Reviews for first half of March

3-10-17

HAWKEYE #2 (Marvel, 2013) – “Vagabond Code,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) David Aja. A brilliant issue of the best Marvel comic of the decade, though not as good as some of the later issues. The plot is that Clint and Kate stop the Circus of Crime from robbing a bunch of other criminals; the Tracksuits and the people fom the apartment building do not appear. One fun moment is the scene where a bunch of villains, like the Owl and Tombstone and Madame Masque, are introduced and are instantly recognizable despite not being named.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #141 (DC, 1971) – “Will the Real Don Rickles Panic?!?”, (W/A) Jack Kirby. Don Rickles may be the only person involved with the creation of this issue who’s still alive. This issue has the famous slogan “Don’t Ask! Just Buy It!” on the cover, which suggests, correctly, that this comic makes little rational sense but is worth reading anyway. It has a convoluted plot in which Morgan Edge tries to kill Jimmy and Goody Rickels (note the different spelling) with “pyro-granulate,” while the Guardian has to fight Intergang troops to find the antidote. Meanwhile, there’s a separate subplot where Clark Kent encounters Lightray. And for some reason the real Don Rickles shows up at the Galaxy TV offices and everyone lines up to be insulted by him. This may have been one of Kirby’s funnier comics; it combines humor and superheroic action effectively, and it never seems like it’s trying too hard to be funny.

KING: PRINCE VALIANT #3 (Dynamite, 2015) – untitled, (W) Nate Cosby & Ben McCool, (A) Ron Salas. I bought this during a period when I was ordering an excessive number of comics from DCBS (well, even more excessive than now). I read it now because it’s in the same continuity as Flash Gordon: King’s Cross. This comic is not amazing but at least it’s funny. I’ve read lots of comics edited by Nate Cosby, but I think this is the first comic I’ve read that was written by him. His writing style is similar to that of Jeff Parker.

TOWER OF SHADOWS #1 (Marvel, 1969) – “At the Stroke of Midnight!”, (W/A) Jim Steranko, plus other material. The cover story in this issue is the famous “Steranko horror story,” which includes some of his best page layouts. His use of tiny narrow panels reminds me of Krigstein. And of course his draftsmanship is amazing. This story is very poorly written – it’s a bottom-drawer EC knock-off – but you almost don’t notice this because the art is so spectacular. Of the less memorable stories in the issue, “A Time to Die!” has some very good John Buscema art, and “From Beyond the Brink!” is by an actual EC artist, Johnny Craig. It’s kind of odd that the mascot of Tower of Shadows was a gravedigger; one normally associates gravediggers with holes in the ground, not towers in the sky.

TREASURE CHEST #21.10 (Geo. A. Pflaum, 1966) – (W/A) various. This series is an interesting historical curiosity, but was rarely any good. I wonder if anyone has a complete collection of this series; I suspect that assembling such a collection would be extremely difficult and also pointless. The first story in this issue is about the North American Martyrs. Unsurprisingly given its origin (in a comic produced for distribution at Catholic schools), this story lionizes the North American Martyrs and ignores the fact that their martyrdom was part of a bigger history of genocide and colonialism. This issue also includes two adventure stories drawn by Fran Matera and Frank Borth. Neither of these stories is well-written but they’re both entertainingly drawn. The splash page of the Fran Matera story, depicting a giant whirlpool into which a car has fallen, is the high point of the issue.

SHAZAM! #14 (DC, 1974) – “The Evil Return of the Monster Society,” (W) Denny O’Neil, (A) Kurt Schaffenberger, plus reprints. These 100-page giants are annoying to read because, first, they contain a bunch of reprint stories of dubious quality (although in this issue the reprints were better than the new material). Second, they’re perfect-bound, and both the front and back covers have a tendency to come loose. In this particular issue, all the stories are about books in some way. The new story in this issue is drawn by a classic Captain Marvel artist, Kurt Schaffenberger, but the writing is just bad; it tries way too hard to be funny and fails. Of the reprints, easily the best is “Mr. Tawny’s Fight for Fame” by Otto Binder and C.C. Beck, in which Mr. Tawky Tawny gets tired of laboring in obscurity on a scholarly book and tries to win fame some other way. Most of the other reprint stories are way too farfetched and implausible. For example, in “The Word Wrecker!” by Binder and Schaffenberger, King Kull tries to destroy civilization by destroying every book everywhere, and somehow he almost succeeds even though his methods are ludicrous.

New comics received on Tuesday, February 28. They should have arrived on Saturday, February 25, but the FedEx driver arrived before the leasing office was open, so he didn’t even try to deliver the package that day, and I guess FedEx doesn’t do residential deliveries on Mondays. I was not happy about this.

ASTRO CITY #41 (DC, 2017) – “The Sky’s the Limit,” (W) Kurt Busiek, (A) Brent Anderson. For the 100th issue of Astro City, Kurt finally reveals the origin of the Astro-Naut, the city’s namesake. This is not the best Astro City story; it lacks any surprising twist or any new perspective on superhero tropes. It’s just the history of the Astro-Naut, told by his civilian best friend (a Jimmy Olsen analogue since the Astro-Naut gives him a signal device). It is, however, a deeply emotional and honest story. It shows devotion to the Astro-Naut’s ideals of exploration and adventure and courage. It effectively sums up the first twenty years of the greatest superhero comic since Watchmen.

SLAM! #4 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Pamela Ribon, (A) Veronica Fish. I have to think of something more intelligent to say about this comic, because I’m supposed to write about it in an article. Also, I keep forgetting the main characters’ names, so let me write them down here: Jem = Knockout and Maisie = Ithinka Can. Anyway, this issue, the bout between the Pushy Riots and Meteor Fights finally happens. Jem seriously injures Maisie but then takes her to the hospital, potentially healing their rift. The injury scene is a powerful emotional climax to the first four issues. Perhaps the funniest thing in the issue is how Jem’s mother is initially shocked at the idea of roller derby, but then really gets into it.

HULK #3 (Marvel, 2017) – “Deconstructed, Part Three,” (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Nico Leon. The funniest thing this issue is the lizard dude complaining about being made to wear a hairnet, but the best thing this issue is the Patsy Walker scene, which is genuinely touching. And this scene makes it clear that Jen sees Maise Brewn as a surrogate for herself. Other than that, this issue doesn’t advance the plot a whole lot. I do think that Mariko Tamaki’s inexperience with monthly comics is showing, because each of the three issues so far has ended rather abruptly with no cliffhanger.

MONSTRESS #10 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Marjorie Liu, (A) Sana Takeda. Maika, Kippa and Ren make it to the Isle of Bones where, after a bunch of encounters with weird creatures, they encounter a wolf dude who knew Maika’s mother. This was another good issue, but I don’t have much to say about it.

FUTURE QUEST #10 (DC, 2017) – “The Gathering Storm,” (W) Jeff Parker, (A) Ron Randall. Again, this was a fun comic but not significantly different from any previous issue. I really like Gloop and Gleep though. As the title promises, this issue begins to set up for the conclusion to the series. I wish we would get Doc Shaner or Steve Rude on artwork again.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #16 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Smartest There Is! Part Four: Science Fiction,” (W) Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder, (A) Natacha Bustos. I think Moon Girl may be better written in Unstoppable Wasp than in her own title. But her encounter with Dr. Strange is fun anyway. Tiny Devil Dinosaur is the cutest thing in this entire series so far.

WONDER WOMAN #17 (DC, 2017) – “The Truth, Part Two,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Liam Sharp. Diana has a conversation with a snake, then apparently becomes sane again. Ferdinand saves Steve and Etta from being killed by Veronica’s troops. An average issue.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #51 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) James Asmus, (A) Tony Fleecs. James Asmus’s debut issue introduces a new character named Shadow Lock who can steal magic from books. I forget whether I’ve read anything by this writer before, but he shows a solid understanding of the characters. As you can see, I don’t have much to say about this week’s comics, and I’m trying to get through them quickly before I go to bed.

JUGHEAD #13 (Archie, 2017) – “The Reggies,” (W) Ryan North, (A) Derek Charm. The Reggies’ first performance is not only terrible, it becomes a worldwide viral sensation. This is another charming and cute story, and it almost makes me feel sympathy for the worst Archie character, Reggie. (Well, I guess Hiram Lodge is worse.)

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – NORTH AND SOUTH #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – “North and South, Part One,” (W) Gene Luen Yang, (A) Gurihiru. These miniseries are starting to become formulaic. The formula is that Team Avatar arrives in a new location that’s embroiled in a political conflict resulting from the Fire Nation war. Things get steadily worse until open battle breaks out, but then the kids resolve everything. It’s an effective formula, though, and these comics are so enjoyable that their repetitiveness is not a fatal flaw. I just wish they were published in a format that was easier to store.* Anyway, this time around, Sokka and Katara go home to the South Pole, where some entrepreneurs from the Northern Water Tribe are trying to modernize the tribe’s lifestyle, but a bunch of traditionalists want to keep things the way they were. Also, Hakoda is having an affair with one of the entrepreneurs. Aang does not appear in this volume.

* As a footnote to that, I just now discovered that almost all my other Avatar volumes are missing. I must have left them behind somehow when I moved. And if so, the reason is because they weren’t stored on my bookshelves or in my comic book boxes. They occupy this weird niche where they’re too small to store in longboxes, but there are so many of them that I don’t want to put them all on a bookshelf. And as a result they get lost. This format was a terrible idea.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #112 (DC, 1974) – “The Impossible Escape,” (W) Bob Haney, (A) Jim Aparo, plus reprints. Another 100-pager. The new story has some brilliant artwork, but only an average plot. It’s a Batman/Mr. Miracle team-up in which they battle an alien who’s posing as the Egyptian pharaoh Atun. The reprinted stories in the issue are worse. The best of the three is an Aquaman/Hawkman team-up in which the villain is a bizarre-looking giant flying frog. The Silent Knight story is insultingly stupid – it includes a scene where the protagonist engages in a swordfight in full armor, underwater. The Batman/Green Lantern story suffers because the villain, the Time Commander, has such ill-defined powers that he seems to be able to do anything at all.

GREAT LAKES AVENGERS #5 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Zac Gorman, (A) Will Robson. This issue’s cover is a funny tribute to Incredible Hulk #345, with Big Bertha replacing the Hulk. I don’t remember much about the story, but at least it has a funny and sarcastic sense of humor, which is the main reason I’m buying this series.

SPIDER-GWEN #17 (Marvel, 2017) – “Sittin’ in a Tree, Part 4,” (W) Jason Latour, (A) Robbi Rodriguez. Yet another crossover issue that doesn’t make sense on its own. I’m not ready to drop this series yet, but if I ever do stop reading it, the excessive amount of crossovers will be the reason why. At least this issue includes a cameo appearance by Ms. Marvel.

I have lots more comics to review, but I’ll stop here for now.

3-14-17

Starting again the following day. New comics received on March 3:

RAT QUEENS #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kurtis Wiebe, (A) Owen Gieni. There’s something of a cloud surrounding this issue. Some of this comic’s original fans have abandoned it because of the questionable circumstances surrounding Tess Fowler’s firing, and also because of the possibility that Roc Upchurch may be benefitting financially from it. I personally am okay with supporting this comic, but I see why other people might not be. Also, this issue was confusing to me because it doesn’t fit with the series’ continuity. Hannah is suddenly back with the team again despite having quit at the end of the previous volume, and there’s no explanation of how the team got back to Palisade. I guess this was deliberate, because this issue is a soft reboot that ignores some of the continuity from the last series. I just wish we’d been told this explicitly.

If we set all of that aside, this was probably the best issue of Rat Queens since #6. With this issue, the series regains the momentum that it lost as a result of the constant delays and creative changes. It’s fun, happy and irreverent, just like Rat Queens should be. The Cat Kings are just what you’d expect from a gender-swapped version of the Rat Queens, and I especially love the little mushroom dude. Overall, this issue makes me optimistic about the future of this series, as long as Kurtis can maintain this level of quality. Also, I want to hear more about this sex cult that Betty’s mother belongs to.

PAPER GIRLS #12 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Cliff Chiang. As usual, I enjoyed this issue, but I still have no idea what this series is about or how I would summarize it. This issue, we learn that the cavegirl teen mom is some sort of reverse Virgin Mary – she has to steal stuff from three evil wise men – and Kaje gets her first period.

GOLDIE VANCE #10 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Hope Larson & Jackie Ball, (A) Noah Hayes. Another fun issue. Goldie joins Sugar Maple’s pit crew, then discovers that another driver, Lazlo, sabotaged his own car to lose on purpose, but there’s also a second unknown person trying to sabotage Sugar Maple’s car. I do think this comic has suffered from the lack of Brittney Williams artwork.

AMERICA #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “Pa’ Fuera, Pa’ la Calle,” (W) Gabby Rivera, (A) Joe Quinones. I really wanted to love this comic, but I have problems with it. Gabby Rivera’s heart is in the right place, she writes with great passion, and I obviously agree with her politics. However, she also clearly lacks experience writing comics. She puts too much text in each panel, and her text often fails to read smoothly as dialogue. She makes her political points with a total lack of subtlety. Also, this comic has pacing problems. As Ray Goldfield pointed out on Facebook, the Sotomayor University scene comes out of nowhere and is not well integrated with the first half of the issue. I’m going to keep supporting this comic for now, but I hope it gets better.

BRAVE CHEF BRIANNA #1 (Boom!, 2017) – “Welcome to Monster City,” (W) Sam Sykes, (A) Selina Espiritu. This comic was also a bit disappointing, but not as much as America, and its ambitions are lower. I love the premise of this comic: the protagonist is the youngest child and only girl in a family of chefs, and she has to set up her own restaurant, but the only place where she can afford the real estate is Monster City. And the creators do a good job of conveying Brianna’s complex emotions and her weird family dynamics. This series obviously reminds me of Space Battle Lunchtime, but Brianna is a much deeper character than Peony. My disappointment is mostly because I feel like Monster City could have been even weirder and more monstrous, although we’ve only seen a little piece of it so far.

DEADFACE: EARTH, WATER, AIR, AND FIRE #2 (Dark Horse, 1992) – “Veil of Tears,” (W/A) Eddie Campbell. As a preamble to many of the reviews that follow, I decided to add homemade dividers to my comic collection (using Jason Gibson’s instructions at http://www.jasonlgibson.com/2014/04/how-to-make-cheap-homemade-comic-dividers/). Filing comics was getting really annoying because it was hard to figured out where anything was, and I thought dividers would help. Adding dividers also made it possible to alphabetize my comics according to creator or publisher instead of by title. For example, I now have a divider that’s labeled CAMPBELL, EDDIE, which is alphabetized under C, and behind that divider are Bacchus, Deadface, The Dance of Lifey Death, Graffiti Kitchen, etc. Anyway, this reorganization effort also made me feel motivated to read some of my old unread comics, so as to be able to file them in my new categories.

This particular issue is from a miniseries published by Dark Horse prior to the launch of the ongoing Bacchus series. It takes place in Sicily, where Bacchus and Joe Theseus get enlisted on opposite sides of a mob war. It’s a fun comic and its story is much easier to follow compared to some of Eddie’s later work.

MY LITTLE PONY ANNUAL 2017 (IDW, 2017) – “Guardians of Harmony,” (W/A) various. This issue includes vignettes by all the regular pony artists, all of them arranged around the theme of a changeling invasion. So either this story takes place before “To Where and Back Again,” or the evil changelings in this issue are a new brood that Queen Chrysalis created after the original changelings stopped being evil. As usual, the strongest work in this issue is by Jeremy Whitley, Andy Price and Jay Fosgitt, but all the stories are reasonably good, and they come together at the end in a satisfying way. My only problem with this issue is the very abrupt ending.

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER – NORTH AND SOUTH #2 (Dark Horse, 2017) – as above. Aang and Toph arrive for the big South Pole carnival, which becomes the scene of a massive terrorist attack by the traditionalist faction. And it turns out that the entrepreneurs from the North Pole really are trying to extract the South Pole’s resources. Despite the issue of repetitiveness that I raised earlier, this is a fun comic and I look forward to part three.

UNSTOPPABLE WASP #3 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeremy Whitley, (A) Elsa Charretier. As noted above, I think Lunella Lafayette is written better in this comic than in her own title. Another fun part of this series is that Nadia and Jarvis are excellent foils for each other. I especially love the “new phone who dis” bit. Lashayla Smith is yet another awesome new character, who again represents a type of character (a black female geek) that is very rarely seen in any kind of media. The last scene in this issue is also extremely well written, but much less happy. Nadia seems to have made Priya’s life worse, not better, with her intervention. The moment just before Nadia walks in, when Priya’s “friends” are committing one racist microaggression after another, is powerful because it’s so realistic.

HAWKEYE #4 (Marvel, 2017) – “Bye, Bye, Katie,” (W) Kelly Thompson, (A) Leonardo Romero. This mostly concludes the first storyline. It’s not a surprising conclusion, but it is quite well-written and well-drawn. I love that Kate literally saves the day with the power of love and anti-fascism.

DESCENDER #19 (Image, 2017) – “Orbital Mechanics 3 of 5,” (W) Jeff Lemire, (A) Dustin Nguyen. Driller admits to having caused Andy’s mother’s death, then jumps out of the ship. Meanwhile, lots of other stuff happens. This was a fun issue but had nothing comparable to the shocking cliffhanger from #18.

THE OLD GUARD #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Leandro Fernandez. This new Greg Rucka series is about a group of immortal soldiers. This issue’s story is reasonably interesting, but I wish Greg would keep working on Black Magick instead of starting another new series – although I guess Nicola Scott is otherwise occupied at the moment. Anyway, the real value of this comic is in Leandro Fernandez’s artwork. I liked Leandro’s art in Queen & Country, but the artwork here is on another level. Leandro’s new style resembles that of his countryman Eduardo Risso, but also has its own unique elements, and Leandro’s action sequences may be better than Eduardo Risso’s. Also, the coloring in this issue is amazing. If Leandro Fernandez keeps up this level of artistic quality, he will be an Eisner candidate.

GIANT DAYS #24 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) John Allison, (A) Max Sarin. For some odd reason I received #24 one week and #23 the next week. This issue, Susan gets horribly sick, and her dad comes to take care of her. And then he stays, because it turns out his wife threw him out. Also, the old guy from next door dies, and Susan worries that it was because she gave him her cold. One cool thing about this series is how it addresses serious topics, like divorce and illness and death, in a humorous way.

KING: MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN #1 (Dynamite, 2015) – untitled, (W) Roger Langridge, (A) Jeremy Treece. Like the Prince Valiant comic reviewed above, this issue is part of the same continuity as Flash Gordon: King’s Cross. At this point in continuity, Earth no longer has modern technology because of something Ming did. Mandrake holds a charity show where he encounters an African magician named Karma, and then they both fight an old enemy of Mandrake’s named Acheron. This was a reasonably fun comic, but not Langridge’s best work, and it doesn’t make me highly excited to read the rest of this miniseries.

MEGATON MAN #2 (Kitchen Sink, 1985) – “Leavings and Beginnings!”, (W/A) Don Simpson. I haven’t read as much Don Simpson as I ought to have. In this issue’s main plot, Megaton Man tries to join the Metropolis Quartet (i.e. the FF). This part of the issue is mostly a silly superhero parody. What is far more interesting is the subplot, in which Stella Starlight (i.e. Sue Richards) leaves the MQ and starts a new life on her own with Pamela Jointly (i.e. Lois Lane). This part of the issue has some fairly deep characterization. The funniest joke in the issue occurs when Megaton Man tries on a new all-black costume, and one of the MQ members addresses the reader and says “Isn’t that an insult to your intelligence?” This issue came out shortly after Spider-Man’s black costume was introduced.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE FLYING SHE-DEVILS OF THE PACIFIC #4 (Red 5, 2012) – untitled, (W) Brian Clevinger, (A) Scott Wegener. At this point in the storyline, Robo has been captured by Imperial Japanese troops who are trying to destroy America with an earthquake bomb. The Flying She-Devils rescue him, setting the stage for an epic confrontation next issue. This is one of the better Atomic Robo miniseries.

THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG #4 (Dark Horse, 2000) – “The First Murder,” (W/A) P. Craig Russell. In his version of Wagner’s Ring, PCR provides a sterling example of how to adapt works from other media into comics form. This issue includes an epilogue in which PCR discusses his philosophy of adaptation and the strategies he uses to avoid making the adaptation an exact copy of the original. For example, he explains how he succeeded in creating a comics equivalent of Wagner’s leitmotifs.

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #36 (Marvel, 2013) – “Battle for the Atom, Part 5,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Giuseppe Camuncoli. I bought this when it came out, but never bothered to read it because it was a crossover issue. As I expected, this issue is impossible to understand outside the context of the Battle for the Atom crossover, and it mostly lacks the humor and characterization that made me a fan of Jason Aaron’s X-Men.

SNARKED! #11 (Boom!, 2012) – “Fit the Eleventh: Smiles and Soap,” (W/A) Roger Langridge. The protagonists encounter the missing Baker, then finally confront the Snark in its cave. The high point of this issue is the Walrus’s struggle with his conscience. Earlier, he told the Bellman that the Baker was still alive, but had been thrown forward in time by the Snark/Boojum. This issue, the Walrus finally gets up the courage to tell the Bellman that this story was a lie, only to discover that it was true. One of the fascinating things about this series is the Walrus’s character arc: he starts out as a heartless criminal, but Scarlet helps him develop a conscience.

SNARKED! #12 (Boom!, 2012) – “Fit the Twelfth: For the Snark Was a Boojum, You See,” as above. Roger Langridge’s masterpiece ends on a somewhat anticlimactic and bittersweet note. The Walrus saves Scarlet from being eaten by the Snark, but at the cost of being transported twenty years into the future. Twenty years later, Scarlet is the queen and Rusty is about to get married, but Scarlet is now convinced that the Walrus never existed and was just her childhood imaginary friend (never mind that a lot of other people saw the Walrus too). Scarlet never sees the Walrus again, though she does receive proof that he exists, and the Walrus and the Carpenter head off for another adventure. Overall, Snarked! may have been the best kids’ comic book of the decade, though it has a lot of competition. Unfortunately there seems to be little possibility of a sequel.

PROPHET: EARTH WAR #2 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Brandon Graham & Simon Roy, (A) Ron Ackins. As usual, this issue makes no sense to me, but it’s strange and evocative and well-drawn. This issue includes a backup story drawn by Aaron Conley from Sabertooth Swordsman.

MORLOCK 2001 #2 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – “Morlock Must Be Destroyed!”, (W) Michael Fleisher, (A) Al Milgrom. This issue is curiously similar to Incredible Hulk #189, which was released just a few months later. In both issues, a monstrous protagonist encounters a little blind girl. However, this issue has a very different conclusion from Hulk #189; it ends with the protagonist killing the girl by accident. So this was a pretty depressing and bleak comic. The story in this issue was never resolved; issue 3 had a new creative team and a new cast of characters, and there was no issue 4.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE FLYING SHE-DEVILS OF THE PACIFIC #3 (Red 5, 2012) – as above. Another good issue, but there weren’t a lot of surprises here, since I had already read issue 4.

SUPERGIRL: BEING SUPER #2 (DC, 2017) – “Chapter Two: Hold On!”, (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Joëlle Jones. This might be the best current DC comic. This issue is just so, so sad. Supergirl shockingly fails to save her friend Jen from an earthquake, and the rest of the issue is devoted to Kara’s attempt to deal with her shattering grief and guilt. Mariko Tamaki depicts Kara’s emotions with amazing power and verisimilitude. Besides Lynda Barry, Mariko Tamaki is probably the best writer of comics about teenage girls, and her understanding of how teen girls think is brilliantly displayed in this issue. Joëlle Jones’s artwork takes a back seat to the writing, but effectively complements it.

FLESH & BONES #4 (Fantagraphics, 1986) – untitled, (W) Jan Strnad, (A) Dennis Fujitake. The final Dalgoda story is a bittersweet but satisfying conclusion to the series. Dal makes it back to Canida and lives happily ever after with his girlfriend, but has to say goodbye to his human friends. This issue also includes a chapter of Alan Moore and Steve Parkhouse’s Bojeffries Saga. This story has an amazing scene where a cop investigates a disturbance in a restaurant and sees that a black man and a werewolf are involved – and he immediately arrests the black man. After reading this story, I felt motivated to read the complete Bojeffries Saga volume, and each of the chapters is even funnier in context.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #6 (Dark Horse, 1986) – “Little Pushes,” (W/A) Paul Chadwick, plus other material. The Concrete story in this issue is the first one I ever read, since it was included in Fantagraphics’s Best Comics of the Decade, Vol. 2 (1990). It’s the one that ends with Concrete doing a cannonball into a swimming pool. This story’s inclusion in that Best Comics volume is justified. It insightfully depicts Concrete’s sense of bewilderment at finding himself at a Hollywood party. And it includes some brilliant moments, like Concrete eating a clock radio, or the line “A man without a you-know-what is so refreshing!” The other interesting story in this issue is a chapter of John Workman’s “Roma.” Workman’s artwork has the same general appearance as his lettering, and it reminds me more of Italian or Spanish than American comics. This story’s plot also has a European influence in that it seems heavily influenced by Barbarella.

PIRATE CORP$ #3 (Slave Labor, 1989) – “All Lost in the Supermarket!”, (W/A) Evan Dorkin. Pirate Corp$, later retitled Hectic Planet, was Evan’s first creator-owned series. It appears to be set in some kind of dystopian future. In this issue, protagonists Halby and Blue visit a giant labyrinthine supermarket and are trapped there for days. The artwork in this issue is so busy and hyperdetailed that it’s often cumbersome, but as usual with Evan, the humor is hilarious and brutal.

SON OF MUTANT WORLD #1 (Fantagor, 1990) – “Son of Mutant World,” (W) Jan Strnad, (A) Richard Corben, plus backup stories. In this issue’s first story, Dimento, the protagonist of the original Mutant World series, is killed, and his daughter Dimentia heads off on her own with her pet bear. Then some hillbillies try to kill and eat the bear, until it saves their lives. The second story, “Targets,” is a tale of adultery and mistaken identity with fatal consequences, written and drawn by Bruce Jones. Finally, “The Small World of Lewis Stillman,” a postapocalyptic story about murderous children, is reprinted from an issue of Alien Worlds. All of these are reasonably good horror stories in the Warren Comics style.

USAGI YOJIMBO #8 (Fantagraphics, 1988) – “A Mother’s Love,” (W/A) Stan Sakai. A tragic story in which Usagi encounters a sweet old lady whose son has grown up to be a brutal monster. This story’s conclusion is so emotionally shattering that it almost feels manipulative; it’s less subtle than some of Stan’s later work. In general, the backup stories in the Fantagraphics Usagi series were awful, but the backup story in this issue is better than most. It’s about Stonehenge and how it’s been ruined by commercialism, and it’s written and drawn by Groo colorist Tom Luth.

HUP #1 (Last Gasp, 1987) – various stories, (W/A) Robert Crumb. The best story in this issue is “My Troubles with Women, Part II,” a brutally honest and gorgeously drawn examination of Crumb’s hang-ups about women. This story displays a lot of misogyny on Crumb’s part, and I think some readers would find it intolerable, but at least Crumb lays his prejudices bare and does not make excuses for them. In other words, Crumb is a disturbing creep, but he knows and admits it, which partially redeems him. This issue includes some other stories, including one where Mr. Natural reappears in Flakey Foont’s life after Flakey had him institutionalized. I really need to read more Crumb; I don’t know his work nearly as well as I should.

HOUSE OF SECRETS #85 (DC, 1970) – various (W/A). The writing in this issue is mostly pretty bad, but some of the art is interesting. “Second Chance” features the unusual combination of Neal Adams inks over Gil Kane pencils. This issue also includes a two-pager by Ralph Reese, drawn in a style indistinguishable from that of Wally Wood, which has some interesting metatextual elements. It includes one panel where a character pulls a word balloon out of a drawer.

THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS #5 (Dark Horse, 2013) – “Waking the Destroya!”, (W) Gerard Way & Shaun Simon, (A) Becky Cloonan. This comic’s story made no sense to me at all, and I was only mildly impressed by the art.

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR #1 (Dark Horse, 1993) – untitled, (W/A) Frank Miller. I’ve never read Sin City before because, for fairly obvious reasons, I have a deep distaste for Frank Miller. I think the most recent Frank Miller comic I’ve read in its entirety is Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, which ended in 1994. So I was surprised that this issue of Sin City was not only readable but even good. It’s full of typical Miller clichés, but the artwork is beautiful and also represents a stylistic departure; every page is drawn in pure black and white, with no grays or screentones or cross-hatching. Maybe Sin City was Miller’s last great work before he went totally nuts. I need to read more of it.

HELLBOY WINTER SPECIAL #2 (Dark Horse, 2017) – various stories, (W) Mike Mignola et al, (A) various. The only really interesting story in this annual is “God Rest Ye Merry,” in which Hellboy battles a crazy Santa Claus and encounters an unnamed character who looks just like the Phantom Stranger. I honestly thought that this story was an unannounced Dark Horse/DC crossover, but it turns out that the Phantom Stranger-esque character is a new Mignolaverse character named the Visitor.

FAITH #9 (Valiant, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jody Houser, (A) Kate Niemczyk & Marguerite Sauvage. One of the best issues of Faith yet. Faith’s company hires a new employee, forcing Faith’s coworkers have to jump through all sorts of hoops to protect her secret identity. Then it turns out the new employee is a spy sent to steal Faith’s secrets, and the coworkers have to save the day. This story ends up as a touching demonstration of Faith’s bond with her friends. I also love the first page, which consists of three parallel sequences showing Faith’s coworkers getting ready for work. Mimi kisses her girlfriend goodbye, Jay kisses his girlfriend goodbye, and then Paige gives a goodbye kiss to an incredibly glum-looking cat.

ROCKET RACCOON #3 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, (W) Matthew Rosenberg, (A) Jorge Coelho. This is already the fourth Rocket Raccoon or Groot “ongoing” series in as many years, and it’s going to end after two more issues (hence why “ongoing” is in quotation marks). I think this is unfortunate, because Matthew Rosenberg’s version of Rocket is one of the best yet. This Rocket Raccoon doesn’t just look like an animal, he acts like one. I love the opening scene where Rocket chews his way out of Kraven’s sack. And then the rest of the issue is an exciting and funny chase sequence.

IT GIRL AND THE ATOMICS #6 (Image, 2013) – “His Space Holiday,” (W) Jamie S. Rich, (A) Chynna Clugston-Flores. This Madman spinoff is not nearly as good as the parent title. Atomics member Mr. Gum offers to help some poor, starving aliens, but it turns out the aliens are evil, so he just leaves, having made the situation worse instead of better. Mr. Gum’s behavior in this issue is boorish and irresponsible, and he doesn’t face any consequences for it. Also, Jamie S. Rich’s writing is underwhelming, although Chynna Clugston-Major is fairly good at drawing aliens.

REVIVAL #47 (Image, 2017) – “This is the End,” (W) Tim Seeley, (A) Mike Norton. A solid conclusion to the series. Em sacrifices her life so that her baby can be born and the revivers’ souls can move on. The Amish ninja lady and General Cale kill each other. The series ends two years later with Lester Majak’s death. There’s also an epilogue that seems to be a hook for a sequel, though I don’t remember who Nithiya is. As this series went on, the thing that initially attracted me to it – the rural Wisconsin setting – became steadily less important, but the plot and characterization were good enough that I stayed with the series to the end, and I’m glad I did. Now I just need to collect the issues I’m missing, so that I can read the whole thing in order.

FLASH GORDON: KING’S CROSS #5 (Dynamite, 2017) – untitled, (W) Jeff Parker, (W/A) Jesse Hamm. The heroes save the day by teleporting Ming and his forces to Mars. So the world is safe for now, but I assume there’s going to be another series set in this universe. Overall, I liked this miniseries a lot. Jeff Parker is one of the best storytellers in the current comics industry, and I wish he would be given some higher-profile assignments.

Stopping here for now.

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