start recruiting sidekicks. One of the four new sidekicks appears to be a Nazi, but the other three seem like much more sympathetic characters than their predecessors. On the other hand, in this issue we also meet the adult superheroes for the first time – besides the Mink, who appeared last issue – and they’re all just as bad as their late sidekicks. Moon Mistress, for example, is a blatant sex symbol. These first two issues of Brat Pack have piqued my interest, and I want to look for the other three.

Last week’s reviews

12-8

I’m trying to keep my resolution to write reviews every week. Here’s one comic book I read, but forgot to review:

SPIDER-GWEN #13 (Marvel, 2016) – This was okay, I guess.

Only eight new comics this week, including two that I can’t read yet because I’m not caught up on those series (Black Widow and Totally Awesome Hulk).

SAGA #40 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Adrian Alphona. This was an okay issue; I like the talking mushroom and the giant planet-sized baby. Butit seems like not a whole lot happened. Compared to the previous storyline, the current “Battle for Phang” storyline has had less stuff going on in each issue.

MS. MARVEL #13 (Marvel, 2016) – “Election Day,” (W) G. Willow Wilson, (A) Mirka Andolfo. I don’t want to review this comic; it hurts too much. I wish it had come out before the election and not after. In the context of the election, it creates a false and naïve sense of hope that we can actually change anything by… never mind. You see why I didn’t want to review this comic.

SHUTTER #24 (Image, 2016) – “The Ballad of Huckleberry,” (W) Joe Keatinge, (A) Leila del Duca. This is the origin story of Huckleberry, who turns out to be the child of a lizard sharpshooter and an Impressionist painter. There’s also one scene where Huckleberry and the other protagonists try to process the horrible tragedy at the end of #22. This is a fun issue, but I do wonder how Joe and Leila can complete the entire storyline within the next few issues, and why they’re bothering to try. I feel like this series could go on indefinitely; the ongoing Prospero storyline is not as interesting as the characters and the worldbuilding.

JUGHEAD #11 (Archie, 2016) – untitled, (W) Ryan North, (A) Derek Charm. Probably the best comic of this very light week. Sabrina’s hysterical attempts to conceal her magical nature are hilarious. Jughead’s explanation of why he went on a date with Sabrina is very touching, and also answers the question of why Jughead is going on dates if he’s asexual.

MONSTRESS #8 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Marjorie Liu, (A) Sana Takeda. This comic deserves to be nominated for an Eisner for Best Ongoing Series, even if it’s not my personal favorite. If I could choose the ballot, the nominees would be Saga, Wicked + Divine, Lumberjanes, Monstress, and some combination of Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, Southern Bastards, and Goldie Vance. This issue, the sea voyage begins, Maika almost drowns, and there’s lots of intrigue that I can’t quite remember.

GREAT LAKES AVENGERS #2 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Zac Gorman, (A) Will Robson. I liked this better than last issue. I can’t remember the plot very well, but Zac Gorman’s writing is very witty and even kind of cruel sometimes.

ARCHIE #14 (Archie, 2016) – untitled, (W) Mark Waid, (A) Joe Eisma. I think I missed an issue. At this point, Archie is trying to plan an anniversary party for his parents, but is depressed over I don’t know what. Meanwhile, Veronica is at a private school in Switzerland where her rival is Cherry Blossom, who is like Veronica but with none of her good qualities. This issue was good, though not great.

BOUNTY #4 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kurtis Wiebe, (A) Mindy Lee. At this point I’ve mostly forgotten the story of the first three issues, but the plot and dialogue this issue are reasonably fun. I still hope to get Rat Queens back soon.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #33 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Christina Rice, (A) Tony Fleecs. The stars this issue are Applejack and Cherry Jubilee. This story also introduces two new characters, Wild West performers, Buffalo Bull and Calamity Mane, who Cherry Jubilee hates for some reason. It turns out that Cherry herself was the original Calamity Mane and Buffalo Bull’s lover, and that she’s jealous of Buffalo Bull for replacing her. This revelation surprised me a bit because it seems like a fairly significant piece of continuity, but I guess it’s okay because Cherry Jubilee is a minor character.

NIGHT’S DOMINION #3 (Oni, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Ted Naifeh. I forgot to order issue 2 of this series, so I’m missing a big chunk of the story. This comic is okay, but it feels overly similar to “The Tower of the Elephant,” and I’m not enjoying it as much as Courtney Crumrin or Princess Ugg. Of course, I was feeling exhausted and overworked when I read this and most of the previous comics on this list, so maybe I came to this comic at the wrong time.

DEPT. H #8 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Matt Kindt. This is Bob’s origin story. It turns out that he has a seriously checkered past. This issue, like the series in general, creates a powerful feeling of claustrophobia; this comic is almost closer to horror than mystery. But I still feel like each issue is too similar to all the others. Matt isn’t doing anything creative with the comic book format, the way he did with MIND MGMT.

THE GODDAMNED #5 (Image, 2016) – “Before the Flood, Part 5: God’s Monsters,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) R.M. Guera. This issue was a nice surprise; I honestly thought this comic might have been stealth-cancelled. In an exciting but bleak and depressing conclusion to the first story arc, Cain rescues Lodo and his mother from Noah, but Lodo then murders his own mother because he thinks she’s making him weak. It’s a moment of horrific bleakness which makes you feel like God was right to kill everyone. It’s hard to see where this comic will go from here, though the inside back cover states that another story arc is coming next year. As usual, R.M. Guera’s artwork is incredible, and he may deserve an Eisner nomination for best artist.

THE MIGHTY THOR #13 (Marvel, 2016) – “The League of Realms Rides Again,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Steve Epting. Another Jason Aaron comic, but with a completely different tone. Like Marguerite Bennett, Jason is impressive for his range and versatility. This issue introduces (or, based on the title, maybe reintroduces) the League of Realms, a team of characters from each of the Norse realms. This group is a mix of old and new characters; the highlight is the female frost giant who speaks one word at a time. Steve Epting’s art is effective, but I still prefer Russell Dauterman.

ACTION COMICS #763 (DC, 1999) – “Sacrifice for Tomorrow,” (W) Joe Kelly, (A) Germán García & Kano. This is a good average Superman comic – I mean, compared to other average Superman comics, it’s good. Joe Kelly’s writing is exciting. The plot is that Superman, Luthor and Brainiac are all fighting a super-advanced Brainiac 13, and at the end of the story, Luthor trades his infant daughter to Brainiac (not sure which one) for some sort of power or something. Kelly effectively conveys the sense that Luthor acted in accordance with his nature, but that he’s not happy with it.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #10 (Tower, 1966) – “Operation Armageddon,” (W) Ralph Reese, (A) Wally Wood, plus four other stories. The highlight of this issue is a Wally Wood-drawn story in which Dynamo and NoMan battle some villains who have stolen a gun with atomic bullets. Next is a mediocre Lightning story, and then a NoMan story in which he battles Dynamo’s recurring enemy Andor. Reading this, I was again reminded that NoMan’s powers have really poor synergy. NoMan has a cloak that makes him invisible, and he can also shift his brain between multiple bodies. That means that whenever he moves to a new body while wearing the cloak, he has to go back to wherever he left the previous body and retrieve the cloak. And this happens twice in the present issue. The second best story in the issue is “Kitten or Killer,” in which Kitten is brainwashed into trying to kill her fellow T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad members. This story is an unfortunate relic of its time; one of the villains is a knockoff of Fidel Castro, and the other is an offensive Asian stereotype. But at least this story has one scene where Kitten beats up two men who are trying to kidnap her. The issue concludes with a Raven story by Manny Stallman. This artist is notorious for his weird and incoherent art, but at least his art was distinctive, if not necessarily in a good way.

YOUNG JUSTICE #37 (DC, 2001) – “War of the Words,” (W) Peter David, (A) Todd Nauck. This is the first Peter David comic I’ve read since NYCC, where he made some offensive comments about Roma people. After I read about his comments, I went and spoke to him at his table and said something like, dude, I’ve been reading your work for twenty years, and you’ve made such efforts toward diversity in superhero comics, and these comments are unworthy of you. In response, he basically reiterated the stuff he had said at the panel. To his credit, a couple days later he apologized and recanted his comments, but it was frustrating that he said that stuff in the first place, and I think it may have done lasting damage to his reputation with some fans. Anyway, maybe that’s why it took me so long to read this comic. This issue, the kids are on Apokolips, where Granny Goodness is subjecting them to a series of horrible nightmares – all of them except Secret, who Darkseid is trying to groom as his apprentice. Then Slobo saves the day with his rarely-mentioned power of creating clones of himself. It’s an exciting issue, though not the best issue of YJ.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #535 (Gladstone, 1988) – “The Olympian Torch Bearer,” (W/A) Carl Barks, plus other material. The ten-pager that begins this issue is originally from the Olympic year of 1964. Donald carries the “Olympian Torch” from Goosetown to Duckburg, and mayhem ensues. This story includes some funny gags, but Don Rosa’s “From Duckburg to Lillehammer” is a better version of the same idea. This issue also includes a bad Mickey story and a worse Brer Rabbit story, which shouldn’t have been reprinted at all because of its racist baggage.

USAGI YOJIMBO #9 (Fantagraphics, 1988) – “Return of the Blind Swordspig,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. A good early issue. Usagi again encounters Ino, one of the three characters in the series who can beat him in a fair fight, the others being Master Katsuichi and Nakamura Koji. At this point Usagi is traveling with Spot the lizard, but in a touching scene, Usagi surrenders Spot to Ino, who has a greater need for companionship.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #87 (Marvel, 1970) – “Unmasked at Last!”, (W) Stan Lee, (A) John Romita. My copy of this issue is in awful condition and I am in the market for a replacement. This issue has a notoriously misleading cover; it shows Peter revealing his secret identity to his friends, and in the issue he does do that, but then later he convinces them that he was lying. Besides the anticlimax, this issue is a classic. This issue has some excellent Romita artwork and good characterization, although Mary Jane, in particular, seems very callous and unsympathetic. You have to feel sorry for Peter, who convinces himself that his sickness is due to the loss of his powers, only to realize that it’s just a nasty case of the flu.

YOUNG JUSTICE #54 (DC, 2003) – “Break on Through to the Other Seid,” (W) Peter David, (A) Todd Nauck. This issue has a funny narrative conceit where you think Robin is talking to the reader, though it turns out he’s really talking to Secret’s mother. The final Young Justice storyline focuses on Secret, the most important character who only appears in this series. Secret appears to have gone completely evil, and the rest of the team has to save her. It’s quite a strong issue.

ICON #26 (DC/Milestone, 1995) – “One Size Fits All,” (W) Dwayne McDuffie, (A) Francisco Velasco, Robert Walker & Jeffrey Moore. I think my problem with this series is that at this point, Rocket was literally the only black female protagonist in all of superhero comics, so it’s frustrating that she was turned into an example of the stereotype of the black teenage mother. That explains why I never bothered to read this comic even though I bought it years ago. But I ought to complete my Milestone collection. Like some other comics I’ve reviewed recently, Milestone was an important precursor to the current wave of “diverse” superhero comics, and it failed only because the market wasn’t ready for it. In this issue, the original Rocket and the replacement Rocket battle a monster from Icon’s home planet.

CAPTAIN ACTION #1 (DC, 1968) – “Origin of Captain Action!”, (W) Jim Shooter, (A) Wally Wood. This is a classic but very strange comic book. If I recall correctly, its continuity and creative team changed quite a lot in just five issues, and it had a surprisingly dark and grim tone for a licensed-property comic book. Captain Action is also historically important because the original toy was one of the earliest examples of the “action figure” concept, and the comic must have been one of the first comics adaptation of a toy line. In this issue, we are introduced to Clive Arno, who gains superpowers from coins that were blessed by the mythological gods. The list of gods in this comic is quite multicultural, although Shooter commits the error of describing Siva as a god of evil (see also Thor #301). Shooter’s writing and Wally’s artwork are both very impressive, and overall this is a classic series which ought to be reprinted, although I suspect that might be impossible because of intellectual property issues.

YOUNG JUSTICE #55 (DC, 2003) – “I’ve Got a Secret,” (W) Peter David, (A) Todd Nauck. Tim convinces Secret to stop being evil, and a disgusted Darkseid turns her back into a normal person, which is what she wanted all along. The conclusion to Empress’s story is less satisfying – she still has to take care of her infant parents, she’s just reconciled to it. Slobo apparently dies of genetic dilution, but really ends up in the world of DC One Million; I didn’t quite get what was happening here. Meanwhile, Kon and Cassie become an official couple. This issue ends on a rather inconclusive note, without really explaining how Young Justice becomes the Geoff Johns version of the Teen Titans, but in general it’s a solid conclusion to the best DC Universe comic of its time.

ARCHIE GIANT SERIES #619 (Archie, 1991) – “I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Maybe” and other stories, all (W/A) Bob Bolling. This is an extremely late Bob Bolling issue. I’m not sure when he stopped actively working for Archie, but he’s still living, and he did a new Little Archie story as recently as this year. I wish Fantagraphics or IDW or Papercutz would do a comprehensive reprinting of all of Bolling’s Little Archie material. He was Archie’s equivalent to Carl Barks, but his comics are very difficult to find, especially the ones from the ‘50s and ‘60s, and it’s hard to even find a comprehensive list of all the stories Bolling drew. Anyway, this issue, like Barks’s ‘60s duck stories, is a weird and uneven piece of work. The stories are wildly implausible, involving Martians and elves, and are lacking the realism of Bolling’s best work. But you can still tell these stories are by Bolling, and they’re full of his characteristic humor and excitement.

WALLY THE WIZARD #1 (Marvel/Star, 1985) – “A Plague of Locust,” (W/A) Bob Bolling. This obscure issue of a short-lived kids’ comic is fascinating because it’s Bob Bolling’s only major non-Archie work. It’s a fantasy story with an Arthurian setting, about a young red-haired apprentice wizard. Wally the Wizard is a very similar character to Little Archie, but because this series is not bound to the Riverdale setting, Bolling is free to indulge his creativity and to ignore real-world logic. As a result, this issue is full of weird magic spells and creatures, bad puns, and anachronisms. It doesn’t always work, but when it does work, it’s exciting. It’s a pity that Bolling only did two issues of this series.

SUN BAKERY #3 (Press Gang/Floating World, 2016) – “Layered Jacket” and other stories, (W/A) Corey Lewis. This is some really exciting and energetic work. Corey Lewis is a fascinating artist, although as I was reading this issue, I had the nagging feeling that his art is too similar to that of Brandon Graham. I think the difference is that Corey Lewis’s art is even more angular and two-dimensional; it looks like actual graffiti, rather than comic book artwork that’s inspired by graffiti. I think my favorite story this issue is the very crudely drawn “Layered Jacket,” about a hipster who tries to solve various problems by pulling stuff out of his jacket, but actually makes everything worse.

CEREBUS #124 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1989) – “Jaka’s Story 11,” (W/A) Dave Sim. I’m currently in the middle of reading the first Cerebus phone book, so I thought I would read some of the Cerebus back issues I’ve had for years. This issue makes no sense at all out of context, and was clearly not meant to stand alone. But the improvement in Dave’s artwork since the early issues is tremendous. He started out as a clone of Barry Windsor-Smith, but by this point he had a well-developed style of his own, and was also working with Gerhard. Besides Cerebus, this issue includes a preview of From Hell and a letter column, which contains some bizarre material; you get the feeling that Dave printed every letter he received.

SUN BAKERY #2 (Press Gang/Floating World, 2016) – “Arem” and other stories, (W/A) Corey Lewis. The main story this issue is a parody of Metroid. I’m excited that this series has been picked up by Image. Corey deserves a bigger audience for his talent.

HIP HOP FAMILY TREE #11 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Ed Piskor. Major events this issue include the first meeting of Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, and the “origin” of LL Cool J.

BLACK HAMMER #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – “Welcome to Black Hammer,” (W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dean Ormston. I ordered the first issue of this series, but never read it, and then I stopped ordering it due to lack of interest. That was a mistake. Maybe I was confusing this comic with some other comic with Black in the title. This series is about a bunch of superheroes who are believed to have died saving the world, but who have somehow been stuck on a farm for seven years. I have no idea what’s going on here, but I want to find out, because it’s fascinating. This is one of the best recent Dark Horse debuts, and I want to get the issues I missed.

DOOM PATROL #119 (DC, 1968) – “In the Shadow of the Great Guru,” (W) Arnold Drake, (A) Bruno Premiani. I have read only a couple issues of the original Doom Patrol, and I need to remedy that, because it was a fascinating series. The villain this issue is a guru called Yaramishi Rama Yogi – obviously a take-off of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was famous at the time. He convinces each of the Doom Patrol members to turn evil by playing on their particular obsessions, and although each of them manages to break his control, he does succeed in convincing Madame Rouge to return to the Brotherhood of Evil. It’s too bad that this series ended two issues later, because Arnold Drake’s writing is very witty and fun, and Premiani’s art is exciting. Bruno Premiani himself was a fascinating character; he was really named Giordano Bruno Premiani, like the philosopher, and he had to flee both Italy and Argentina after falling afoul of Mussolini and Perón respectively.

JONESY #6 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) Sam Humphries, (A) Caitlin Rose Boyle. I forgot to read this when it came out. This issue is the conclusion of the Stuff two-parter. Stuff tries to guilt Jonesy into wearing the Tomato Girl costume on stage, but to her credit, Jonesy realizes that Stuff is being emotionally manipulative, and she abandons her crush on him. It’s a touching piece of work, and this issue is probably where the series got really good.

INVINCIBLE #37 (Image, 2006) – untitled, (W) Robert Kirkman, (A) Ryan Ottley. Mark defeats the mad scientist D.A. Sinclair and saves his victims, but unknown to Mark, Cecil Stedman recruits Sinclair instead of punishing him for his crimes. Of course I knew this was coming because I already read the issue where Mark discovers Cecil’s treachery. Also in this issue, Mark gets jealous of Amber for having another guy in her room, and is reprimanded by his dean for missing 80% of his classes. One cool thing about Invincible is that Mark was unable to balance his superhero career with college and a girlfriend; at one point in this issue, he realizes that he has “way too much crap going on.”

CEREBUS #120 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1989) – “Jaka’s Story, Book Two: The Poet,” (W/A) Dave Sim. Another comic that doesn’t make sense out of context. This issue focuses on a presumably new character who’s based on Oscar Wilde.

Early December reviews

12-1-16

Well, I didn’t keep my resolution, but my excuse was that I was out of town last Thursday night. Unusually, I only bought two comic books while I was in Minneapolis. I already have more comic books than I can read, and there’s another local mini-convention later this month, and I’m worried about running out of stuff to collect.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #14 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Ryan North, (A) Erica Henderson. An okay conclusion to perhaps my least favorite Squirrel Girl storyline yet. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. But there were lots of good things here – the square-cube law explanation, the line about diversity at the end, the professor (who I assume is a caricature of Ryan himself), and especially Enigmo’s plan to read books about rhetoric and debate before reintegrating himself. As a teacher of rhetoric, I especially appreciate that one.

SLAM! #1 (Boom, 2016) – untitled, (W) Pamela Ribon, (A) Veronica Fish. Yet another excellent debut issue edited by Shannon Waters. This roller derby story is obviously reminiscent of Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, but is drawn in a very different style and is intended for a somewhat older audience. Veronica Fish is quietly becoming a star; her art this issue is full of both emotional subtlety and funny gags. I especially love how the two cats are fighting on the last page. This is Pamela Ribon’s first comic book, other than one issue of Rick and Morty. She’s best known for a viral essay about a book in which Barbie becomes a computer engineer. But she’s clearly quite talented. Both of her protagonists are compelling and likable characters.

PATSY WALKER, A.K.A. HELLCAT #12 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Brittney L. Williams. This is confusing because of the sheer number of characters, but I still liked it a lot better than last issue. I think the best part is the flashback depicting Ian’s abusive relationship with Zoe.

BLACK PANTHER #8 (Marvel, 2016) – “A Nation Under Our Feet, Part 8,” (W) Ta-Nehisi Coates, (A) Chris Sprouse. The big event this issue is that T’Challa travels into some kind of dreamworld to find Shuri. Until now, I didn’t quite understand where Shuri was; I assumed she was just somewhere in Wakanda. The historical story this issue is interesting because it’s based on the epic of Sundiata, although not identical. Mari Djata is another name of Sundiata, the founder of the Mali Empire, and his parents Sologon and Maghan Kanate are named after Sundiata’s parents, Sogolon and Naré Maghann Konaté. Sogolon’s story is not identical to the epic of Sundiata, since it emphasizes her more than on her son, but is clearly based on that work. I think Coates’s goal, here and elsewhere in the series, is to turn Wakanda’s history into a sort of pan-African myth. Wakanda’s exact location within Africa is not clear to me, but its history seems to be based on the history of many African countries at once. And this is not because Coates can’t distinguish between one African country and another, but because Wakanda is supposed to stand for Africa in general.

SPELL ON WHEELS #2 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Kate Leth, (A) Megan Levens. I didn’t like this very much, though maybe I was tired when I read it. Nothing in this issue excited me, and I can’t tell the characters apart.

THE BACKSTAGERS #4 (Boom!, 2016) – untitled, (W) James Tynion IV, (A) Rian Sygh. I just had dinner with my old friend Michael Abramson, who designs theatrical lighting for a living, and I should have mentioned this comic to him, but I forgot. This issue is a sweet and funny conclusion to the story about Sasha getting lost backstage. Sasha is the Backstagers version of Ripley from Lumberjanes; he shares Ripley’s improbably small size and lack of emotional restraint. In the scene with the bridge, all the lines of dialogue in white text are quotations from plays or musicals, though I had to look most of them up.

DOCTOR STRANGE #14 (Marvel, 2016) – “Blood in the Aether, Chapter Three: A Gut Full of Hell,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Chris Bachalo. This is one of the grosser comics I’ve read lately – it almost reminds me of Gilbert Hernandez’s Blubber or some of Michael DeForge’s work. It’s all about Satana trying to corrupt Dr. Strange’s soul by making him eat hell bacon, which eventually comes to life. I can’t say I enjoyed this issue, but Jason and Chris must have had a fun time creating it.

BETTY & VERONICA #2 (Archie, 2016) – “War,” (W/A) Adam Hughes. It’s been three months since the last issue. Adam Hughes must not be able to maintain a monthly schedule. Still, this comic was worth the wait; it’s not only well-drawn, but also well-written, which surprises me because I didn’t know Adam could write. He has a reputation as a cheesecake artist, but he’s also a very effective storyteller. The coloring in this issue is strangely muted and washed-out.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #1 (DC, 2016) – “Part One: Going Underground,” (W) Gerard Way & Jon Rivera, (A) Michael Avon Oeming. An impressive debut issue starring a recently widowed Cave Carson and his college-age daughter. The best thing about this comic is Michael Avon Oeming’s dynamic and moody storytelling. I haven’t read any of his comics since Powers, and I wasn’t all that impressed with that comic, but his art here is excellent. The appearance of Wild Dog in the end is a surprise.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE TEMPLE OF OD #3 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brian Clevinger, (A) Scott Wegener. I did not enjoy the first two issues of this miniseries, but I liked this one a lot more, though not necessarily because there was anything different about it. I think the story is just making more sense to me. One thing I love about this series is the vaguely plausible yet ridiculous scientific theories, like Dr. Lu’s explanation of hyperfields in this issue.

CAVE CARSON HAS A CYBERNETIC EYE #2 (DC, 2016) – “Headaches,” same creators as above. Another well-drawn and well-written issue. All these Young Animal comics (with the possible exception of Mother Panic, which I have not read) are very odd, but this one has probably the clearest storytelling. Doom Patrol, by contrast, is almost impenetrable. I also like how all these titles – again, except maybe Mother Panic – are postmodern takes on classic Silver Age characters. That was also how Vertigo got started, with titles like Sandman, Animal Man and Black Orchid.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE TEMPLE OF OD #4 (IDW, 2016) – as above. The bandit dudes were just annoying at first, but now they’re starting to grow on me, with their almost Scrooge-esque desire for money. “Yeah yeah howdy okay” is a funny line. At one point someone asks if Robo speaks Manchu, but I believe that that language was already almost extinct by World War II.

HERO FOR HIRE #15 (Marvel, 1973) – “Retribution, Part II,” (W/A) Billy Graham, (W) Tony Isabella. This comic is almost as chock-full of text as if Don McGregor had written it, but at least the prose is less bad, and the plot is clear and exciting. However, the main story only takes up half the issue because Billy Graham was unable to meet his deadline. The rest of the issue is a reprint of a Golden Age Sub-Mariner story by Bill Everett. This is an odd choice, but at least it’s a well-drawn and exciting story. The plot is that Namor’s evil cousin Byrrah tricks the emperor of Atlantis into starting a war with the surface world.

INCREDIBLE HULK #166 (Marvel, 1973) – “The Destroyer from the Dynamo!”, (W) Steve Englehart, (A) Herb Trimpe. A good issue from the greatest era of this series prior to Peter David’s arrival. Looking for Dr. Strange, the Hulk instead teams up with Hawkeye against Zzzax, who makes his first appearance this issue. A subplot involves an army officer who insists on smoking his pipe, even though the enemy might see the smoke, because his pipe is his trademark.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #2 (Marvel, 1972) – “And Spidey Makes Four!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Ross Andru. A very basic but exciting team-up story. After Johnny Storm tries and fails to make friends with Spider-Man, the Wizard kidnaps Spidey and brainwashes him into becoming the fourth member of the Frightful Four. Then they try to drain power from the Negative Zone for some reason, but they end up attracting the attention of Annihilus, and Johnny has to snap Spidey out of his mind control so he can save the day. Ross Andru’s art is excellent.

WORLD OF KRYPTON #3 (DC, 1979) – “The Last Days of Krypton,” (W) Paul Kupperberg, (A) Howard Chaykin. This is the last issue of a miniseries. The storytelling in this comic is extremely compressed, to the point where it reads like a plot summary. This may have been inevitable; Paul Kupperberg’s task in this comic was to take a vast number of often contradictory facts about Krypton from lots of old Superman comics, and integrate them into a coherent story. It’s almost the same thing that Don Rosa did in the Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, except that Kupperberg is a worse writer. It’s odd that Superbaby is nowhere to be seen in this issue until the very end. Howard Chaykin’s art in this issue is barely recognizable, perhaps because of Frank Chiaramonte’s mediocre inking.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #579 (DC, 2000) – “Pranked!”, (W) J.M. DeMatteis, (A) Mike McKone. This is just a bad Superman comic, and not just because it’s drawn by Mike McKone, whose art has always rubbed me the wrong way. At bottom, this is a formulaic Superman-versus-Prankster story, but it has way too many themes and subplots, and as a result it lacks any clear focus.

LADY KILLER II #3 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Joëlle Jones. In my review of the previous issue, I wrote that if you’ve read one issue of this comic, you’ve read them all. In fact that is no longer true, because this issue has a genuinely exciting and surprising plot. It turns out that Josie’s new assistant Irving is in fact a Nazi war criminal, and during the war, Mother Schüler tried to capture him and failed. Also, on the last page, we learn that Irving has kidnapped Josie’s husband’s boorish boss. I’m truly excited to see where this goes. I also like how with this issue, Mother Schüler ceases to be just a generic shrewish mother-in-law and becomes an actual character.

ETHER #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W) Matt Kindt, (A) David Rubín. This comic, by an all-star team, is perhaps the most exciting of Dark Horse’s recent debut series. It’s a somewhat formulaic mystery story, but it takes place in a magical otherworld. David Rubín’s depiction of that world is amazing. Highlights include the snail taxi and the giant gorilla dude. His visual storytelling is just as brilliant. He has an impressive ability to lay out a page in an interesting way. I’m glad that he’s achieving success in America after already becoming an acclaimed artist in Spain; I think such connections between American and European comics are a very positive development. I look forward to seeing where this series goes.

SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS #1 (DC, 1976) – “Attend – or Die!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Pablo Marcos. This is fun, though not great. Gerry spends most of the issue introducing the various villains, including Captain Cold, Copperhead, Gorilla Grodd, Star Sapphire, etc. Their unique and often conflicting personalities help make this comic interesting, though it’s no Suicide Squad.

GHOST RIDER #27 (Marvel, 1977) – “At the Mercy of the Manticore!”, (W) Jim Shooter, (A) Don Perlin. I’ve never collected this series heavily because it strikes me as rather boring. After reading this issue, I have not changed my mind on that. It does guest-star Hawkeye and Two-Gun Kid, but their team-up with Ghost Rider is devoid of any real excitement.

THE FICTION #2 (Boom!, 2015) – “Chapter II: Memoria,” (W) Curt Pires, (A) David Rubín. I ordered this entire series from DCBS, but the first issue was so underwhelming that I never bothered to read the other three. I was motivated to go back and read it because after reading Ether #1, I wanted to read some more David Rubín. His artwork this issue is up to his usual high standard. It’s a pity that such excellent artwork was wasted on such a mediocre story. Other than one insightful conversation about police racism, the story contains nothing of any interest. The characters are flat stereotypes, and the plot is predictable and trite.

PAST AWAYS #7 (Dark Horse, 2015) – untitled, (W) Matt Kindt, (A) Scott Kolins. Another fun issue of a series I really ought to finish reading. This issue develops the plot significantly by revealing that Herb is responsible for everything, though I don’t quite understand why or how.

THE THRILLING ADVENTURE HOUR PRESENTS BEYOND BELIEF #2 (Image, 2015) – “Some Things Under the Bed Are Dueling,” (W) Ben Acker & Ben Blacker, (A) Phil Hester. I forgot I even had this issue. It’s a bit confusing, but it’s a fun and cute story about a little girl and her imaginary friend, which turns out to have its own imaginary friend.

THE FICTION #3 (Boom!, 2015) – “Chapter III: Where the Sky Hangs or Four Years Gone,” (W) Curt Pires, (A) David Rubín. Another example of good artwork wasted on an awful story. At one point this issue, one of the protagonists (I can’t even remember their names) realizes that if they can get into the fictional world by reading, they can also change it by writing. Curt Pires seems to think this is an original idea; I wonder if he’s read Promethea. Also, he has a high-school-level knowledge of literature and he thinks it makes him an expert. He namechecks Lewis Carroll and Calvino and Borges, but it’s clear that he knows little about these writers besides their names.

THE FICTION #4 (Boom!, 2015) – “Neverending or Until We Can’t (Let’s Go),” creators as above. A predictable, formulaic conclusion, with art that is far better than the story deserves.

THE SPIRIT: THE NEW ADVENTURES #3 (Kitchen Sink, 1998) – “Last Night I Dreamed of Dr. Cobra,” (W) Alan Moore, (A) Daniel Torres; and “Ellen’s Stalker,” (W) Mark Kneece, (A) Bo Hampton. This series lasted less than a year, perhaps because Kitchen Sink was going out of business at the time, but it was an affectionate tribute to The Spirit, with high production values and a phenomenal lineup of talent. The first story this issue was a rarity, an Alan Moore story I hadn’t read. It takes place in the far future, when the Spirit has become a poorly understood myth, and is structured around a tour guide’s description of the ruins of Central City. A fascinating concept in this story is “logotechture” – the idea that Eisner’s famous title pages, where the Spirit’s name was spelled out by the shapes of buildings, were literal depictions of Central City’s architecture. In other words, the idea is that Central City was actually full of buildings that looked like the word SPIRIT. The art is by the celebrated Spanish cartoonist Daniel Torres, who, as far as I can tell, only did two stories for American comics besides this one. The backup story is also good, though not nearly at the same level. Bo Hampton’s art reminds me of that of Dave Stevens. Mark Kneece wrote a textbook on writing for comics, but he wrote very few actual comics, and most of them were collaborations with Bo or Scott Hampton.

ARCHIE #579 (Archie, 2007) – “Phone-y Problems,” (W) Angelo DeCesare, (A) Stan Goldberg, and other stories. After reading the new Archie comics, it’s a shock to go back to an old Archie comic with a much less sophisticated style of writing. In the cover story this issue, Mr. Weatherbee bans cell phones from Riverdale High. This plan backfires because the parents are worried about not being able to contact their children in an emergency, and the story ends there after just six pages. All the other stories in the issue are similarly lacking in substance.

I received my next shipment of comics on Monday, November 28. I was out of town on Friday when they arrived.

LUMBERJANES #32 (Boom!, 2016) – “Cut Loose,” (W) Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, (A) Carey Pietsch. Same title as last issue, oddly enough. I read this on the way to work Monday morning. The games at the start of the issue are fun, but the emotional highlight of the issue, and the entire storyline, is Molly’s confrontation of Zeus. She tells him: “Can’t you see that the way you’re treating your daughter is hurting her? … You can’t force her to live your life according to everything YOU want! That’s not what parents are supposed to do!” In saying this, Molly is talking not only to Zeus but also to her own parents. It’s an amazing moment – it’s Molly’s finest hour – and it’s also an impressive feat of storytelling, because it simultaneously resolves both the main plot and the subplot. After that, the final defeat of the cockatrices is almost an anticlimax. I didn’t like this story quite as much as the previous one, but it was still an excellent story, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

CHEW #60 (Image, 2016) – “Sour Grapes, Part 5,” (W) John Layman, (A) Rob Guillory. At last, the conclusion. This story is set “many, many years later” when the aliens are finally coming to earth. It begins with a cluttered and barely readable montage where an elderly Tony bites off his fingernail and remembers everything that’s happened in the series. Then we watch Olive and Peter Pilaf have some adventures, and then the aliens finally arrive, and just as I predicted, they turn out to be chickens. That part of the conclusion was obvious, because why else would they be so pissed at people who ate chicken? What I did not expect was the final page, where Tony avenges Amelia and Colby by stabbing the head alien to death with a chocolate knife – and that’s the end of the series. It ends on a cliffhanger, with Tony having doomed the human race to certain destruction. Somehow that seems like a perfect ending for this series. Overall, while I sometimes got bored with Chew, it was a fun, well-crafted and original comic, and it broke new ground for the industry by helping to create a market for fun comic books that aren’t about superheroes. I congratulate Layman and Guillory, and I wonder what they’ll do next.

SNOTGIRL #4 (Image, 2016) – “04. Now Everything’s Embarrassing,” (W) Bryan Lee O’Malley, (A) Leslie Hung. This is still a confusing comic and I’m not sure what it’s trying to do. It doesn’t fit clearly into any genre. But it’s fun, and it’s finally starting to feel like a Bryan Lee O’Malley comic. I love the panel where Snotgirl is self-conscious about whether she’s taking enough medication.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS #21 (IDW, 2016) – “Enter the Stingers, Part Three,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Meredith McClaren. I still dislike Meredith McClaren’s artwork, and it’s negatively affecting my enjoyment of this comic. But this story is getting fun. Riot is the worst villain in the series yet, and Fox is also despicable. I like how Kimber and Stormer are now being referred to as Stimber. The scene with Raya and her father is cute, and the dialogue even sounds like Spanish translated literally into English.

WONDER WOMAN #11 (DC, 2016) – “The Lies, Conclusion,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Liam Sharp. This is confusing and it doesn’t feel like the conclusion to a story. Diana has a vision of a bizarre fake version of Themyscira, then she snaps out of it, and meanwhile Etta encounters Rucka’s fake villain Veronica Cale. Despite being confused as to what’s going on, I enjoyed this issue a lot. I think Rucka’s second Wonder Woman run is just as thrilling as his first, and I think that based on his entire body of work on the character, he’s probably the second greatest Wonder Woman writer after George Pérez.

USAGI YOJIMBO #159 (Dark Horse, 2016) – “The Hatamoto’s Daughter,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. This says “Part 1 of 1” on the cover, but it ends on a cliffhanger. It gets off to a promising start. Usagi encounters a terrified little girl, Yuki, whose father has just been killed. With Inspector Ishida’s help, he has to solve the murder while also keeping her safe. One of Usagi’s most endearing character traits is that he’s really good with kids, and in this issue, he needs to use all his patience and compassion to help a severely traumatized child. Perhaps the best moment in the issue is when a villain claims to be Usagi’s uncle and asks her to go with him. Usagi asks Yuki if she knows the man, and when it becomes clear that he doesn’t, Usagi prepares to defend her by force. I hope that if I were in Usagi’s place, I would do exactly the same. Unfortunately, the rest of the issue peters out a bit as the focus shifts from Yuki to the investigation of her dad’s murder, and the ending is inconclusive. This issue should have been labeled as part 1 of 2, at least.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #13 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Smartest There Is! Part One: Marvel Now or Never!”, (W) Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder, (A) Natacha Bustos, with a sequence by Leonard Kirk. My biggest problem with this series, and I don’t know why I haven’t noticed it before, is that the writing is sometimes incoherent. Luna’s train of thought and her motivations are very hard to follow. Again, maybe this is because she’s nine years old and she doesn’t understand herself very well. But it sometimes feels like Brandon and Amy have lost control of the plot. What I did like about this issue is Lunella’s realization that smashing stuff is not always the best solution. Lunella’s parents show up in this issue for the first time in a while. It’s odd that they’ve had such a limited role in this series. Considering Lunella’s age, her parents should be a much bigger presence in her life, unless they’re neglectful, and I don’t think we’re supposed to infer that.

DETECTIVE COMICS #391 (DC, 1969) – “The Gal Most Likely to Be – Batman’s Widow!”, (W) Frank Robbins, (A) Bob Brown. An exciting story by perhaps the most underrated Batman writer. Reading this, I wondered if Frank had ever written romance comics, because this story is a hybrid of a romance comic and a crime comic. Tim Clark loves Ginny Jenkins, but she’s dating a mobster who’s extorting money from restaurants, and he dresses up as Batman in order to save her. The villain’s plot seems silly at first glance – he intimidates restaurant owners into buying expensive ads in his food magazine – but it also seems like a plausible thing that might happen in the restaurant industry. The Robin backup story is much less well-written but has some excellent artwork by Gil Kane, and includes some great action sequences.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #157 (DC, 1966) – “The Abominable Brats!”, (W) Edmond Hamilton, (A) Curt Swan. This is an imaginary story starring the Super-Sons. It’s a bizarre piece of work, very different from Bob Haney’s later stories about these characters. Superman Jr and Batman Jr commit all sorts of bizarre, inexplicable pranks, but it turns out they’re actually Mr. Mxyzptlk Jr and Bat-Mite Jr. I accidentally spoiled this ending for myself by looking up this comic on the Internet, and without the element of surprise, the story has little else to recommend it. There’s also a backup story, reprinted from Tales of the Unexpected #1, which takes place in the France of Louis XIV. The twist ending is obvious, and the artist, Howard Purcell, apparently did no research whatsoever and had no idea what Louis XIV looked like.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDS FOREVER #34 (IDW, 2016) – untitled, (W) Thom Zahler, (A) Agnes Garbowska. Pinkie Pie and Cheese Sandwich are kidnapped by an animated house. Refusing to acknowledge the departure (and implied death) of the ponies who lived in it, the house wants people to party in it forever. Pinkie Pie and Cheese Sandwich solve the problem by allowing the house to maintain a perpetual party – like Morrolan’s party in Castle Black, in Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos books – as long as the house lets people leave when they want. This is a fairly fun story, and the flashbacks remind me of the opening scene from Up. But this story has an unfortunate moral. It suggests that instead of acknowledging and grieving your losses, you should try to regain what you lost and keep it forever.

FUTURE QUEST #7 (DC, 2016) – “The Calm,” (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Doc Shaner & Ron Randall. I wish Doc Shaner could draw all of this series; he only did four pages in this issue. This story is a much-needed breather after five issues of nonstop action. It has some fun character moments. I’m still not quite sure what’s going on, though, or who exactly the villain is.

SPIDER-GWEN #14 (Marvel, 2016) – “Cold Turkey,” (W) Jason Latour, (A) Robbi Rodriguez & Chris Visions. I was exhausted when I read this. Gwen’s reconciliation with Aunt May is a really well-written scene. However, the scene with Spider-Woman and her new romantic partner is annoying because of the complete change in art style. I don’t like Chris Visions’s art to begin with, and it’s too much of a stylistic clash with Robbi Rodriguez’s art. Looking back, I see I already complained about this artist in my review of issue 5. I had forgotten that Howard the Duck was President in Spider-Gwen’s America, and I was amused to be reminded. I would much rather have Howard for president, compared to certain other people I could name.