Comics criticism: Basic questions to ask when reading a comic — version for students

The following is a slightly edited version of this blog post. It strips out some of the more technical language and the more specific examples, so as to be more accessible to students.

This is intended as a resource for students or for academics who are new to reading comics critically. It is a list of basic questions one might want to ask when reading a comic book or graphic novel. Most of these questions have to do with the visual or artistic aspect of a comic — what it looks like — rather than the literary or narrative side (storyline, themes, characterization, etc.). I focus on this because teachers and students tend to have a basic understanding of how to analyze the story of a graphic novel; in doing so, you can apply the techniques you learn in high school English classes. But no one really tells you how to analyze a comic book from a visual perspective, and that’s why a guide like this one might be useful.

1. Art style (draftspersonship). In general, what does the artwork look like? What sort of linework does the artist use? How much detail does the artist employ in drawing people and objects — where does the artwork fall on the continuum between minimalist and hyperdetailed? How does the artist depict characters, including their faces and figures? How does the artist draw backgrounds?

2. Visual storytelling – within the panel. In general, how is each panel composed? From what viewpoint are the panels drawn — are there more close-ups, more long shots, etc.? What “camera angles” does the artist use (bird’s eye view, worm’s eye view, etc.)? How are the panels framed — what does the artist choose to include in each panel, and what does s/he choose to leave out? Does the artist use motion lines to indicate that something is moving? Does the artist use emanata to represent abstract concepts, such as by using a light bulb over a character’s head to represent an idea?

3. Visual storytelling – between panels. How are adjacent panels related to each other? How many action sequences are there, and how good is the artist at depicting action? How much closure does the reader have to do — that is, how much work does the reader need to do in order to understand what happens in the gaps between panels?

4. Page layout and composition. How is each page structured? How many panels are there on each page? What size and shape are the panels? How are the panels arranged relative to each other — for example, does the artist use a 2×2 grid, a 4×2 grid, or what? Does each page have the same page layout (as is often the case in American or European comics) or does each page have a different layout (as is often the case in Japanese comics)? What do the panel borders look like — are they solid borders or just single lines? In what order is the page supposed to be read, and how does the panel structure help guide the reader through the page?

5. Lettering. What does the text in the comic look like? What is the style of the letters? Does the comic use hand-lettering or a font? Is the text in ALL UPPER CASE or in mixed case? How does the lettering contribute to the overall visual appearance of the comic — does it try to be as unobtrusive as possible, or is it a major element of the overall “look” of each page? … Are there sound effects, and if so, what do they look like? Are there caption boxes, thought balloons, neither, or both?

6. Color. Is the comic in black and white or in color? If in black and white, how many shades of gray are there? If in color, how many colors? What general mood is created by the colors or shades of grey — is the comic bright and cheery, dark and gloomy, or what? How does the artist use color as a compositional element or as a way of directing the reader’s gaze? If the comic is in color, what coloring technique was used — the traditional four-color process, computer coloring, watercolor, painting, or what?

7. Materiality and paratext. Are you reading the comic in print or digital form? If in digital form, what sort of device are you reading it on, and what application (e.g. ComiXology) are you using? Are you able to view the entire page at once or only parts of it? If you are reading the comic in print form, is it a comic book, a paperback book, a hardcover, or what? Are you reading the comic in the form in which it was originally published? If not, what changes were made in order to adapt the comic to the form in which you are reading it? Does the comic include any paratextual materials, i.e. materials that are not part of the comic itself but are ancillary to it? (Examples: advertisements, letters pages, introductions, afterwords.)

Latest review post

8-10-17

New comics received on July 28:

LUMBERJANES #40 (Boom!, 2017) – “Let’s Be Prank” (conclusion), [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Ayme Sotuyo. A perfect ending to the storyline. The whole fox business is resolved in a satisfying and funny way, and Ripley’s grandmother steals the show as usual. And then we finally meet Molly’s mother, who is just as horrible as we’ve been led to expect. Rosie’s behavior in this scene is exemplary – she realizes right away that Molly does not want to see her mother, and gets rid of her (i.e. Molly’s mother) in a polite but firm way. Molly’s mom is a stark contrast to Mal’s mom, who throughout the current storyline has been acting like a mother to Molly as well, and I wonder if this plot thread will end with Molly going to live with Mal instead of returning home. That’s assuming this series ever does end, because this issue also confirms that the entire camp is in a time bubble.

SAGA #45 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Fiona Staples. For perhaps the first time, I decided to read Lumberjanes before Saga when they both came out on the same day, because I’ve honestly been enjoying Lumberjanes more lately. But I liked this issue more than I was expecting. Maybe because it wasn’t keeping me from reading Lumberjanes. The highlight of this issue is the heartbreaking scene with Hazel and her unborn brother’s ghost. Also, Prince Robot’s return is an exciting “cavalry arrives” moment.

SHIRTLESS BEAR-FIGHTER #2 (Image, 2017) – “Part 2: Enter the Hillbilly Warlock,” [W] Jody Leheup & Sebastian Girner, [A] Nil Vendrell. This is probably the funniest comic book of the year – it’s even funnier than the previous issue. The highlight is the scene where Shirtless visits a bunch of different cities and fights bears, and then on the next page, we see him fighting football players in Chicago, and then fighting bearded men in San Francisco. It’s cool how this joke depends almost entirely on the images. The Hillbilly Warlock is also a very funny character, though in a much less subtle way. And there’s also the following exchange: “I thought pandas only lived in China.” “THEY DO NOW.”

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #21 (Marvel, 2017) – “Girl-Moon, Part 3: There’s No Place Like It,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Natacha Bustos. This is probably the series’ best storyline yet – which is kind of sad because it suggests that Montclare alone is better than Montclare and Reeder. Luna’s meeting with her other-dimensional counterpart, Devil Girl, is funny and cute; predictably, the two Lunas can’t stand each other, but they each realize in the end that the other one isn’t so bad. A running joke throughout the issue is the subtle weirdness of Devil Girl’s world. Everyone wears funny hats in public, and we see a man using a banana as a phone and another man walking an armadillo. And what makes all this weird stuff even funnier is that none of it is mentioned in the dialogue.

MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE PREQUEL #2 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Andy Price. Not as good as last issue. The pirate parrots are cute, but otherwise, this issue just continues last issue’s plot in a predictable way.

FAITH AND THE FUTURE FORCE #1 (Valiant, 2017) – untitled, [W] Jody Houser, [A] Stephen Segovia. This title is a reference to the old Valiant title Rai and the Future Force. A time-traveling scientist and her dinosaur-girl friend recruit Faith to help them save the universe. Faith gets killed, but it’s okay because they’re time travelers, so they recruit Faith again, and this time she brings some friends. This was a fun comic and I especially like Ank the dinosaur girl, but I think the regular Faith series was better. In particular, I miss Marguerite Sauvage’s art.

DEATH RATTLE #13 (Kitchen Sink, 1987) – various stories, [E] Denis Kitchen & Dave Schreiner. The only good story in this issue is another chapter of Jaxon’s Bulto, later collected under the title “Secret of San Saba.” The second story, “Rainmaker” by John Holland and Dave Garcia, is only notable because it was inked by a young Sam Kieth. The third story is an illustrated adaptation of Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” This is not a comic at all, and it’s tedious to read because it includes the entire text of Poe’s story. P.S. Mueller and Bill Hartwig’s “The Voices in My Head” has some creepy Rick Geary-esque art, but no plot to speak of.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #67 (Marvel, 1968) – “To Squash a Spider!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] John Romita. This issue has an amazing cover – it’s the one with the giant Mysterio hands about to squash Spidey. It’s especially striking because unlike almost all ‘60s Marvel covers, it has no captions. This issue’s fight between Spidey and Mysterio is pretty routine, though Jazzy Johnny’s action scenes are brilliant as ever. Otherwise, the most important thing about this issue is that it introduces Randy Robertson.

SUPER POWERS #6 (DC, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Art Baltazar, [A] Franco. A lackluster conclusion to the storyline that began in Superman Family Adventures. The scene where Superman uses Starro to beat Darkseid is pretty cool. But the best thing about Superman Family Adventures was that it took itself semi-seriously at times, and this issue doesn’t do that.

ARCHIE GIANT SERIES #566 (Archie, 1987) – “Land of the Lost” and “Orphans of the Storm,” [W/A] Bob Bolling. Two Christmas-themed Little Archie stories. In the first story, Archie knocks himself unconscious while traveling through a swamp, and wakes up in the cave of Santa’s elves, who repair lost toys. The best thing about this story is the establishing shot of the creepy, gloomy Hockomock Swamps. I’ve said before that one of Bolling’s greatest skills was his depiction of nature. His version of the Riverdale area is comparable to the forest behind Calvin and Hobbes’s house. In the second story, the kids and Mr. Weatherbee go on a field trip during a snow storm, and the kids start bickering with each other, but when the snow forces them to take shelter at a dilapidated orphanage, they realize how fortunate they are. This story is thematically similar to Bolling’s stories with Sue Stringly.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #28 (DC, 1980) – “Warworld!”, [W] Len Wein, [A] Jim Starlin. This is the second appearance of Mongul, and looking at the way he’s drawn in this issue, you can tell how similar he is to Thanos. And Starlin later went on to create this same character a third time, as Papal in Dreadstar. Otherwise, this Superman-Supergirl team-up is pretty formulaic and forgettable. The backup, “Whatever Happened to Johnny Thunder?”, is better than the main story, since it’s a Western story with Gil Kane artwork. It makes the suggestion that Johnny Thunder (John Tane) is an ancestor of Bouncing Boy (Chuck Taine), but this was never mentioned again.

CIRCUIT BREAKER #2 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Kevin McCarthy, [A] Kyle Baker. I should have stopped buying this series after the first issue. The artwork is quite good, but it’s hard to pay attention to the art when the writing is so fatally flawed. The first problem with this series is the incoherent storytelling. I honestly can’t tell who all the characters are or what they’re doing. Even after reading the last four issues in quick succession, I still couldn’t understand the plot. A second problem is that this comic is culturally appropriative, though I’m willing to let that pass, since Kevin McCarthy does seem to have quite deep knowledge of Japanese culture. But that leads to the third problem, which is that McCarthy assumes the reader knows as much about Japan as he himself does. Circuit Breaker is full of, not only unexplained cultural references, but even untranslated Japanese words and phrases. You would have to be an anime and manga expert to get everything in this comic. And if you were an anime and manga expert, why would you read this comic, instead of reading actual manga? That’s a legitimate question because Circuit Breaker is so derivative of anime and manga, it has very little new to offer. Finally, this comic is very self-consciously Japanese, in a way that actual Japanese narratives never are. Anime and manga don’t need to remind you that they’re about Japan, because you know that already, but this comic trumpets its Japanese-ness in every panel, to the point of annoyance. So overall, this series is a waste of Kyle Baker’s talent.

CIRCUIT BREAKER #3 (Image, 2016) – See above.

JONAH HEX: RIDERS OF THE WORM AND SUCH #1 (Vertigo, 1995) – “No Rest for the Wicked and the Good Don’t Need Any,” [W] Joe R. Lansdale, [A] Tim Truman. This miniseries has some brilliant art by Tim Truman, and while the story is needlessly violent and gonzo, that is very much in line with Mike Fleisher’s classic Jonah Hex stories. I certainly want to read the rest of this miniseries and the other one by this team. Johnny and Edgar Winter sued DC because of how they were portrayed in this miniseries, but I don’t think the characters based on them are in this issue.

THE ZAUCER OF ZILK #1 (IDW, 2012) – [W/A] Brendan McCarthy, [W] Al Ewing. Like most of McCarthy’s work, this is tedious, confusing and difficult. But it’s also visually stunning and includes some daring ideas, like the couch potato people with teeth for heads. I feel kind of guilty for liking McCarthy’s work, considering the annoying and offensive stuff he keeps saying on social media.

BATGIRL #2 (DC, 2016) – “Beyond Burnside, Part Two,” [W] Hope Larson, [A] Rafael Albuquerque. I quit reading this series after issue 1, and I’m not sure why, because I like both these creators. My verdict on issue 1 was just that “this comic is less interesting than the previous Batgirl run, and I don’t feel highly motivated to keep reading it.” But this issue is better than that review suggests. Rafael’s art is very good, with a Latin American or Italian sensibility, and the story is reasonably exciting and benefits from Hope Larson’s knowledge of contemporary east Asia. I’ve put this series back on my pull list, which is unusual for me.

BATGIRL #3 (DC, 2016) – “Beyond Burnside, Part Three,” as above. I had some trouble following the plot of these two issues, since it’s been a while since I read issue 1. This issue has Babs running all over South Asia after her new boyfriend Kai. It includes some impressive fight scenes.

BATGIRL #4 (DC, 2016) – “Beyond Burnside, Part Four,” as above. This issue we learn that the McGuffin in the current story is a bacterial drug that raises intelligence, and it’s marketed to Chinese students who are struggling to pass the gaokao, the incredibly cutthroat college entrance exam. The gaokao is an actual thing, and I think it’s fascinating that Hope would include it in a story for a non-Chinese audience. This was the last issue of Batgirl I bought before I quit ordering it, and I was kind of sorry that I didn’t have any more to read.

CIRCUIT BREAKER #4 (Image, 2017) – See above.

CIRCUIT BREAKER #5 (Image, 2017) – See above. At this point the story was starting to make a bit more sense, and it contains some interesting ideas, but the flaws of this comic (as described above) are so severe as to outweigh any value it has.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES/USAGI YOJIMBO (Dark Horse, 2017) – “Namazu or The Big Fish Story,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. This is a Stan Sakai comic, so it’s not bad or anything. But it feels like an average, by-the-numbers Usagi comic, and the Turtles don’t really add much to the story. Also, $7.99 is quite a high price.

KING: MANDRAKE THE MAGICIAN #4 (Dynamite, 2015) – untitled, [W] Roger Langridge, [A] Felipe Cunha. This is an exciting and witty comic, but even Roger Langridge can’t make me care very much about Mandrake. Also, Felipe Cunha’s art is just average.

SPACE CIRCUS #3 (Dark Horse, 2000) – untitled, [W/A] Sergio Aragonés, [W] Mark Evanier. This is not one of Sergio and Mark’s better-known works, and there’s a reason why not. The best thing about this comic is that it gives Sergio a chance to draw a lot of bizarre-looking aliens. Otherwise it’s not all that funny.

GREEN LANTERN #153 (DC, 1982) – “The Secret of the Starcycle!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohn, [A] Joe Staton. Even the script by Mishkin and Cohn, who I like a lot, is not enough to redeem this boring comic. The backup story is even worse because of its implausible premise: it’s about a Green Lantern who’s a complete pacifist and cannot use violence. How did she get to be a Grenen Lantern in the first place then?

JSA #8 (DC, 2000) – “Shadowland,” [W] David Goyer & Geoff Johns, [A] Stephen Sadowski. I think I read this because I took a Sporcle quiz about Green Lanterns, and it reminded me that I used to like Geoff Johns’s Green Lantern. Anyway, this issue the JSA battles an insane Obsidian. This comic is not amazing, but it’s not terrible either; it generates a strong sense of excitement and suspense.

THE HIC & HOC ILLUSTRATED JOURNAL OF HUMOR #1 (Hic & Hoc, 2013) – “Volume One: The United States,” [E] Lauren Barnett & Nathan Bulmer. This anthology comic includes short pieces by a large number of artists, such as Noah Van Sciver, Box Brown, Grant Snider, Julia Wertz and Dustin Harbin. These stories are widely varied in quality, but the best of them are very good, and it’s nice having such a diverse assortment of work in such a convenient package.

THE HIC & HOC ILLUSTRATED JOURNAL OF HUMOR #2 (Hic & Hoc, 2013) – “Volume Two: The U.K. Edition,” [E] Lizz Lunney & Joe List. As the title indicates, this issue focuses on British artists. I was unfamiliar with most of the creators in this issue; the only names I recognized were Luke Pearson and Gary Northfield. As with the previous issue, there was some good work here, but the humor was harder to appreciate because of its British sensibility. This was the final issue of this anthology, although I imagine it was not intended as such.

NUMBER 1 #1 (Retrofit/Big Planet, 2014) – “Kayfabe Quarterly,” [W/A] Box Brown. I bought this directly from Box Brown at TCAF several years ago, but I felt motivated to read it after encountering Box’s work again in Hic & Hoc #1. This issue mostly consists of a long story about pro wrestling. It reminds me of both Joe Keatinge’s Ringside and Adrian Tomine’s hortisculpture story. It’s a very well-done piece of work, and while Box’s artwork is very cubist and minimalist, this is a deliberate stylistic choice. I ought to read more of his work.

DARK CORRIDOR #2 (Image, 2015) – “The Red Circle” and “Seven Deadly Daughters,” [W/A] Rich Tommaso. I read this because Rich Tommaso was in the news, thanks to his public comments about the poor sales of Spy Seal. I bought most of this series when it came out, but only read the first issue – it was a period when I was buying a lot of comics I didn’t read. Having finally read this comic, I think it’s a solid piece of work. I’m not in love with the story, and I can’t quite tell whether this issue’s two stories are self-contained or parts of a serial. But Rich’s design sense and artwork and lettering are amazing. His artwork is powerfully evocative of ‘50s and ‘60s Hollywood, although there are clues that the story takes place in the present day. I’m looking forward to Spy Seal, whose subject matter is more appealing to me.

I HATE FAIRYLAND #14 (Image, 2017) – “Fluff This Maze,” [W/A] Skottie Young. Gert travels through a maze, with the assistance of a bunch of creepy creatures who ask to marry her. And she has to marry the owner of the maze if she can’t complete it in time. This was another pretty good issue; I especially like the page with all the unseen creatures proposing marriage to Gert. The ending, where Gert magically becomes Good Gert, is a surprise.

PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #2 (Marvel, 2017) – “Sister Act!”, [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Adam Kubert. This is a good Spider-Man comic, but it’s not the best. Zdarsky does a brilliant job with Spidey’s witty banter, but his story is hampered by being reliant on some awful old stories. Also, I’d like to see more soap opera and relationship drama.

BUG! THE ADVENTURES OF FORAGER #3 (DC, 2017) – “Atlas Bugged: Domino Effect Part 3,” [W] Lee Allred, [A] Mike Allred. The best thing about this comic is still the way it evokes Kirby’s ‘70s DC comics. This issue reintroduces Atlas, who, I believe, only appeared in one issue of First Issue Special. Bug! still doesn’t have much of a plot, but that’s not the point. I’m not sure how I feel about the Midnight backup by James Harvey.

BLUBBER #2 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – “T.A.C. Man vs. Pollum” and other stories, [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. I didn’t like the first issue of this series, and the second issue isn’t much better. It’s full of body horror and creepy sex, and it’s deeply disturbing, but not at all fun.

SECONDS HELPING (Deluxe, 2015) – “Seconds Helping,” [W/A] Jason Fischer. This is a memoir by Jason Fischer, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s assistant, about how he and Bryan created Seconds. There is some interesting stuff here, but I wish there was less stuff about Jason’s personal life, and more about his creative process and his technique.

NORMALMAN #1 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1984) – “The Panties ‘n Capes Syndrome!”, [W/A] Jim Valentino. Valentino is a fairly well-respected creator, but from this issue, it’s not clear why. It’s just a trite and unfunny superhero parody, and unlike Don Simpson’s contemporaneous work in this genre, it has nothing else to offer besides bad humor.

New comics for August 4:

UNSTOPPABLE WASP #8 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Ro Stein. Jeremy has now confirmed that this title was cancelled because of poor sales, and not because it was only intended to last eight issues. This is a real shame. Unstoppable Wasp was a sweet, heartfelt comic with a powerful feminist message, and its cancellation is a bad sign for the industry in general. Jeremy has lots of other projects underway, but I wish we’d gotten more of Nadia. At least this issue goes out on a high note. This final issue is again narrated by Janet, and the scene where she talks with Nadia about being abused by Hank is probably the highlight. Hank’s abuse of Jan is one of those dark moments that Marvel can never really erase or recover from (like Carol being raped by Marcus, except they’ve swept that under the rug). But no previous writer has done such a good job of integrating that moment into the characters’ history, without apologizing for Hank. Also, Jan and Nadia’s accidental mother-daughter relationship is lovely.

SEX CRIMINALS #20 (Image, 2017) – “Outs,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Chip Zdarsky. The current storyline is the low point of the series so far. It’s hard to follow and it’s depressing, and reading this comic feels difficult. Sex Criminals is still one of the top ten current monthly comics, but it’s slipped lower down that ranking. This issue, Suzie and Jon finally break up, which was inevitable given how awful Jon has been behaving lately, but still very sad.

ROCKET GIRL #8 (Image, 2017) – “Big G Whiz,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Amy Reeder. I’m very glad to see this again, but it’s been over a year and a half since issue 7, and I’ve completely forgotten what happened in that issue. (Not coincidentally, there have been 20 issues of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur since the last issue of Rocket Girl.) This issue is not bad, but it was hard to read because of a severe stapling error, which is something I have rarely if ever encountered before. I was able to finish reading the issue, but have asked for a refund.

MECH CADET YU #1 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa. Like Amadeus Cho, this comic’s protagonist is a teenage Asian boy, but the similarities mostly end there. Yu is a poor janitor who unexpectedly becomes the pilot of an alien super-robot. (Now that I look at the comic again, Yu’s poverty seems like more of a handicap than his race, because the villain, a smug rich girl, also seems to be Asian.) Anyway, this comic has some powerful and emotional moments, but it suffers from an overly compressed story. When I finished it, I was like, is that all?

HAWKEYE #9 (Marvel, 2017) – “A Fearful Face-Off!”, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Leonardo Romero. Kate wins a fight at the underground fight club, sort of, and rescues Mr. Donnelly. This was a pretty good issue, but I was feeling tired and unmotivated when I read it.

GREEN LANTERN #21 (DC, 2007) – “Sinestro Corps, Chapter One: Fear & Loathing,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Ivan Reis. As with all of Geoff Johns’s work, this issue has some mildly innovative ideas in it, but is also bloody and overly violent.

GIANT DAYS #29 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. As a college teacher and a literature major, I found this issue hilarious. Esther is the best student in her Romantic literature course… until Emilia joins the course and turns out to be even better, causing Esther to hate and despise her. Having been in this position a number of times, I know just how she feels – though the issue takes a darker turn when Esther’s professor tries to seduce her. This issue shows that John Allison actually knows something about college and literature: the information about Romantic literature seems to be accurate, and there’s a joke about trigger warnings on the first page.

GRENDEL TALES: DEVILS AND DEATHS #2 (Dark Horse, 1994) – “Devil’s Ways,” [W] Darko Macan, [A] Edvin Biukovic. A powerful and brutal conclusion to this two-parter. The story ends with most of the characters dead, including the blind Grendel leader, who is murdered by his young son. You have to think that this story was influenced by the bloody sectarian violence that was going on in Macan and Biukovic’s country at the time. Biukovic’s European-influenced art is brilliant.

TARGITT #1 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – “Boston Tea Party,” [W] Ric Meyers, [A] Howard Nostrand. This spy comic is so poorly written and implausible, I’m not sure it’s not supposed to be a parody. The hero’s wife and daughter get blown up on the first page, and he barely seems to care. One of the villains says “Do you know what this is? It’s a Combat Magnum .357! One of the most powerful hand guns ever made! It can blow your head clean off” – a blatant plagiarism of Dirty Harry. Those are just the things that stood out to me, but this whole comic is awful, even for an Atlas-Seaboard comic.

IMAGE FIRSTS: THE NIGHTLY NEWS #1 (Image, 2011) – “Chapter 1: I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore,” [W/A] Jonathan Hickman. This comic is about a conspiracy to assassinate journalists, because of fake news. The political message of this comic is kind of naïve. Its main point is that media consolidation is bad and leads to untrustworthy news, which is true, but very obvious. And Hickman gives few if any examples of just how the media lies to us. What does make this comic interesting is the mixed-media art, which is quite unusual, though it’s hampered by too many captions.

FUTURIANS #1 (Lodestone, 1985) – “Aftermath!”, [W/A] Dave Cockrum. This is a little hard to follow because it’s a sequel to a graphic novel. Which I have, and I could have read it first, but I didn’t feel like it. Other than that, this is a pretty good superhero comic, and also has a surprisingly grim tone; it takes place just after most of the large cities in the world have been destroyed, and most of the protagonists have lost family members. But Cockrum is not as gifted a superhero writer as his collaborators such as Claremont or Shooter. His characters are often very similar to various X-Men.

FUTURIANS #2 (Lodestone, 1985) – “The Burrowers Beneath!”, [W/A] Dave Cockrum. See above. One of Cockrum’s talents is his ability to draw horrible monsters, and this issue has some seriously scary ones.

MARVEL ADVENTURES SUPER-HEROES #8 (Marvel, 2011) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Scott Koblish. For some reason the Vision is featured on this issue’s cover even though he barely appears in the issue. Probably this cover was intended for a different issue. This issue, Thor and Nova go on a mission to Asgard where they encounter the Valkyrie. Scott Koblish draws this comic in a very Simonson-esque style, and the story has the same combination of humor, action and grim seriousness that characterized Simonson’s Thor. The three characters are all effective foils for each other. Overall this was a really good issue of an imprint that was never appreciated as much as it should have been.

KING: FLASH GORDON #3 (Dynamite, 2015) – untitled, [W] Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, [A] Lee Ferguson. Not nearly as good as Parker and Shaner’s Flash Gordon, but not bad either, and written with a similar tone. The highlight of this issue is a scene where Dale Arden defeats a giant octopus monster in an arena.

DARK CORRIDOR #4 (Image, 2015) – “The Red Circle, Part Four: Blow Out” and “Seven Deadly Daughters,” [W/A] Rich Tommaso. I didn’t order issue 3, so both stories this issue were difficult to follow, and I’m not sure if they’re even related to the stories from issue 2. The artwork and graphic design are just as impressive as in issue 2, though.

THE FIRST KINGDOM #15 (Bud Plant, 1981) – “Book 15: Tundran is Kenmoor,” [W/A] Jack Katz. This was a revolutionary comic for its time, and it’s still fascinating to read today, but it also has severe flaws. Katz’s plot is much too ambitious – which is a common mistake for first-time SF and fantasy writers – and he has to use really long captions to tell parts of the story that he doesn’t have room to illustrate. There are too many characters to keep track of, and there’s one long flashback that turns out to be irrelevant to the current plot. However, Katz’s art is often breathtaking. He does a great job of drawing naked athletic people, which, it must be admitted, is a big part of the appeal of this series. And he succeeds in making me care what happens to Tundran and Fara, even if they’re not the deepest characters.

CRICKETS #4 (self-published, 2015) – “Blood of the Virgin, Chapter 2,” [W/A] Sammy Harkham. A chapter of a graphic novel about a filmmaker who’s making a B-movie, while his marriage and personal life collapse around him. This is just a brilliant piece of work. Like other Harkham comics I’ve read, it seems like a simple slice-of-life story told with minimal artistic intervention, but it has great power and subtlety. Harkham shows us the hectic pace of life on the film set, and the extreme pressure that the protagonist and his coworkers are under. This is a major work by a cartoonist who’s not very prolific, but whose work is always of top quality.

THOR #233 (Marvel, 1975) – “Midgard Aflame!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] John Buscema. Loki claims the throne of Asgard and leads an army against New York. Ho hum. As with most Thor comics from this period, this issue is only interesting for the Buscema art. There’s one unusual scene where Thor saves a child from being hit by a truck, and for some unexplained reason, no one is driving the truck.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #457 (DC, 1989) – “Echoes,” [W] George Pérez & Roger Stern, [A] Dan Jurgens & Ty Templeton. A surprisingly good issue. The late ‘80s, after Byrne left and before the Death of Superman epic, was quite a good period for Superman. This issue, Superman fights some Intergang thugs who attack a Wonder Woman Foundation gala, while back in Smallville, the Matrix (the future Supergirl) imitates everything Superman does, with disastrous results. At this point, Matrix is shapeshifted into Clark Kent’s form and is referred to with male pronouns, yet I’ve never heard Matrix described as a transgender character.

THE DYING & THE DEAD #1 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Ryan Bodenheim. This debut issue is overly long, but sets up an interesting premise. An old soldier dude, whose wife is dying of cancer, is recruited by a supernatural entity for one last mission. This was intended to be an ongoing series, but has gone on indefinite hiatus after three issues.

CRICKETS #6 (self-published, 2017) – “Blood of the Virgin, Chapter 4,” [W/A] Sammy Harkham. Either I forgot to order issue 5, or it was never solicited in Previews, but the conclusion to this story is easy to follow even without reading the third chapter. This story, the protagonist’s life falls apart around him. His wife doesn’t come back from vacation, he gets thrown off his movie and locked out of his own office, and the end of the story finds him in jail for drunk driving. The issue ends with no real resolution, but I’m not sure if this is because it’s not the last chapter, or because Harkham just decided to stop there. I’m not sure if there’s any overarching lesson or moral to this story, but it’s a brutal and subtle portrayal of the collapse of a man’s life and career. When this story is published in collected form, it will earn massive critical acclaim.

ECLIPSE MONTHLY #9 (Eclipse, 1984) – three stories, [E] cat yronwode & Dean Mullaney. The first story in this issue is awful; it’s an implausible and historically inaccurate medieval adventure. The only thing I like about it is the coloring. Luckily the second story is a chapter of Rio by Doug Wildey. This story is exciting and gorgeously drawn. It’s a pity that Wildey didn’t do more comics work in his later years. There’s also a Masked Man story by B.C. Boyer, in which the homoerotic tension between the Masked Man and his friend Barney is so thick that the characters themselves lampshade it.

WAY OUT STRIPS #1 (Tragedy Strikes, 1992) – five stories, [W/A] Carol Swain. I haven’t read any previous work by this artist, and maybe this comic was not a good introduction. As Paul Gravett points out in a one-page introduction, Swain came to comics from painting, and these stories are drawn in a style that resembles surrealist art as much as comics. However, none of these stories is a satisfying narrative. They all seem more focused on mood than storytelling. I finished the issue feeling unsatisfied and confused, but I would like to read more work by Carol Swain.

MEGA PRINCESS #4 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Brianne Drouhard. Max escapes the underwater jail using Rapunzel powers, and encounters an underwater princess who looks just like her and is also missing a baby brother. This comic is cute, but has limited appeal for readers who aren’t small children, not that that’s necessarily a criticism. “Thank you, my hair” is perhaps the best line in the series.

MEGA PRINCESS #5 – as above. It turns out an evil witch turned all the missing princes into frogs. Max and Justine save the day. Somehow I enjoyed this more than most of the previous issues, but I’m not sure why.

DETECTIVE COMICS #590 (DC, 1988) – “An American Batman in London,” [W] John Wagner & Alan Grant, [A] Norm Breyfogle. On Guy Fawkes Day, Batman visits London to foil a plot by Middle Eastern terrorists. The leader of the terrorists is Abu Hassan, probably based on Abu Nidal. The terrorists are described as being from “Syraq,” instead of Qurac, which is DC’s usual generic Arab country. This story benefits from Wagner and Grant’s intimate knowledge of London, and it shows at least some understanding of the terrorists’ grievances, which makes it more sophisticated than many later stories about Islamic terrorism.

MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #11 (Marvel, 1973) – Ghost Rider in “Season of the Witch-Woman!”, [W] Gary Friedrich, [A] Tom Sutton. This issue’s villain – Linda Littletrees, an Apache who becomes a Satanic witch while at college – is more interesting than Ghost Rider himself. She is something of a Native American stereotype, but she at least has a personality and a history. She falls off a cliff at the end of the issue, but was not dead, and became a recurring character for a little while. Her name appears to have come from the TV show Laredo.

MAN-THING #2 (Marvel, 1974) – “Nowhere to Go But Down!”, [W] Steve Gerber, [A] Val Mayerik. This may be the only Gerber Man-Thing I hadn’t read. This issue introduces Ruth Hart, Richard Rory’s love interest, who flees from the swamp after inadvertently robbing her biker ex-boyfriend. While Richard is trying to protect Ruth from the biker and his gang, F.A. Schist is trying to kill Manny by replicating the accident that created him. As usual, Gerber’s writing is head and shoulders above that of his contemporaries. I think he’s my favorite comics writer of the ‘70s.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #87 (Dark Horse, 1994) – various stories, [E] Randy Stradley. The most interesting story in this issue is “The Eighth Wonder, Part 3,” a steampunk story with hyper-detailed art by Killian Plunkett. This artist mostly worked on Star Wars comics, which I suppose is why I’m not familiar with him. I’d like to see more of his work. Unfortunately, the Concrete story in this issue is a waste of space; it’s just a four-page origin recap. There are also four one-pagers by Rick Geary, and one other story, “Star Riders” by Etienne Gagnon and Alex Racine, which is terrible.

WHEN I RETURNED (Center for Cartoon Studies, 2016) – This was one of several comics that I received as a prize for winning the Best Online Comics Scholarship award, for my contribution to the Comics as Scholarship issue of Digital Humanities Quarterly. This comic is a collection of stories by CCS students, based on interviews with local veterans about their war experiences. It includes six pieces representing a wide range of styles and subject matter. I think my favorite is the one by JD Lunt and Kelly Swann, which is not about war at all, but about the narrator’s rape at the hands of two other men and the lifelong trauma he suffered as a result. I haven’t heard of any of the contributors to this comic (except Noah Van Sciver, who did the cover), but this comic is a fascinating project and it shows a lot of promise.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #7/200 (Dark Horse, 2015) – various stories, [E] Mike Richardson. This anniversary issue is much more consistent than a typical issue of DHP. There are a couple unimpressive stories, but the level of talent is very high; the issue includes art by Gabriel Bá, Jerry Ordway, Aaron Conley, Matt Kindt, Brendan McCarthy, Sergio Aragonés and Dave Gibbons. The best pieces are a short Groo story and a MIND MGMT story. As pointed out previously by Multiversity Comics, MIND MGMT looks very different when printed on glossy paper instead of newsprint. The Dave Gibbons story is notable for being written by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn.

DEPT. H #16 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Matt Kindt. The opening sequence of this issue is brilliant; it creates a powerful sense of just how huge the giant squid is. The rest of the issue is mostly a flashback. I don’t think I knew before that Blake’s last name was Mortimer, i.e. Blake and Mortimer.

THE MIGHTY THOR #21 (Marvel, 2017) – “The War Thor,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Valerio Schiti. Much less impressive than last issue. The War Thor goes back to Muspelheim and beats people up – including Ulik, who, along with his lookalike Blastaar, is one of my favorite minor Marvel villains. Meanwhile, it looks like Jane really is about to die.

THE DYING & THE DEAD #2 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Ryan Bodenheim. This issue, the protagonist rescues some of his old friends from an nursing home, and it becomes clearer what this series is about: old age. Which is a bold decision since the writer is only in his mid-forties, but he shows a fairly sophisticated understanding of what it must be like to be old and forgotten.

WONDER WOMAN #40 (DC, 1990) – “Divided We Fall,” [W] George Pérez & Mindy Newell, [A] Chris Marrinan. Eris, goddess of discord, tries to ruin the Themyscira peace summit, but Diana and the Amazons foil her plot. This wasn’t a terrible issue but it wasn’t great, and it suffered from boring art and no Julia or Vanessa.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #100-4 (Dark Horse, 1995) – This issue includes seven stories, four of which are good, yet it’s the bad ones that stick in my memory. Of the good ones, the best is “The Night Tom Waits Poured Me a Bourbon on the Rocks,” adapted by Ellen Forney from a friend’s true story. It’s a cute story about hero worship. There’s also a well-drawn but anticlimactic Martha Washington story by Miller and Gibbons, and one-pagers by Rick Geary and by Harvey Pekar and Joe Sacco. The bad stories include Mean Mr. Applehead by Brian Sendelbach and Black Cross by Chris Warner, and “Bird Dog,” written by a young Ed Brubaker, which is a piece of self-indulgent navel-gazing that could only be written by a man in his twenties.

TRUE BELIEVERS: KIRBY 100TH – BLACK PANTHER #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “King Solomon’s Frog!”, [W/A] Jack Kirby. This reprints the first issue of Kirby’s Black Panther. It’s a typical late ‘70s Marvel Kirby comic, with all sorts of weird artifacts and exciting action scenes. Kirby at least tried to incorporate African motifs into his designs, though there’s not much else about this comic that’s noticeably African. And in general, this run of Black Panther comics had little impact on the future trajectory of the character. Oddly, Kirby introduces a new sidekick to Black Panther – a midget with a monocle – at the start of the issue, but then kills him off. This issue also reprints the Captain America story from Tales of Suspense #98, which is much better written.

New comics received on August 11:

MS. MARVEL #21 (Marvel, 2017) – “Mecca, Part 3,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Marco Failla. Another excellent issue of perhaps Willow’s greatest story. Deciding to fight rather than give in, Kamala helps the detainees escape. This leads to a nice moment when some of the detainees meet a Muslim clergyman for the first time. This scene reminded me of earlier this summer when I visited a mosque for the first time. (And it looked very similar to the one in this comic – a large room with a carpeted floor and no furniture.) And then it turns out that Lockdown is not Kamran, as I expected, but Josh. Here the story takes another brilliant turn, as Josh explains his actions using the same rhetoric that many real white people have used to justify voting for Trump: “I was so sick of being told how lucky I was and how fortunate I was and how easy I had things. If I have it so great in life, why do I feel like this?” Willow doesn’t use words like “white privilege” or “Trump,” but it’s clear that that’s what this conversation is about. In this story, G. Willow Wilson is doing a brilliant job of coming to terms with America in the post-Trump era.

My headcanon is that on the splash page where Kamala surrenders, the cat is staring at the pigeon and ignoring all the other stuff going on.

MISTER MIRACLE #1 (DC, 2017) – “Meet: Mister Miracle,” [W] Tom King, [A] Mitch Gerads. This is probably the most important DC title of the year. It was hard to form my own opinion on this comic because I had previously read a bunch of other people’s takes on it. But overall I think this is an impressive work, a strong follow-up to The Vision. This comic is a synthesis of Kirbyesque characters and prose styles with the rather un-Kirbyesque topic of depression. The phrase “Darkseid is” appears throughout the comic as a shorthand for the feeling of horrible despair that depression creates. We’ll have to see where this goes, but so far this comic is a really interesting use of the superhero genre to confront issues of mental illness, similar to Mariko Tamaki’s Hulk.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #23 (Marvel, 2017) – “Young Love (and Doombots) in the Savage Land!!!,” [W] Ryan North, [A] Erica Henderson. I haven’t appreciated this series lately as much as I ought to. It’s been going on for a long time, and sometimes Ryan North’s humor is too obvious and blunt – like, he really belabors the joke about programming montages being boring. But this issue is really funny and sweet. Nancy finds herself falling in love with one of the Latverian students, which is cute and creepy at once. By the way, this may be the first time we’ve ever seen Latverians who are intelligent Doom supporters, rather than rebels or downtrodden peasants.

MANIFEST DESTINY #30 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. Sacagawea’s baby is finally born. Her complicated facial expression on seeing the baby for the first time is one of the most powerful moments of the series. Other than that, the men discover another arch, and the Spanish ghost dude shows up again at the end.

GOTHAM ACADEMY: SECOND SEMESTER #12 (DC, 2017) – “The Ballad of Olive Silverlock, Finale,” [W] Brenden Fletcher, Becky Cloonan & Karl Kerschl, [A] Adam Archer. After lots of crazy stuff happens, Olive tries to commit suicide but Maps saves her, and Olive finally comes to terms with her family history. I’m very sad this series is over; I think it was my favorite DC comic of the decade. I certainly hope we see these characters again in some capacity, especially Maps.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #57 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, [W] Thom Zahler, [A] Tony Fleecs. Another issue that’s based on a season 7 episode. It begins with Fluttershy thanking Discord for hosting a tea party (with plaid-flavored biscuits and self-dunking tea), implying that this issue takes place after “Discordant Harmony”. The main plot of the issue is that Pinkie Pie becomes the ruler of Discord’s realm, with the predictable awful consequences. Since this is a Pinkie Pie issue, it includes a bunch of fourth-wall-breaking moments, such as literal word balloons. If I ever revise my essay on transmedia in MLP, I should mention this issue.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #30 (Image, 2017) – “No Rest for the Divine Too,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Jamie McKelvie. Another series I’m not enjoying as much as I’m supposed to. The Baphomet-Dionysus scenes are really good, though.

HULK #9 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] Julian Lopez. Another unnecessary issue that could have been combined with the previous issue. Mariko really needs to work on her pacing. The best thing in this issue was the two kids’ conversation on page two.

ROCKET #4 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Blue River Score, Part 4: Dirty Money,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Adam Gorham. This issue, Al Ewing did not succeed in overcoming my dislike of Deadpool, but I did like the fourth-wall breaks involving the prose gutter. Also, I’m glad that the Technet show up again at the end of the issue.

SPIDER-GWEN #22 (Marvel, 2017) – “Predators, Part 4,” [W] Jason Latour, [A] Robbi Rodriguez and Jorge Coelho. The point of this entire storyline is to turn Gwen into Gwenom, and that’s about to happen at the end of the issue, but I don’t quite understand how. What does the Lizard virus have to do with the symbiote? The other thing that happens this issue is that Kraven beats Captain Stacy half to death in prison. Jorge Coelho’s fill-in art is noticeably worse than Robbie’s art.

FLASH GORDON #18 (Charlton, 1970) – “Scourge of the Locust Men!”, [W] uncredited, [A] Pat Boyette. The two Flash Gordon stories in this issue are pretty boring, though the first one is kind of cute because the locust men turn out to be okay people (or insects). What makes this issue memorable is the four-page “Great Battles of History” story by Michael Wm. Kaluta. It details the Battle of Shiraz between Tamerlane and Shah Mansur, which wasn’t great enough to merit a Wikipedia entry. Kaluta’s artwork is a bit crude, but you can tell it’s him, and his draftsmanship is quite good, especially compared to Pat Boyette’s much looser art in the main story.

AQUAMAN #52 (DC, 1970) – “The Traders’ Trap,” [W] Steve Skeates, [A] Jim Aparo; and “Never Underestimate a Deadman,” [W/A] Neal Adams. A fascinating issue. Aquaman #50-52 may have been the best work of Jim Aparo’s entire career. The alternate dimension where the story is set is depicted in a bizarre and breathtaking way – I already raved about this in my review of issue 50. And his draftmanship and storytelling are top-notch. This issue is also unusual in that the Aquaman and Deadman stories intersect with each other. There’s even a two-page Aquaman epilogue after the Deadman story. The two stories don’t completely fit together – there are some plot threads in the Aquaman story that aren’t wrapped up, though I forget what they are – but it was very unusual at the time for multiple stories in the same issue to be coordinated with each other. This issue even includes an epilogue explaining how this coordination was managed.

RED CIRCLE SORCERY #6 (Archie, 1974) – various stories, [E] Gray Morrow. The best stories in this issue are the first two, by Gray Morrow and Ed Davis. The latter artist had a very short and obscure career and there’s very little information available about him, but Howard Chaykin called him the greatest natural draftsman he ever met. There’s another story in the issue by Chaykin himself. The other two stories are by Marvin Channing and Carlos Pino, two creators who are mostly associated with Red Circle comics and nothing else, though Pino seems to have had a long career in Britain.

WHITE LUNCH COMIX #1 (Georgia Straight, 1972) – various stories, [W/A] Rand Holmes and Jim Jones. This one requires a bit of explanation. When I was a kid, my dad had some underground comics that I wasn’t allowed to read. He eventually gave them to me when I got older and became interested in comics, but I filed some of them away in my boxes without ever reading them. The other day I decided to remove them from my boxes and add them to my to-be-read stack (or more accurately, my to-be-read boxes). This is one of those comics. The lead story, Rand Holmes’s “Baldric the Barbarian,” is a Conan parody which is very similar to the actual Conan comic except that it includes explicit nudity and sex. Rand Holmes’s brilliant draftsmanship elevates this comic above the level of mere parody. However, this comic does end with an offensive rape scene, which underscores the point that underground comics were often male power fantasies, just as much as superhero comics were. It’s also unfortunate that almost all the other material in this issue is by Jim Jones. This appears to be the only comic he ever published, and that’s a good thing, because his stories are just second-rate Crumb knockoffs. The only interesting thing about it is the occasional Canadian topical references.

RIBIT! #1 (Comico, 1989) – untitled, [W/A] Frank Thorne. I unfortunately read this comic just before I went to sleep, and I was annoyed to find that it was 28 pages with very dense captions. Besides that, this is a pretty interesting comic. It takes place in a milieu that combines fantasy and SF elements. Thog is a dim-witted assistant to a sorceress, and Ribit is his pet lizard, who later gets turned into a petite woman. Thog and Ribit’s devoted but platonic relationship reminds me of Ghita and Dahib’s relationship in Ghita of Alizarr, Thorne’s greatest work. And it looks like the next issue is going to introduce a character who corresponds to Thenef, Ghita’s other male companion. In general this comic often feels like a sanitized version of Ghita, but it’s clearly a significant work of Thorne, and I want to hunt down the other three issues.

BLACK GOLIATH #5 (Marvel, 1976) – “Survival!”, [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Keith Pollard. This minor ‘70s Marvel comic is notable for a few reasons. First, it’s not bad at all. Keith Pollard does a good job of imitating Perez, and Claremont’s story is surprisingly heartfelt. It ends with the friendly alien guest-star getting killed. Second, this issue takes place on a planet called “Sharra’s Forge,” named after a goddess. I don’t know if this was before or after Claremont introduced Sharra as a Shi’ar deity. Finally, this seems to be the only comic book appeaance of the A’askvarii race, who were mentioned in one line of dialogue in the Guardians of the Galaxy film.

SUPERMAN #45 (DC, 2015) – “Street Justice,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Howard Porter. Whatever his other talents, Gene is just not a talented superhero writer. This issue is a trite story about a superhero fight club. It fails to create any kind of excitement, and it doesn’t feel like a Superman comic. Also, the reader quickly gets tired of trying to pronounce the villain’s name, HORDR_ROOT. The only thing I like about this issue is its use of Filipino mythology.

UNCLE SCROOGE #7/411 (IDW, 2015) – “Mummy Dearest,” [W/A] Romano Scarpa, and “Of Mice and Magic,” [W] Thad Komorowski, [A] Mark De Jonge. I quickly lost interest in IDW’s Disney comics once I realized that they were just European reprints. However, this issue’s lead story is by Romano Scarpa, one of the few European Disney artists I like, and it’s an exciting and very Barksian piece of work in which Scrooge converts the Money Bin into a pyramid. The other story in the issue is a waste of space.

JOHN BOLTON’S HALLS OF HORROR #1 (Eclipse, 1985) – two stories, [W] Dez Skinn and Steve Moore, [A] John Bolton. This issue consists of stories reprinted from an unknown British comic. The first story, adapted from R. Chetwynd-Hayes’s “The Monster Club,” is about a woman who tries to take advantage of a shadmock, a monster that kills by whistling. The depiction of her destroyed body after the shadmock whistles at her is horrific. There’s also a two-part werewolf story set in 18th-century Spain. Overall, this issue effectively showcases the work of a brilliant artist.

SKULL #5 (GCD, 1972) – various stories, [W/A] Richard Corben, Spain Rodriguez, etc. For this issue, the creators had the innovative idea of adapting HP Lovecraft stories in an underground comics style. All of these stories were new to me – I haven’t actually read much Lovecraft – and it’s also fascinating to see them through an underground comics lens. Corben’s “The Rats in the Walls” and Spain’s “The Hand of Kaä” are the highlights. I need to read more Spain comics. The other two stories, by Larry Todd and Charles Dallas, are less impressive. The cat in Corben’s version of “The Rats in the Walls” is named “N**aman” and you can probably guess what are the two letters I left out of that name, and what the cat was named in Lovecraft’s original version of the story.

BATMAN #395 (DC, 1986) – “The Film Freak,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Tom Mandrake. Doug Moench is not my favorite Batman writer, largely because his version of Jason Todd was very annoying. But in this issue, Jason is better than usual; it’s Jason who diagnoses that Batman is acting recklessly and is chasing after Catwoman. At the same time, Batman and Catwoman’s relationship is quite cute, and this issue also introduces the villain named in its title, who has a really cool gimmick.

GHOST MANOR #2 (Charlton, 1971) – “It Will Roam Again,” [W] Joe Gill (?), [A] Steve Ditko, and other work. Two average stories by Ditko and one mediocre story by Nicholas and Alascia. The best thing in the issue is the panel where “Mr. Mooney sits by the fire with his weird-looking cat and he fantasizes.” The Nicholas and Alascia story is set in Haiti, but includes no black people.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #62 (Marvel, 1976) – “Lord of the Lions!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] John Buscema. After reading several comics where the art was more interesting than the writing, I wanted to read something well-written, and this fit the bill. This issue includes the origin story of Amra, a character Roy created so he could have Conan fight Tarzan. Amra is a compelling character, but also a jerk and a borderline rapist, though Roy stops short of suggesting that he may have raped Bêlit. Amra’s jealous girlfriend/concubine Makeda is also an interesting character.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #61 (Marvel, 1980) – “The Coming of Her!”, [W] Mark Gruenwald, [A] Jerry Bingham. This issue reintroduces Her, the female counterpart to Adam Warlock, who had previously appeared as a male character named Paragon. (And yet she, like Matrix, is rarely if ever mentioned as a transgender character.) Starhawk also makes a guest appearance. Mark’s writing was always of variable quality, but this issue was pretty good.

GRASS KINGS #3 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Tyler Jenkins. This series is just okay; I don’t like it as much as MIND MGMT or even Dept. H. I do like how the letters page is a list of all the stores that ordered at least as much of issue 2 as of issue 1.

STRANGE ADVENTURES #215 (DC, 1968) – “A New Lease on Death,” [W/A] Neal Adams. In part one of the epic conclusion to the Deadman saga, Deadman discovers that Hook is Willie Smith and that he killed Boston Brand as an initiation ritual for the League of Assassins. The League and its Sensei make their first appearances in this issue, later to reappear in Neal’s Ra’s al Ghul stories. Neal’s art is brilliant and, unusually, his writing is not bad either. The backup story by John Giunta is awful.

DETECTIVE COMICS #404 (DC, 1970) – “Ghost of the Killer Skies,” [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Neal Adams. I’ve read this before in the Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told volume, but I haven’t revisited it in a long time. It’s both an exciting aviation-themed story, and an affectionate tribute to Kubert and Kanigher’s Enemy Ace (which debuted only five years earlier – somehow I assumed it was published long before this story was). The Batgirl backup story, “Midnight Doom-Boy” by Frank Robbins and Gil Kane, is also worth reading.

STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES #138 (DC, 1968) – “The Slayers and the Slain,” [W] Robert Kanigher, [A] Joe Kubert. I haven’t actually read Enemy Ace before, so this story was a revelation. Kubert’s artwork is spectacular – he must have been the greatest aviation artist in the history of American comics, besides George Evans. He depicts Enemy Ace’s dogfights with excitement and economy of line. But the story is just as powerful as the art. Enemy Ace is a complex character, tormented by guilt over his own actions and by the inevitability of his own death in combat. This is just an amazing comic. I need to read more of these stories.

SHROUD OF MYSTERY #1 (Gold Key, 1982) – various stories, editor uncredited. The real mystery is why this comic book exists. It’s a one-shot consisting of what are either reprints or inventory stories, by artists like Jack Sparling and Sal Trapani. All the stories are terrible, though one of them has some okay art by Al McWilliams. This must have been one of the last comics Gold Key/Whitman published, and I guess they were desperate for material.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #364 (Marvel, 1992) – “The Pain of Fast Air,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Mark Bagley. This issue reintroduces Peter Parker’s parents. They’re not yet identified as such, but Michelinie makes it really obvious who they are (or claim to be). Also, Spider-Man fights the Shocker for some reason. This was not one of Michelinie’s better issues.

NAUGHTY BITS #4 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – “Unhappy Holidays,” parts one and two, [W/A] Roberta Gregory. A two-part Christmas-themed story. Part one is a flashback to a Christmas in Bitchy’s childhood, during which she was molested by her creepy uncle. In part two, the adult Bitchy goes home for Christmas and visits the same uncle on his deathbed. The disturbing subject matter of this story is made more palatable by Roberta’s cartoony style and by Bitchy’s well-deserved glee in the knowledge that her abuser has been punished. This story also reveals how awful and cruel childhood can be. In addition, this issue includes an essay by Roberta about how her work was rejected from an anthology of “dyke” comics because she’s bi. That anthology seems to have been Dyke’s Delight, edited by Kate Charlesworth.

IRON MAN #23 (Marvel, 2014) – “Rings of the Mandarin, Chapter 1,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Luke Ross. I wrote a review of this, but lost it when my computer crashed. I’ll just briefly summarize and say that Malekith is the villain of this comic, so it ties in with Kieron’s Journey into Mystery, but is not as good.

DARK HORSE PRESENTS #15/208 (Dark Horse, 2015) – various stories, [E] Mike Richardson & Jim Gibbons. I lost my review of this one too. Notable stories are Finder by Carla Speed McNeil, Dream Gang by Brendan McCarthy, and Snow Angel by David Chelsea.

SNOW ANGEL #1 (Dark Horse, 2013) – “Snow Angel,” [W/A] David Chelsea. A one-shot about a little girl who can turn into a superpowered snow angel. This comic has a random and illogical style of humor, perhaps because it originated as a 24-hour comic, but it’s extremely cute and fun.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #214 (Marvel, 1977) – “The Power,” [W/A] Jack Kirby. The last issue of Kirby’s Cap run is rather unimpressive, clearly showing that he’s at the tail end of his career. The action scenes are brilliant, but there’s not much of a story.

FLASH GORDON #2 (King, 1966) – “The Death Trap of Mongo,” [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] Frank Bolle. This is not the best Flash Gordon comic – it’s too bad that Al Williamson only drew a couple issues of this series – but Archie’s script is, as usual, well above average.

MS. TREE #10 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1984) – “Deadline, Chapter One: Black and White and Red All Over,” [W] Max Allan Collins, [A] Terry Beatty. While investigating a series of murders, Ms. Tree agrees to grant an interview to a sleazy journalist, only to find the journalist dead. This is the first issue that uses the series’ characteristic two-color process. Also, there’s a scene where Ms. Tree buys a bunch of magazines including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Soldier of Fortune, and Guns & Ammo.

DETECTIVE COMICS #418 (DC, 1971) – “…And Be a Villain!”, [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Irv Novick, plus other stories. In this issue’s lead story, Batman battles a mind-controlled Creeper. There’s also a Batgirl story (in which we learn that Commissioner Gordon was a rookie cop in the 1920s!) and two reprinted stories. The second of these is the highlight of the issue, because it has some fantastic artwork by Alex Toth.