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.

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