Reviews for May and early June

6-6-17

TINTIN VOL. 9 (Little, Brown, 1974, originally 1947) – “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” (W/A) Hergé. To my great embarrassment, I have read less than half of the Tintin albums, and I have some of them that I still haven’t read. I decided to start with this one, which is the first appearance of Captain Haddock. My sense is that this is far from the best Tintin, and some of the things Tintin does in this album, such as swimming underwater until he’s behind the two gunmen, are difficult to believe. Without Captain Haddock as a comic foil, Tintin’s invincibility and his lack of a clear personality are more obvious. Still, Hergé’s mastery of the comics medium is clear in every panel. What especially impresses me is his comic timing; his jokes and pratfalls are just perfect. Like the Blake & Mortimer album I read recently, this album includes a number of splash pages, which are otherwise very rare in French comics published in this format. I assume that in both cases, the splash pages were inserted to fill space that was left over when the originally serialized stories were collected in album format.

BATMAN #285 (DC, 1977) – “The Mystery of Christmas Lost!”, (W) David V. Reed, (A) Romeo Tanghal. A very lackluster story which suffers from the inclusion of Dr. Tzin-Tzin, an offensive Yellow Peril villain.

THE KILLER #9 (Archaia, 2003) – “A Deadly Soul, Part One,” (W) Matz, (A) Luc Jacamon. Each issue of this comic book, about the adventures of a nameless assassin, was originally half of a French-language album. This comic was somewhat critically acclaimed when it came out in America, and was nominated for an Eisner, but I think that by the standards of French comics it’s below average. The coloring is spectacular, but for BD, that’s par for the course. And the story just seems like standard thriller material.

New comics received on June 20:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #20 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Deadliest Animal in the World,” (W) Ryan North, (A) Erica Henderson. In the conclusion to the Melissa Morbeck storyline, Nancy figures out how to defeat Melissa: she shaves Tippy Toe’s fur off, so that Melissa will think Tippy Toe is a rat, allowing her to get close enough to shut down Melissa’s animal-control device. In how many other superhero comics has the villain been defeated by the simple yet horrible act of shaving a squirrel? Also, squirrels without hair are terrifying. Overall, this was a really fun issue.

ASTRO CITY #44 (DC, 2017) – “The Cat Who Walked Through Walls,” (W) Kurt Busiek, (A) Rick Leonardi. The protagonist of this issue is Sunshrike and Nightingale’s cat Kittyhawk, who can fly and walk through walls. There have been several notable recent comics with cat protagonists (e.g. Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #15 and Hero Cats), but it’s still really fun to see a cat story in the Astro City style. This story is inspired by Kurt’s son’s observation that if a cat was a superhero, it would probably be a loner, not a team member, because that’s how cats are. And indeed, Kittyhawk is a very realistic cat. In between demanding pets and being chased by a superpowered dog, Kittyhawk defeats a supervillain so nonchalantly that it seems like an accident.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE 455 (Image, 2017) – “Imperial Phase,” (W) Kieron Gillen, (A) André Araújo. A very brutal and disturbing story in which Lucifer tries to restore the decaying Western Roman Empire, then dies. Unlike the previous TWTD one-shot, this one only shows us one god, since the others are already dead. I didn’t like it as much as the 1831 issue.

KIM REAPER #2 (Oni, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Sarah Graley. A good follow-up to a good first issue. Becka and Kim fail to collect the cat’s soul, they go hang out at an amusement park and a ghost pirate ship, then they go back for the cat’s soul and it turns out the cat’s owner has also died, so Kim collects his soul, which gets her in big trouble because she’s only licensed to collect animal souls. So yeah, lots of fun stuff. The curious thing about this series is that it seems to be more about Becka than about Kim, the nominal title character.

COADY AND THE CREEPIES #3 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Liz Prince, (A) Amanda Kirk. The two bands finally get to the House of 1000 Couches for the concert, and lots of weird stuff happens that I’m not going to summarize. I don’t know why exactly, but this was my favorite issue yet. It seems like the creators are finding their groove, and this comic is both very funny and has a strong social conscience. The highlight of the issue is the scene where it turns out that the House of 1000 Couches is inaccessible, so they move the concert outside. And that leads to the following exchange between one of the protagonists and one of the villains: “Why does your idea of fun hinge on the exclusion of others?” “Because it just does!” My other favorite moment of the issue is the scene where everyone leaves the basement except for a guy who seems to be some kind of vampire.

ELEANOR AND THE EGRET #2 (AfterShock, 2017) – “Burglaries and Birdfeed,” (W) John Layman, (A) Sam Kieth. Like the first issue, this issue combines beautiful and bizarre artwork with an equally bizarre story. John Layman and Sam Kieth are a surprisingly good fit for each other. In this issue it becomes clear that for some reason, Eleanor is stealing paintings by one particular artist so that her egret can eat them. I’m curious to find out why she’s doing this.

THE MIGHTY THOR #19 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Asgard/Shi’ar War, Part Five,” (W) Jason Aaron, (A) Russell Dauterman & Valerio Schiti. A strong conclusion to one of this title’s better storylines. The good guys win, of course, and Quentin Quire and the Phoenix become the Shi’ar’s new god. And then there’s a feast, which Volstagg sadly does not get to attend. Also, it turns out I was right: the Ultimate Judgment really is the Mangog.

ANIMOSITY #7 (AfterShock, 2017) – “Feeding Time,” (W) Marguerite Bennett, (A) Rafael De Latorre. This is an okay conclusion to the lammergeier story, but I think I’m getting a bit bored with Marguerite Bennett’s writing. I also think this series hasn’t done enough with its premise. The animals feel too much like humans in animal bodies.

FRESH OFF THE BOAT PRESENTS: LEGION OF DOPE-ITUDE FEATURING LAZY BOY FCBD EDITION (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) Gene Luen Yang, (A) Jorge Corona. That’s really the title listed in the indicia. This story is framed as a comic book created by one of the kids from the Fresh Off the Boat TV show, which I have not seen. As a superhero parody it’s not terrible, but it’s not anything more than that. I was kind of hoping that this comic would explore issues of Asian-American identity, in the same way that the TV show does, and it really doesn’t do so in any significant way that I could detect. Maybe that was an unfair expectation.

BUG! THE ADVENTURES OF FORAGER #1 (DC, 2017) – “Bughouse Crazy: Domino Effect, Part 1,” (W) Lee Allred, (A) Mike Allred. This comic begins in media res and does not clearly explain what is going on, and it’s also confusing and bizarre in lots of other ways. Despite that, I really enjoyed it. This comic is extremely Kirbyesque, not just because it stars Forager and guest-stars the ‘70s Sandman, but also because it confronts the reader with one weird concept after another without pausing for breath. It made me nostalgic for ‘70s Kirby, in a good way.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #3 (Marvel, 1972) – “The Power to Purge!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) Ross Andru. This is the third appearance of Morbius, following Amazing Spider-Man #101 and #102. Morbius became a hero in later years, but in this issue he’s the villain; the listed co-star is the Human Torch. This comic is nothing spectacular, but it is a well-plotted and exciting and well-drawn superhero story.

MACHINE MAN #3 (Marvel, 1978) – “Ten-For, the Mean Machine,” (W/A) Jack Kirby. I read this because I was feeling nostalgic for Kirby, as explained above. This is a minor work from Kirby’s declining years, but it’s still Kirby, and it has some very nice action sequences and splash pages. The spaceship at the upper right of page three looks a lot like Quislet.

KILL OR BE KILLED #3 (Image, 2016) – untitled, (W) Ed Brubaker, (A) Sean Phillips. I haven’t read very much of this creative team’s work. I read the first volume of Fatale and did not like it, and my sense is that Brubaker and Phillips’s comics are all noir fiction, which is one of my least favorite genres. But I liked this issue more than I expected to. The premise of this series is not explained in this issue, but I guess the idea is that the protagonist is condemned to an early death, but earns an extra year of life for each person he kills. What impressed me about this comic was the protagonist’s psychological torment. It’s clear that whatever is happening to him, it’s driving him nuts, and he feels ashamed of what he’s doing, but not ashamed enough to stop.

CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT #1 (Marvel/Icon, 2011) – untitled, (W) Ed Brubaker, (A) Sean Phillips. This was even better. This self-contained story is an obvious parody of Archie. The protagonist, based on Archie, is living in the big city and is unhappily married to the character based on Veronica. On a trip back to his hometown, he gets the idea of fixing his awful life by murdering his wife. A cute touch is that all the flashback pages are drawn in an Archie-esque style. A second cute touch is that the town next to the Archie character’s hometown is run by Gordie Gold, i.e. Richie Rich. I’d like to read the rest of this series.

INVINCIBLE #19 (Image, 2004) – untitled, (W) Robert Kirkman, (A) Ryan Ottley. An allegedly reformed supervillain, Titan, gets Invincible to help him take down a crime boss, Machine Head. At the end of the issue, it turns out that Titan was just using Invincible to get rid of a rival. Invincible’s behavior this issue is kind of stupid; he blindly accepts the story Titan tells him, without once questioning whether Titan might have ulterior motives. Overall, this is an average issue which is notable mostly for introducing Battle Beast.

SUPER SONS #4 (DC, 2017) – “Son Day, Bloody Son Day!”, (W) Peter J. Tomasi, (A) Jorge Jimenez. Jon and Damian defeat Kid Amazo, or at least they hold him off until the cavalry, i.e. Luthor, arrives. Then they go home where they have to confront their “mothers,” i.e. Lois and Alfred. This comic is not especially deep, but it’s extremely fun.

DETECTIVE COMICS #412 (DC, 1971) – “Legacy of Hate!”, (W) Frank Robbins, (A) Bob Brown. The lead story in this issue is a rather clichéd haunted-house mystery. Bruce’s previously unmentioned uncle Lord Elwood Wayne is dying, and to claim a share of his inheritance, Bruce has to spend the night at Lord Elwood’s haunted castle, along with the other potential heirs. Of course someone starts trying to kill the heirs, and Batman has to protect them and solve the mystery. It’s a well-plotted and scary mystery, if somewhat unoriginal. An obvious question that just occurred to me is that if Bruce had a surviving uncle, why didn’t he go to live with his uncle after his parents were killed? The Batgirl backup story is more fun than the lead story, because the villain is a wigmaker who makes wigs that give his celebrity clients lethal migraines.

GIVE ME LIBERTY #1 (Dark Horse, 1990) – “Homes & Gardens,” (W) Frank Miller, (A) Dave Gibbons. I have become very hesitant to read anything by Frank Miller. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this comic is not only free of offensive politics, it’s even somewhat progressive, and it’s extremely well-written and well-drawn. It may even be a classic. In a dystopian future, young Martha Washington grows up in Cabrini-Green, a housing project that’s a literal prison for black people. A kindly Mr. Bergstrom-esque teacher (who, thankfully, is a black man rather than a white savior) teaches her that she’s not worthless, but he is promptly murdered. This drives Martha insane, which in turn allows her to escape Cabrini-Green for a mental asylum, and when she gets out of there, she joins the Pax, a paramilitary commando squad. As this summary indicates, the politics of this comic are much more subtle than the politics of Miller’s later work, and Martha is a truly compelling character. This comic reminds me, in a good way, of American Flagg! or Judge Dredd: America. Also, it’s one of the great artistic achievements of Dave Gibbons’s career. Like Russ Manning or José Luis García López, Gibbons has the ability to draw anything at all and make it look plausible. He also does his own lettering, and he even challenges himself a bit by including things like fake magazine covers. In summary, I liked this comic a lot, and I’m excited to read the rest of the Martha Washington series.

DETECTIVE COMICS #631 (DC, 1991) – “The Golem of Gotham, Part One,” (W) Peter Milligan, (A) Jim Aparo. As the title indicates, this is a Golem story. Even in 1991, before Kavalier & Clay or The Golem’s Mighty Swing, the Golem must already have been a cliché, and this story has a lot in common with every other story about this creature. Its main innovative feature is that the Golem is created to protect recent immigrants from India, not Jews. On the last page we discover that the Golem has “emeth” written on his forehead in English, not Hebrew, which is a blatant mistake, although a necessary one since most readers of this comic can’t read Hebrew.

ACTION COMICS #721 (DC, 1996) – “The Fortune Plague,” (W) David Michelinie, (A) Kieron Dwyer. Everyone in Metropolis suddenly starts to have good luck – sometimes too good (one couple wishes that they had a view of the river, and their apartment building gets up and walks over to the river). Of course it turns out that a certain fifth-dimensional imp is responsible. This issue is insubstantial but funny.

AMERICAN SPLENDOR: WINDFALL #1 (Dark Horse, 1995) – “Flight to Chicago” and other stories, (W) Harvey Pekar, (A) various. In the lead story, Harvey and Joyce get invited to Chicago to give a lecture, but their flight gets cancelled and then delayed. This story has not aged well, since Harvey and Joyce’s travel difficulties are the sort of thing that happens to me seemingly every time I fly. Multi-hour flight delays have become the norm, not the exception. Also, it’s a bit disappointing that the story ends before Harvey and Joyce get to Chicago. The next story, “Windfall Gained,” is a lot better. Harvey goes on a long drive, even though Joyce warns him against it because the weather is terrible, and also Harvey can barely drive because he has severe hip pain and has been putting off surgery. Predictably, Harvey gets in an accident, and you can just feel his embarrassment and his nervousness about having to tell Joyce what happens. This is a classic American Splendor story – a painful, disturbing exploration of everyday life.

MOCKINGBIRD #3 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, (W) Chelsea Cain, (A) Kate Niemczyk. A mutant sixth-grader holds her classmates hostage with her newly acquired powers, and Mockingbird has to diffuse the situation. This comic somehow didn’t make much of an impression on me, since I had to remind myself what it was about. But now that I look at it again, I’m reminded that it’s quite funny and also has strong feminist themes. For example, on the first page, young Bobbi and her mother are at an ERA march. Bobbi asks her mother “Can we get a backhoe so I can find a magical amulet?” and Bobbi’s mother replies “As soon as I get paid as much as your father.” I also like how this comic explores the obvious but frequently ignored connection between mutant powers and puberty.

FATALE #17 (Image, 2013) – untitled, (W) Ed Brubaker, (A) Sean Phillips. I think I bought this when it came out and never read it. I didn’t like it as much as the previous two Brubaker/Phillips comics I read. As previously noted, I read the first collection of Fatale and I can’t remember anything about it, except that it’s about a woman who drives men crazy. And that’s pretty much all that happens in this issue.

FANTASTIC FOUR #162 (Marvel, 1975) – “The Shape of Things to Come!”, (W) Roy Thomas, (A) Rich Buckler. Rich Buckler unfortunately just passed away. In this issue he seems to be imitating the style of George Pérez, which is odd since George hadn’t started drawing the FF yet. This issue’s plot is so complicated that it requires two panels worth of diagrams to explain. In short, there are three versions of Earth, and each Earth is invading one of the other Earths using weapons borrowed from a third Earth. There are some interesting differences between the three Earths – for example, on one of them, Sue is married to Ben – but in general, this story is too confusing for its own good.

THOR #279 (Marvel, 1979) – “A Hammer in Hades!”, (W) Don Glut, (A) Alan Kupperberg. A boring, formulaic fill-in issue, with a framing sequence in which Thor sees Jane Foster with her new boyfriend, Dr. Kincaid. Reading this issue reminded me that Jane married Dr. Kincaid and had a child with him, and neither her ex-husband or her child have even been mentioned in the current Thor series.

ROYAL CITY #3 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Jeff Lemire. It turns out that even the two successful Pike children have serious problems. Tara’s development deal is endangered because her husband is trying to organize a union, and Tara vows to break the union and divorce him. So her very achievements are turning her into a villain. Meanwhile, Patrick’s chronic writer’s block threatens to ruin his career. None of the characters in this comic are very sympathetic, except for Richie’s ghost. They’ve all caused their own problems and they use Richie’s early death as an excuse. And yet somehow I feel sorry for them anyway, maybe because I feel like something similar might happen to me.

REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #2 (IDW, 2017) – “Raid on Marauder Island, Part 2” and “Projekt Millipede, Part 2,” (W) Brian Clevinger, (A) Lo Baker and Wook-Jin Clark. Both stories in this issue are pretty standard Atomic Robo material, but they’re fun anyway. The scenes where the She-Devils interact with the Tongan hostages are the highlight of the issue.

WONDER WOMAN #22 (DC, 2017) – “Godwatch, Part 4,” (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Mirka Andolfo. Veronica Cale wins an auction where the prize is a date with Wonder Woman. They go on the date, but it turns out Veronica was setting up Diana for something or other. This is a well-written issue, and I like the art a lot, but it suffers from the same flaw as most of this current Wonder Woman run: it’s more about Veronica than Diana. It feels as though Greg is much more interested in the former character than the latter. Also, this story shows us Wonder Woman’s character not directly, but through Veronica’s perspective. And I think Greg does that a lot; he spends more time on Diana’s supporting cast than on Diana herself. It’s as if Wonder Woman is a black box, a character who can’t be known directly but only through her effects on others. George Pérez also used this sort of characterization sometimes, like in the classic “Time Passages” story, but not nearly as often as Greg does. Ultimately, the trouble with Wonder Woman throughout her history is that her writers have usually failed to give us sufficient insight into her character, and Greg Rucka has not solved that problem.

ACTION COMICS #427 (DC, 1973) – “The Man Who Never Lived!”, (W) Cary Bates, (A) Curt Swan. The main story in this issue is just insultingly stupid. In the 21st century, a telepathic man known only as 5607 is mind-controlled by criminals and is forced to assassinate a government official. Just before doing so, he uses his powers to project his mind into the body of his 20th-century ancestor. In the past, 5607 manipulates Superman into preventing his own (i.e. 5607’s) ancestors from meeting, ensuring that he will never be born and his victim will be saved. Do you see the problem here? Instead of erasing himself from history, why couldn’t 5607 have gotten Superman to come back into the future with him and defeat the criminals who have enslaved him? Wouldn’t that have been a much more fair solution? We’re supposed to believe that 5607 heroically sacrificed himself, but he actually died because either he was an idiot or he had a death wish. The backup, an Atom story by Elliot S! Maggin and Dick Dillin, is okay but not great. It does make the intriguing suggestion that Ray Palmer is more interested in being a scientist than a superhero.

SKY DOLL #2 (Marvel, 2008) – “Aqua,” (W/A) Alessandro Barbucci, (W) Barbara Canepa. This was part of a short-lived partnership between Marvel and the European publisher Soleil, which publishes commercial SF and fantasy comics. Each issue of this series represents an entire French-language album. This comic has a bizarre and convoluted plot that I’m not going to even try to explain, and it’s certainly not one of the better recent European comics, or even one of the better recent European SF comics. Still, it’s a competent and fun and well-drawn piece of work. I especially like all the signage that appears everywhere, which must have been tough to translate. Also, the coloring, which was done by Canepa, is brilliant. For an average comic, this is a really good average comic (see Kim Thompson’s 1999 essay “A Modest Proposal: More Crap is What We Need” for an exploration of this idea). It’s too bad that this comic and Marvel’s other Soleil comics were not more popular. Marvel probably didn’t want to promote this line of comics too heavily because then they would be competing with themselves.

DETECTIVE COMICS #612 (DC, 1990) – “Cats,” (W) Alan Grant, (A) Norm Breyfogle. This is a comic about cats, so obviously it’s good. The plot is that Catwoman is blamed for some deaths which were caused by big cats. In order to clear her name, she proves that an escaped tiger owned by Cat-Man was responsible. Half the fun of this issue is all the cat puns. Batman fights the tiger on the roof of a building labeled “Hottin Roofing,” so it’s a cat on a Hottin roof. A subplot involves two men who are using a delivery van to kidnap stray cats in order to sell them to research labs. The van is marked “Schrodinger Delivery,” and one of the men mentions that the van belongs to his uncle Ernie, i.e. Erwin Schrödinger.

New comics received on May 26:

LUMBERJANES #38 (Boom!, 2017) – “Let’s Be Prank” (part 2), (W) Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, (A) Ayme Sotuyo. Another excellent issue. It was so good that I was sorry when it ended. The scavenger hunt begins, but someone has edited the list to add a bunch of bizarre items, like a mermaid’s scale, a lock of yeti hair, bear tracks, bear fur, and a bear. Also, the campers are being attacked by animals. I still think that the two mystery raccoons are Bubbles’s parents and that they’re somehow responsible for the mischief. Oh, and at the end of the issue, Ripley’s abuela turns into a fox. Just like last issue, this issue derives a lot of its excitement from the interaction between the Lumberjanes and their parents.

RAT QUEENS VOL. 2 #3 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Kurtis Wiebe, (A) Owen Gieni. A good but somewhat average issue. I think the best moments were the dwarf song and the centaur that turned out to be two people. The backup story was better than last issue’s backup story, but not spectacular.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #19 (Marvel, 2017) – “Girl-Moon, Part 1 of 5: Synchronous,” (W) Brandon Montclare, (A) Natacha Bustos. Moon Girl meets Girl Moon, i.e. the moon of Ego the Living Planet. The big reveal – that Girl Moon is a literal moon – is spoiled by the cover, and anyway it’s the same reveal as in “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize.” But that’s a minor point. Moon Girl and Girl Moon’s interactions are fun, and I love the Doombot in Lunella’s lab.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #54 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, (W) Rob Anderson, (A) Jay Fosgitt. This episode takes place during the season 7 episode “Fluttershy Leans In.” I think it’s the first MLP comic that’s been synchronized so closely with the current season. Rob Anderson must have seen the script or at least a summary of the episode long before it aired. The issue is also a quasi-sequel to MLP: FIM #23, and like that issue, it uses visual word balloons to depict the pets’ dialogue. The plot is that while Fluttershy is building the animal sanctuary, Angel Bunny and the Cutie Mark Crusaders have to keep the animals under control. It’s a pretty hilarious story, and it’s a great use of Jay’s talents.

DEPT. H #14 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Matt Kindt. Jerome sacrifices himself so the rest of the crew can reach the surface, and also tells us his story. It turns out Jerome is a brilliant scientist, but also has either autism or social anxiety disorder, making him nearly unable to communicate. And he doesn’t care about anything but science, so he’s been committing war crimes. In particular, he’s been developing pathogens and vaccines for use in biological warfare, which has been going on behind the scenes for the entire series. At the end of the issue, Jerome gets eaten by some kind of undersea Sarlacc Pit. This issue is valuable because it gives us some understanding of what’s been happening on the surface while we’ve been underwater.

I AM GROOT #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Forgotten Door, Part 1,” (W) Christopher Hastings, (A) Flaviano. I’m not a huge fan of Christopher Hastings’s writing, and I much prefer big Groot to baby Groot. Still, it’s hard to write a bad Groot comic, and this comic is pretty good. The robot dog thing is pretty cool.

GIVE ME LIBERTY #2 (Dark Horse, 1990) – “Travel & Entertainment,” (W) Frank Miller, (A) Dave Gibbons. Martha Washington continues her mercenary career and acquires a sidekick, the deformed psychic Raggyann. Meanwhile, her archenemy Moretti slowly takes control of the U.S. government. This is another brilliantly written and drawn issue. The gay racist mafia is a rather disturbing idea, but at least it’s handled more tastefully than I’d have expected from Frank, and the Native Americans who play a major role in the plot are depicted in a reasonably non-stereotypical way.

OMAC #7 (DC, 1975) – “The Ocean Stealers!”, (W/A) Jack Kirby. Much better than the previous Kirby comic I read. The villain this issue, Dr. Skuba, has a plot to steal all the world’s water by compressing it into tiny blocks. This results in a funny scene in which Omac finds a mysterious block in the middle of a dry lakebed, and the block turns out to be so heavy he can’t lift it. Dr. Skuba’s plot is kind of similar to that one Calvin & Hobbes strip where the aliens steal all the earth’s air, though I assume that’s just a coincidence. As usual for Kirby, this issue has some amazing splash pages and action sequences, and the water-obsessed Dr. Skuba is a funny villain.

THOR #223 (Marvel, 1974) – “Hellfire Across the World!”, (W) Gerry Conway, (A) John Buscema. Like most Thor comics from the ‘70s, this issue has good art but a boring and formulaic story, in which Thor and Hercules rescue a girl from Pluto. The two notable moments are when Hercules complains about Asgard’s architecture, and when a bystander compares the experience of seeing Thor and Hercules to the experience of seeing Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

GRAYSON #2 (DC, 2014) – “Gut Feelings,” (W) Tim Seeley, (A) Mikel Janin. I liked the art in this comic, but the story made no sense, even though it hasn’t been that long since I read #1. I do like how this comic depicts Dick in an explicitly sexualized way; it’s good that DC is acknowledging the sexual instincts of their female and gay readers.

IMAGE FIRSTS: THE FADE OUT #1 (Image, 2014) – “The Wild Party,” (W) Ed Brubaker, (A) Sean Phillips. Yet another Brubaker/Phillips comic. This one is a Hollywood murder mystery. One day in 1948, a screenwriter wakes up next to the corpse of an “up-and-coming starlet.” The studio tries to pass off her death as a suicide, but clearly something more disturbing is going on. This comic shows evidence of effective research into ‘40s Hollywood. I especially like the director who appears to be a refugee from Europe. I’m interested in reading the rest of this story.

GROO: FRAY OF THE GODS #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, (W/A) Sergio Aragonés, (W) Mark Evanier. Groo visits a kingdom where the local tyrant has declared himself a god and outlawed all other religions. He goes about fixing this situation. The gods in this issue look very familiar, and I think they appeared in a previous story from the later issues of the Epic series, but I can’t remember much about that story. A cute piece of continuity is that the Minstrel appears in this issue and is accompanied by Kayli.

BATMAN #669 (DC, 2007) – “The Dark Knight Must Die!”, (W) Grant Morrison, (A) J.H. Williams III. This is part of a longer story about the group formerly known as the Batmen of All Nations. I had great difficulty figuring out who all the characters in this story were, or even how many of them there were. This issue could really have used a recap page, although even that wouldn’t have helped much. However, this issue does have spectacular J.H. Williams art.

PLANETARY #3 (WildStorm, 1999) – “Dead Gunfighters,” (W) Warren Ellis, (A) John Cassaday. This issue is a pastiche of Hong Kong action films, specifically the work of John Woo. It’s an exciting and well-executed genre parody, meaning it’s a typical issue of this series.

WONDER WOMAN #37 (DC, 2009) – “Warkiller, Part 2: Of Two Minds,” (W) Gail Simone, (A) Bernard Chang. This is a pretty average issue of a good Wonder Woman run. The one thing about it that really stuck out to me was that I groaned when Donna Troy showed up. I used to love this character, and I more or less still do. But she’s been so thoroughly ruined by bad writing and bad continuity, it’s hard to see how she fits into either the DC universe or Wonder Woman’s life. I can’t quite believe that Diana and Donna are friends when most of post-Crisis continuity has depicted them as having no relationship whatever. Also, there’s one panel where Diana tells Donna that “I loved Terry and the kids.” Donna and Terry only had one kid. Was Gail thinking of Terry’s daughter from his first marriage? If so, when did Diana ever meet her?

HEART THROBS #1 (Oni, 2016) – untitled, (W) Chris Sebela, (A) Robert Wilson IV. I had dinner with Chris Sebela once, but this is the first of his comics I’ve read. I didn’t know what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised at how good this issue was. It’s about a woman who gets a heart transplant and starts seeing visions of the man who donated her heart. He was a bank robber, and since she has access to his skills and memories, she becomes a criminal too. I love this comic’s premise – it’s farfetched and yet plausible. And the execution is quite good. I ordered the most recent issue of this series from DCBS.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #4 (Dark Horse, 1987) – Concrete: “The Gray Embrace,” (W/A) Paul Chadwick, plus other stories. The Concrete story this issue is weird, cute and funny. Concrete is all by himself on the beach, and for some reason he goes underwater and starts stealing people’s surfboards, as well as fighting a shark. He also feels sad that no one thinks he’s handsome, and embarrassed that he cares. The other interesting story in this issue is the first chapter of Ron Randall’s Trekker. This comic is not particularly well-written or original, but Randall’s art is interesting. It’s somewhere between Joe Kubert and Tim Truman, which is appropriate since Randall and Truman are both Kubert School alumni.

OUR FIGHTING FORCES #156 (DC, 1975) – “Good-Bye Broadway… Hello Death!”, (W/A) Jack Kirby. This is perhaps my least favorite ‘70s Kirby title; it seems like such a poor fit for his talents. This issue doesn’t change my mind about this series, although it does have some nice art, and it has some scenes taking place on Broadway, which I assume were drawn from memory.

BLACK PANTHER: WORLD OF WAKANDA #2 (Marvel, 2017) – “Dawn of the Midnight Angels, Part 2,” (W) Roxane Gay, (A) Alitha Martinez. I was motivated to read some Black Panther comics because I was simultaneously reading André Carrington’s book on black science fiction. I’m sorry to say this comic is not much good. I guess the plot is potentially interesting, and the representation of queer black women is progressive, but the dialogue is extremely trite and unoriginal. It’s clear that Roxane Gay has no previous experience writing fiction.

BLACK PANTHER #9 (Marvel, 2016) – “A Nation Under Our Feet, Part 9,” (W) Ta-Nehisi Coates, (A) Brian Stelfreeze. This, however, was much better. I stopped reading this series for a while, but reading this issue reminded me that this series is really very good, despite the flaws that Osvaldo Oyola pointed out in his LARB review. Looking at that review again, I see that Osvaldo’s major complaint was the series’ poor pacing and lack of structure, which is a real problem. Its greatest strength is the clarity and subtlety with which Coates thinks about serious questions – principally, what a nation is and what it means to be a king. This issue is mostly about the internal divides between the various anti-royalist factions, and Coates clearly lays out what’s at stake for each party and why the issues are so difficult.

UNCANNY X-MEN #198 (Marvel, 1985) – “Lifedeath: From the Heart of Darkness,” (W) Chris Claremont, (A) Barry Windsor-Smith. I know this story very well, but this is the first time I’ve read it in its original form, not that there’s much difference between that and the X-Men Classic version. André Carrington discusses this story at great length in his book. I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable with this story. It’s a story about Africa by two white dudes, and on previous readings, I felt like it was about multiple topics that didn’t quite come together. On rereading, I do think this story is more well-structured than I realized. The story is about the copresence of the old and the new, which we see in 1) Storm’s transformation, 2) Africa’s emergence from colonialism, and 3) the baby’s birth just as Mjnari dies. Claremont’s captions actually do make it clear that that’s the point of the story, but Claremont is such a notorious overwriter that I usually don’t pay much attention to his captions.

GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #5 (Marvel, 1975) – “Fear Times Three,” (W) Steve Gerber, (A) Ed Hannigan, with multiple inset sequences and a backup story. In this final issue of the most obscenely titled comic ever, the main feature is a series of three sequences framed as visions that are shown to Ted Sallis and his wife by a fortuneteller. These three sequences are of widely varying quality. The first one, a bizarre horror story by Gerber and Tom Sutton, is by far the best. The second is a Romeo-and-Juliet story by Len Wein and John Buscema, which is not bad but has an unnecessarily tragic ending. The third story, by Marv Wolfman and Ed Hannigan, is very bad. This issue also includes one of the first Howard the Duck stories, in which Howard battles the Hellcow.

THOR #412 (Marvel, 1989) – “Introducing… the New Warriors!”, (W) Tom DeFalco, (A) Ron Frenz. Since I started writing these reviews, this is the only Thor comic I’ve read that was published between 1983 and 2010. There’s a reason for that: I’ve read all the Walt Simonson issues, and between Simonson and Jason Aaron, Thor was usually quite bad. In particular, Tom DeFalco spent seven years writing lifeless, formulaic Thor stories like this one. As the title indicates, this issue introduces the New Warriors, but DeFalco writes them as generic superheroes, barely distinguishable from each other and having little in common with Fabian Nicieza’s versions of the same characters.

CRIMINAL #3 (Marvel/Icon, 2006) – untitled, (W) Ed Brubaker, (A) Sean Phillips. This issue has no connection to the previous Criminal comic I read. It’s about two lovers who are on the run for some reason. It’s okay but not spectacular.

New comics received on June 2:

SAGA #43 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Brian K. Vaughan, (A) Fiona Staples. I expected there would be something shocking on the first page of this issue, but I didn’t expect it would be a giant sign saying WELCOME TO ABORTION TOWN. This story arc is about Alana’s quest to have her dead baby aborted, so it’s one of the darker Saga stories so far. The highlight of the issue is Hazel and Petrichor’s conversation about Hazel’s fears about her body.

SEX CRIMINALS #19 (Image, 2017) – “Down with the Thickness,” (W) Matt Fraction, (A) Chip Zdarsky. Another rather dark story. Jon and Suzie are having their worst relationship problems yet, in the middle of having to deal with Kegelface and the other characters with sex powers. The most interesting moment of the issue is the panel where Jon’s therapist* is giving a long speech, and some really weird things are going on in the background – it appears that the restaurant is being attacked by terrorists or something. But we can’t see what’s happening because the artwork in the panel is obscured by the therapist’s word balloons. I think maybe Matt and Chip did this intentionally as a satire on writers who are too wordy.

* I can’t remember this character’s name, and Google is not helping.

WONDER WOMAN ANNUAL #1 (DC, 2017) – “And Then There Were Three…”, (W) Greg Rucka, (A) Nicola Scott. Very disappointing. The first story this issue, about Batman and Superman’s first meeting with Wonder Woman, is entertaining. However, it’s much more of a Batman and Superman story than a Wonder Woman story. See my complaint, above, about how Greg’s Wonder Woman is less about WW herself than about the people around her. The second and third stories in this issue are awful fill-in material, though at least the third one has some good art. The fourth one, in which Wonder Woman encounters a friendly kaiju, is probably the best thing in the issue, but it’s still not that good.

HEROINES #1 (Space Goat, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Ted Naifeh. I didn’t know what to expect from Ted’s first attempt at a superhero comic, but I really like it. The highlight of the issue is the black female superhero, who has an unusual but very realistic and progressive approach: she doesn’t bother to persecute criminals, just to help their victims. The other characters are also fairly intteresting, though the male superheroes are a bit strawmannish. I think that most Marvel and DC superhero comics have gotten beyond that sort of blatant sexism; the sexism that continues to exist in the genre is more subtle. But overall, this is a fun comic, I like it much better than Night’s Dominion, and I look forward to future issues.

MONSTRESS #12 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Marjorie Liu, (A) Sana Takeda. Maika escapes the Blood Fox, and her new quest is to find her father, who appears in shadow in the final panel. This is a pretty good issue. After #11, the reader was left with a very negative impression of Maika’s mother Moriko. But this issue presents Moriko in a very different light, suggestiong that she did what she did for her daughter’s benefit.

HULK #6 (Marvel, 2017) – “Deconstructed, Part Six,” (W) Mariko Tamaki, (A) Nico Leon. This is a strong conclusion to the story arc, though this story should have ended two issues sooner. In her battle with Maise Brewn’s pet monster, Jen realizes that the monster is made of Maise’s fear, which is the same sort of fear that Jen has been suffering since Bruce’s death. So the point of this story is that trauma is about fear – when you’ve been traumatized, you’re afraid to start living normally again. Despite being overly decompressed, this story is another example of the subtlety and power of Mariko Tamaki’s writing.

BLACK PANTHER #10 (Marvel, 2017) – “A Nation Under Our Feet, Part 10,” as above. Another good issue, though I have little to say about it that I didn’t already say about issue 10. A cool moment in this issue is when T’Challa and Changamire discuss Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom, which is a real book, though I haven’t read it.

BLACK PANTHER #11 (Marvel, 2017) – “A Nation Under Our Feet, Part 11,” as above. T’Challa defeats Tetu’s army with the aid of ghosts of dead Wakandans. I don’t quite understand what happened here, but I want to go back and read some more old Black Panther comics so I can understand this series better. The last page, in which a room full of black women gather to discuss Wakanda’s future, is a powerful moment.

THE FLINTSTONES #11 (DC, 2017) – “The Neighborhood Association,” (W) Mark Russell, (A) Steve Pugh. Some hipsters move into Bedrock and immediately start gentrifying. Meanwhile, Gazoo has to stop his fellow aliens from destroying Earth, which he does by nominating Dino as a representative of Earth’s people. This issue is a hilarious satire of hipster gentrification, and the Gazoo subplot is also funny.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #12 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W/A) Skottie Young. In a parody of the samurai genre, Gert rescues a baby from some samurai mushrooms and returns it to its mother. Gert’s attempt to do a good deed does not end well, as the baby’s mother promptly eats it. Oh well.

INVINCIBLE #134 (Image, 2017) – untitled, (W) Robert Kirkman, (A) Ryan Ottley. Another bad issue of a series that’s completely jumped the shark.

BLACK PANTHER #12 (Marvel, 2017) – “A Nation Under Our Feet, Part 12,” as above. This issue consists entirely of conversations, but they’re interesting and well-written conversations that effectively wrap up the story and prepare for the next one. I wonder if Ta-Nehisi has ever tried writing drama, because this issue feels kind of like a play.

THE BACKSTAGERS #8 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, (W) James Tynion IV, (A) Rian Sygh. The conclusion to the series is heartwarming, and effectively ties together all the threads from the first eight issues. This wasn’t my favorite Boom! Box title, but it was groundbreaking in that it specifically targeted an audience of gay boys. I can’t think of a single other comic that aimed at that audience, but hopefully there will be others in the future.

AMERICAN SPLENDOR: UNSUNG HERO #2 (Dark Horse, 2002) – “Robert McNeill, Part 2,” (W) Harvey Pekar, (A) David Collier. This American Splendor miniseries is unusual in that it’s not about Harvey. It’s a narrative told by Robert McNeill, Harvey’s coworker, about his Vietnam War experiences, and Harvey only appears in it as the interviewer to whom Robert tells his story. Robert’s narrative is a fascinating depiction of the Vietnam War from a black veteran’s perspective. It explores issues of race and warfare and masculinity. The centerpiece of the issue is a scene where Robert correctly predicts that the Viet Cong are about to attack, but no one believes him. David Collier’s lettering is sometimes hard to read, but his art is very compelling and is a good fit for Harvey’s style of writing.

BLACK PANTHER #13 (Marvel, 2017) – “Avengers of the New World, Part 1,” (W) Ta-Nehisi Coates, (A) Wilfredo Torres. I don’t like Wilfredo Torres’s art nearly as much as I like Brian Stelfreeze’s art. (Speaking of art, there’s one panel that depicts Storm’s stint as a tribal goddess, and I think this panel was reprinted from Giant-Size X-Men #1.) The theme of this new story is that the Wakandan people are losing faith in their gods, and meanwhile Wakanda is being invaded by lizard people. So if the previous story was about the complicated issue of nationality, this new story is about the equally complicated issue of religion.

FUTURIANS #3 (Lodestone, 1985) – “Web of Horror!”, (W/A) Dave Cockrum. I read this because the reprinted panel in Black Panther #13 made me nostalgic for Cockrum’s art. The art in this issue is Cockrum at his best; it reminds me a lot of his X-Men story with the Acanti starships. Dave was an underrated writer, as the Nightcrawler miniseries demonstrated, and the writing in this issue is not bad, though there are a ton of characters and most of their names are not mentioned. A weird moment in this issue is that there’s a footnote referencing “Hammerhand #43,” a comic that doesn’t exist.

BLACK PANTHER #14 (Marvel, 2017) – “Avengers of the New World, Part 2,” (W) Ta-Nehisi Coates, (A) Wilfredo Torres & Jacen Burrows. I don’t have much to say about this issue that I haven’t already said. Doctor Faustus’s portrayal in this issue seems slightly out of character.

AMERICAN SPLENDOR: UNSUNG HERO #3 (Dark Horse, 2002) – “Robert McNeill, Part 3,” as above. See the review of #2 above. This concludes the story, depicting how McNeill leaves Vietnam and gets home safely.

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