It’s been a horrible, awful week, and I’m afraid the country will collapse, so let’s write some reviews.
These first reviews include some comics received on November 3rd (actually November 6, when I got back from Seattle), and some others I bought at the Fantagraphics bookstore in Seattle, while attending ICAF.
PAPER GIRLS #17 (DC, 2017) – untitled, [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Cliff Chiang. The main event this issue is the girls’ talk with the new Charlotte/Chuck character. I hardly remember anything about this comic except the discussion of homosexuality.
POWER PACK #63 (Marvel, 2017) – “Rarely Pure and Never Simple,” [W] Devin Grayson, [A] Marika Cresta. As a huge Power Pack fan, I was looking forward eagerly to this, though Devin is not my favorite writer. This issue is surprisingly good. It’s framed as a flashback story that Katie tells to her teacher, though Katie carefully disguises it as a story about normal kids and not superheroes. Like Louise Simonson and June Brigman, Grayson and Cresta depict the Powers as realistic children who act their age, and the climax of the story – where Katie dares Alex to crush her, knowing he won’t do it – is powerful. I also like how this story focuses on the relationship between Katie and Alex, the two Power children who have the least in common. I just wish there were more Power Pack comics in the pipeline.
PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #6 (Marvel, 2017) – “My Dinner with Jonah,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Michael Walsh. This is easily Chip’s best issue yet. It’s the best exploration of Spidey and JJJ’s relationship that I can think of, and it ends with an epic climax in which Spidey tells JJJ his secret identity. For the first time, this Peter Parker series feels like a real, consequential Spider-Man comic.
USAGI YOJIMBO #163 (Dark Horse, 2017) – “Mouse Trap, Part 1,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Usagi and Inspector Ikeda confront Nezumi, a Robin Hood-esque thief. I remember enjoying this issue, but when I look through it again, it just seems like a standard Usagi comic.
GIANT DAYS #32 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. The girls decide to split up and move out on their own, instead of renewing their lease. It’s a sad moment which seems to presage the end of the series. This issue is full of cute unrealistic stuff like ghosts, hordes of spiders, and a Hyperloop station.
ATOMIC ROBO AND THE SPECTRE OF TOMORROW #1 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. This is fresh in my mind because I just read issue 2. Atomic Robo and Tesladyne are building a new base in the desert, but their neighbors, Richard Branson and Elon Musk, are angry about the construction noise. Robo can’t be bothered to do anything about them because he’s holed up in his lab, working on his nanobots. This is a funny issue, and I like how it includes a scene at a scientific conference.
SAVAGE LOVE #2 (Bear Bones, 1994) – “My First Time… In Drag!” and other stories, [W] Dan Savage, [A] Ellen Forney & James Sturm et al. I didn’t know this comic existed until a month or two ago, and now I have it. I’ve enjoyed Dan Savage’s writing ever since I encountered it in the Minneapolis City Pages in high school, so I was delighted to learn that there was a comic book version of Savage Love, and then to find that comic at the Fantagraphics store. This comic is a collection of stories based on Dan Savage’s life and his Savage Love advice column. Most of these stories are funny, and the last one, about a time in Savage’s childhood when he saw two gay men waiting for a movie, is very poignant.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #695 (Marvel, 2017) – “Home of the Brave, Part 1,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Chris Samnee. I’ve felt very ambivalent about Mark’s writing lately (see my Champions #10 review), but this comic is the best thing he’s done in a while, and perhaps the best Captain America comic in twenty years. At a time when horrible rich old bullies are trampling this country into the dirt, this comic is a reminder that America should be about protecting the weak, not exploiting them. The comic begins with a flashback in which Cap saves some children from terrorists. Ten years later, he returns to the same town and defeats the same terrorists, with the help of the local people. And he reminds those people that ”we know what’s right. The strong protect the weak. Never forget that.” This is an especially important message at a time when “the strong” are doing just the opposite. This issue is even more powerful because of Chris Samnee’s art. He is Marvel’s best artist right now, except maybe Christian Ward, and he gets better with every issue. He reminds me a lot of Mazzucchelli, but he’s even better at drawing superheroic action.
ARCHIE #25 (Archie, 2017) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Audrey Mok. I gave up on this series, but returned to it because it was getting good reviews. As of this issue, Betty has been paralyzed, and her dad has refused to let her and Archie see each other. This issue, Archie’s friends engineer a way for him and Betty to get together. This is a very emotional story, and a big step forward compared to Waid’s earlier issues.
BATMAN FAMILY #14 (DC, 1977) – “Old Super-Heroines Never Die – They Just Fade Away!”, [W] Bob Rozakis, [A] Don Heck, plus other stories. The main story in this issue has a silly plot in which Batgirl and Robin try to stop a mad scientist from releasing a deadly virus. Also, Kathy Kane is involved but I forget how. However, this story has some very cute interactions between Dick and Babs. There’s one panel where Dick asks Babs “You remember everything? Even when we –“ and then he never finishes his sentence, leaving the reader to wonder what they did. The only backup story features Man-Bat behaving somewhat chauvinistically toward his pregnant wife.
BLAMMO #6 (Kilgore, 2010) – various stories, [W/A] Noah Van Sciver. This is an issue of Noah’s self-published comic, consisting of numerous stories. None of the stories really stand out in my memory, though the funniest one is probably the one where the Krampus visits Bob Dylan. What all these stories have in common is distinctive artwork and an irritable, sarcastic tone. The Fantagraphics store had several issues of this series on display near the cash register, and I probably should have bought more than one, because who knows if I’ll get another chance.
THE EXPERTS #nn (Retrofit, 2016) – “The Experts,” [W/A] Sophie Franz. On the last day of ICAF, I visited the Short Run Comix festival, which was held in central Seattle near the Space Needle. By that point in the week, I was exhausted and needed some time to myself, so I didn’t spend as much time at Short Run as I perhaps should have. The show had an excellent guest list, but I had trouble finding anything I wanted to buy. Anyway, after the show, Tom Spurgeon said on Twitter that the standout artist of Short Run was Sophie Franz, and I looked her up and realized that I already had one of her comics, so I read it. The Experts really is a beautiful piece of work. It combines very clear and visually appealing artwork and gorgeous colors, on the one hand, with an inexplicable science fiction plot and an enigmatic mood, on the other hand. Sophie Franz has an amazing design sense, and when she publishes a more substantial piece of work, it ought to be really good.
CUD #1 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – “Oh! The Creative Life!” and two other stories, [W/A] Terry LaBan. Of the three stories this issue, my favorite is the one that introduces Muktuk Wolfsbreath, Hard-Boiled Shaman. This is perhaps the only work of fiction I can think of that’s based on Siberian shamanism. Telling the story of a Siberian shaman in hard-boiled detective novel language is kind of a silly gimmick, but LaBan either knows a lot about indigenous Siberians, or is able to convince the reader that he does. Both the other stories in the issue are realistic, mostly. One of them is about a starving artist who pressures his muse into prostituting herself, and the other is about a naïve college graduate in performance art who gets a job as a stripper. Overall, these stories aren’t at the level of Bagge or Clowes, but they’re entertaining and funny.
BLACK BOLT #3 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Christian Ward. I fell behind on this comic partly because the art is so dense and beautiful, and it takes a while to read. This issue, T’Challa and his fellow prisoners work on escaping from prison, but not much really happens in terms of plot. However, Christian Ward’s art is incredible, and Saladin Ahmed’s characterization is very good, though later issues were even better in this area.
New comics received on November 10:
UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #26 (Marvel, 2017) – “Comics Extravaganza #26,” [W/A] various. This is probably the best Squirrel Girl comic yet, and that’s saying a lot. The conceit of this comic is that it’s a zine compiled by Squirrel Girl’s friends as a benefit for a library. Guest creators includee Carla Speed McNeil, Michael Cho, Anders Nilsen, and Jim Davis (or more likely his assistants). The best of the individual segments is McNeil’s Loki two-pager, which can be read in either of two directions with opposite meanings. Besides that, most of these stories are insubstantial, but they’re all fascinatingly different, and most of them are funny and full of fourth-wall breaks. This comic is a sort of Squirrel Girl equivalent of Howard the Duck #16, and it’s the best introduction to Squirrel Girl.
MS. MARVEL #24 (Marvel, 2018) – “Northeast Corridor, Part Two,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Diego Olortegui. Kamala saves the train by having the engineer drive it up hills, so that gravity slows it down. But Red Dagger gets all the credit. This was an okay storyline but was far worse than the one before it.
MISTER MIRACLE #4 (DC, 2017) – untitled, [W] Tom King, [A] Mitch Gerads. Another great issue. Like many Kirby comics, this issue seamlessly blends the cosmic and the eridiculous. Orion puts Mr. Miracle on trial for disobedience… and the trial takes place in Scott and Barda’s living room, and Barda brings a veggie tray. The mundane setting and the veggies create some necessary comic relief, in the midst of a very dark story about depression and totalitarian rule.
RUNAWAYS #3 (Marvel, 2017) – “Find Your Way Home, Part III,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Kris Anka. Gert, Chase and Nico visit Karolina at college, only to find out that she’s happy with her life and doesn’t want to go back on the run. Gert is equally unpleasantly surprised to learn that her family is growing up without her. The scene with Gert and Chase at the end underscores that this series is really about growing up, and about how you can’t recover the past. I love the moment where the girl walks out of her dorm room, sees Old Lace, and walks right back in with a “nope” sound effect.
SLAM! THE NEXT JAM #3 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] Pamela Ribon, [A] Marina Julia. This was better than the last issue, but still below the standards of the previous volume of Slam! Marina Julia’s art is so subpar that I have trouble telling the characters apart.
MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #60 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, [W] Christina Rice, [A] Agnes Garbowska. The CMC hold a cutie mark summer camp, and one of their campers is Gilded Lily, Filthy Rich’s niece. But she refuses to make any progress toward her cutie mark, because her uncle wants her to get a cutie mark in “being important and influential,” and she knows she’s really interested in astronomy. In the end, Gilded Lily gets her cutie mark in astronomy anyway, her uncle is okay with it. This ending is unfortunate, because number one, Gilded Lily should have learned to be herself and stop worrying about what her awful family will think. Number two, until now Filthy Rich has been depicted as a completely negative character, and it seems odd that he would act so nice. But maybe I’m just feeling antipathetic to rich people today.
ROYAL CITY #7 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Jeff Lemire. Tommy goes to the doctor and gets some disturbing news. Meanwhile, we learn how Pete Pike got interested in collecting vintage radios. This was a good issue. I found myself involuntarily remembering the scene where Tommy’s doctor says that he sees something he doesn’t like, and that Tommy needs to see a specialist. It just makes me imagine what it would be like to hear a doctor say that.
NAUGHTY BITS #1 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – “Bitchy Bitch Gets Laid” and other stories, [W/A] Roberta Gregory. One of the highlights of my Seattle trip was having dinner with Roberta Gregory and Donna Barr, at the bar down the street from the Fantagraphics store. I’ve corresponded with them both on Facebook, but it was great to talk with them in person. After dinner I asked Roberta to sign this issue, which I had just bought. This issue includes a number of stories, most notably the first full-length Bitchy Bitch story, as well as a very gruesome story about castration. In the epilogue, Roberta describes “Bitchy Bitch Gets Laid” as “something to make men feel as queasy as all this sexist garbage makes women feel,” and it definitely achieves that. Her Bitchy Bitch stories got more complex and subtle as Naughty Bits went on, but this first issue is already a powerful and politically savvy work.
WIMMEN’S COMIX #6 (Last Gasp, 1975) – “Special Bicentennial Issue,” [E] Becky Wilson & Barb Brown. At ICAF, Leah Misemer gave a paper that discussed this comic, and later she told me it was her favorite issue of Wimmen’s Comix. As usual with this series, this issue includes a lot of stories of varying length and quality. The opening story, about Victoria Woodhull, is a highlight. But beyond any of the individual stories, this comic is valuable for the variety of styles and subject matter that it offers. Through the diverse range of stories that it tells, it represents the breadth of women’s experience worldwide.
CATALYST PRIME: ASTONISHER #2 (Lion Forge, 2017) – “State of Mind,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Pop Mhan. This appears to be about a superhero who fights delusional people by being able to see and battle their delusions. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on in this comic, though I enjoyed it.
MICKEY MOUSE #165 (Gold Key, 1976) – “The Viking Raiders,” [W] Carl Fallberg, [A] Paul Murry. This reprints #116 of the same series. It begins with a caption about how Mickey and Goofy are traveling through history in search of a time machine, but there’s no evidence of the time machine in the story itself; it just sems like an alternate universe story in which Mickey and Goofy were born in medieval England. Anyway, in this story, Mickey and Goofy rescue Minnie from Viking kidnappers. This story is fun, but not as good as the next Mickey Mouse comic I read, for which see below.
NEAT STUFF #2 (Fantagraphics, 1985) – “Studs Kirby Gets Drunk by Himself” and other stories, [W/A] Peter Bagge. This issue contains long stories about Studs Kirby and Junior, as well as some short strips in the same vein as Evan Dorkin’s House of Fun. These stories are quite entertaining – for example, in the Junior story, Junior moves in with a cranky old landlord who tells all sorts of implausible stories about his tenants. At this point in his career, Peter Bagge seemed to be trying a bunch of different ideas, prior to settling down with Buddy Bradley.
AMERICAN SPLENDOR #15 (self-published, 1990) – various stories, [W] Harvey Pekar, [A] various. Two of the many stories in this issue stand out. In “A Lull at the Convention,” Harvey is tabling at a convention and encounters Frank from Friendly Frank’s. “Festering” is a flashback to Harvey’s youth when he got in a fight with his father and his uncle. This story is powerful because it ends with no resolution, just after Harvey has punched his uncle in the face. There are also two stories about buying books, and a story where Harvey and Joyce try and fail to rescue an injured squirrel.
SHE-HULK #159 (Marvel, 2017) – “Jen Walters Must Die, Part 1,” [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] Jahnoy Lindsay. It’s very frustrating that this series has been renamed from She-Hulk to Hulk, and that they’ve decided that the previous issues are included in the numbering of She-Hulk. Now am I supposed to file my copies of Hulk #1-11 under S or under H? Anyway, the best part of this issue is the Burgercakes restaurant, which is just plausible enough to be funny.
THE SAGA OF THE MAN ELF #1 (Trident, 1989) – “Reigns of Power,” [W] Guy Lawley, [A] Steve Whitaker. A confusing and fascinating comic. This issue begins as a certain Miss Brunner has just been elected prime minister, and then we get a flashback to the earlier lives of Miss Brunner and her friends Judy Birch and Jenny Carpenter. Jenny gives birth to the titular Man Elf, Janus, whose father is some kind of cosmic entity. While the story is a bit difficult to understand, it’s grippingly written, and Steve Whitaker’s artwork is beautiful. Neither Lawley nor Whitaker have a lot of comics credits other than this series, and it’s a pity that they didn’t go on to bigger things. This comic is heavily based on Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius – it features many characters from that series, including Miss Brunner herself as well as Bishop Beesley and Una Persson, and Janus and Jenny Carpenter both share Jerry’s initials. So after reading this comic, I finally felt motivated to read Moorcock’s Cornelius Quartet, and I’m glad I did.
KID LOBOTOMY #2 (IDW, 2017) – “Vile Bodies: Part Two of A Lad Insane,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Tess Fowler. This was less difficult than issue one, and Tess Fowler’s art is getting really good. She reminds me of either Fábio Moon or Gabriel Bá, but I forget which. This issue has some very obvious allusions to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, including Kid Lobotomy being hit in the back with an apple.
BLACK BOLT #4 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Christian Ward. While tied up and powerless, Black Bolt and Crusher Creel have a heart-to-heart talk. This issue is fascinating and poignant because it humanizes these two characters – Black Bolt, who normally can’t talk and who seems utterly implacable, and Absorbing Man, who is usually portrayed as a heartless brute. Even more surprisingly, these two men manage to form a sort of rapport, despite their radical differences – you can tell how different they are just from their speech patterns.
BLACK BOLT #5 (Marvel, 2017) – as above, except the first four pages are drawn by Frazer Irving. At the end of last issue, Lockjaw sprung Black Bolt from prison, but this issue he goes back to free the other captives. This issue isn’t as memorable as last issue, though the art is still fantastic.
BLACK BOLT #6 (Marvel, 2017) – as #4 above. Black Bolt and friends defeat the Jailer by having the Absorbing Man absorb Black Bolt’s voice, which is ridiculous but cool. This is an effective conclusion to the story, and Christian Ward’s art just keeps getting better.
SCALES & SCOUNDRELS #3 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Sebastian Girner, [A] Galaad. As previously noted, I have been feeling quite ambivalent about this comic, but this issue convinced me to keep buying it. The plot still sucks, but the artwork, plot and characterization are good enough that this comic is worth buying anyway.
INTERSECT #1 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Ray Fawkes. I bought this when it came out, but I finally got around to reading it because I heard someone say something good about Ray Fawkes; I forget who, or what they said. This comic seems to be about two characters who both occupy the same body. However, the storytelling is so unclear that it’s literally impossible to figure out what’s going on. Fawkes fails to provide the reader with any kind of background, or to explain the premise of the comic. According to a review I read, this comic makes more sense if you read it in trade paperback form, and even then only if you read the blurb on the back cover.
ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN #5 (Image, 2017) – “A Hobo Came A-Walkin’,” [W/A] Kyle Starks. This issue is a flashback to Jackson’s past. In 1945, Jackson gets drafted just after his wife has given birth. Afraid of being killed in battle, he sells his soul to the devil in exchange for invincibility. This allows him to personally kill Hitler and steal the Spear of Destiny (why are there so many stories where Hitler has the Spear of Destiny?). But on returning home, Jackson finds that Satan has cheated him by killing off his wife and daughter. This is a poignant story, and Starks’s cartoony art saves it from being unbearably bleak.
BLACK BOLT #7 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Frazer Irving. Black Bolt heads to Earth along with Lockjaw and the alien child Blinky. On their way there, they drop off a monster child that was in the prison with them. The scene on the monster planet is funny. Even though Frazer Irving is a star artist, his art pales in comparison to Christian Ward’s.
FRANK #3 (Fantagraphics, 2000) – “Frank’s High Horse” part one, [W/A] Jim Woodring. I saw Jim Woodring speak on a panel at ICAF, and afterward I told him that I find his work very disturbing and creepy, and he took it as a compliment. Also, during the panel, he denied that his work was primarily influenced by classic animation, and mentioned Moorish and Arabesque architecture as another major influence. These two things suggest to me that I’ve misunderstood Woodring. His work definitely draws upon animation tropes, specifically the work of Max Fleisher. But it’s not about animation in the same way as Kim Deitch’s work is. Woodring’s work is its own thing; it’s sui generis. The long story in this issue is a good demonstration of that. In this issue, Frank encounters a creepy-looking moon-faced creature (unnamed, but identified elsewhere as Whim) and they pull some even weirder creatures out of a hole in the sky. This story is difficult to summarize because it’s full of bizarre things with no names, and that’s part of its appeal.
DETECTIVE COMICS #512 (DC, 1982) – “The Fatal Prescription of Doctor Death!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Gene Colan. This is billed as a 45th anniversary special, but it just feels like a regular issue. The main story is about an evil doctor, and there’s also a Batgirl backup story. Neither is especially good, though Gene Colan’s art on the main story is fairly exciting.
MICKEY MOUSE #225 (Gladstone, 1987) – “The Crazy Crime Wave, Chapter Two,” [W/A] Floyd Gottfredson, [W] Merrill de Maris. In these reprinted newspaper strips, Mickey and Goofy try to solve a bizarre series of thefts in which the thieves only steal hair and flannel underwear. Meanwhile, there’s also a counterfeiting operation going on in the same town. It turns out that the thieves are turning the hair and underwear into pulp, to make paper for counterfeiting currency. I was delighted to realize this because I just read Mark Kurlansky’s book about paper manufacturing. This comic is funny and exciting, and definitely better than #165.
HATE #7 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – “Paranoia Rules Supreme!”, [W/A] Peter Bagge. This issue disappointed me a bit because it barely features Buddy Bradley at all. Instead, the issue is about a date between Buddy’s shut-in nerdy roommate George and his insane future wife Lisa. Because these characters are so different, I expected them to fall in love at first sight, but instead their date is a disaster, which is more in keeping with the tone of Bagge’s work.
New comics received on November 17:
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #33 (Image, 2017) – “A Little Woden Boy,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Jamie McKelvie. Reading this issue made me realize that I don’t understand this comic’s plot at all. We learn early in the issue that Woden is David Blake, a character we’re supposed to remember even though he hasn’t appeared in several years. So this revelation went right over my head. I did get that David’s son, Jon, is the god Mimir, and his severed head is the source of Woden’s power. Also, Minerva is really Ananke, which makes no sense at all. Generally, this issue was full of powerful revelations, but it would have been much more powerful if I had been reading the series in omnibus form.
PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS YEAR TWO: LOVE AND REVENGE #1 (Action Lab, 2017) – “Chapter One: A Ship in the Night,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Xenia Panfil. The big event this issue is that Raven starts an affair with Sunshine, then Sunshine falls overboard and Raven nearly drowns trying to rescue her. The art this issue is problematic; I found it quite hard to tell the characters apart. I am glad that Princeless is coming out again, for the first time this year, but I also wish Jeremy would return to the main series.
MECH CADET YU #4 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa. This issue was a bit less exciting than last issue because it focused mostly on Stanford himself, rather than Stanford’s mother, who is a much more well-developed character. Still, the action sequence that occupies most of this issue is very exciting. Boom! has thrown a lot of things at the wall this year, and I think they’ve finally found something that’s stuck.
FENCE #1 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] C.S. Pacat, [A] Johanna the Mad. Another example of throwing things at the wall to see if they stick: a comic about fencing. I keep trying to watch fencing in Olympic years, but I find it incomprehensible; it goes too fast and I can never tell who scored and why. Anyway, this comic is about a novice high school fencer from a poor background, who decides to challenge the local fencing prodigy. This sort of plot is very typical of sports manga – I was reminded of Hikaru no Go in particular, except without Fujiwara no Sai – but the main character’s poverty adds a political theme which is absent in Hikaru no Go. This is a promising debut issue, although I fear that this comic won’t last much longer than other recent Boom! Box titles did. I wish the artist had an actual name.
BABYTEETH #6 (Aftershock, 2017) – “Long Live the King,” [W] Donny Cates, [A] Garry Brown. The wizard dude takes Sadie and her family to his secret castle. I wish this comic’s plot would move faster.
MY LITTLE PONY: LEGENDS OF MAGIC #8 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Tony Fleecs. Stygian tries to recruit Rockhoof for his pony Justice League, but Rockhoof is busy saving a town from lumber bears, which are like timber wolves but worse. After solving that problem, Stygian and Rockhoof collect another recruit, Meadowbrook, who needs help to cure some cute animals that have been brainwashed. I know where this story is going, but it’ll be exciting to see how it gets there.
MISFIT CITY #7 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith & Kurt Lustgarten, (A) Naomi Franquiz. On Halloween, the girls put on costumes and go out, and lots of weird stuff happens. I have no idea how the writers are going to finish their story in just one more issue.
WEIRD WAR TALES #96 (DC, 1981) – “The Mutation of Pvt. Voight!”, [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Dan Spiegle, and other stories. The first story is the best; it’s about a heroin-addicted soldier in Vietnam who either grows wings, or hallucinates that he does, and either way he dies. It’s a bit like Eisner’s “Gerhard Shnobble,” except with heroin. The other stories are drawn by Ruben Yandoc, Tenny Henson, and Vicatan.
DESOLATION JONES #2 (WildStorm, 2005) – “Made in England, Part 2,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] J.H. Williams III. This issue’s plot is very typical Warren Ellis material and is difficult to understand, but the artwork is just as phenomenal as one would expect. It’s kind of unfortunate that this series was J.H. Williams’s follow-up to Promethea, because it was obscure and was largely overlooked.
WEIRD WAR TALES #20 (DC, 1973) – “Death Watch,” [W] Jack Oleck, [A] Don Perlin, plus other stories. This issue includes not one but two stories by Alfredo Alcala. The first one is impressive enough, although it provides an incorrect account of how Jean-Jacques Dessalines died. But the splash page of the second story is one of the most amazing Alcala illustrations I’ve ever seen. It looks as if he spent hours just drawing the clouds. (See https://www.instagram.com/p/Bbn6xwiF9ME/?taken-by=aaronkashtan)
HAWKEYE #12 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Best There Is,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Michael Walsh. Kate teams up with Wolverine/X-23, along with her even younger clone Gabby and her pet wolverine. Kate and Laura are a natural pairing, and Gabby is adorable. Michael Walsh’s art in this issue is also impressive; there’s one particular two-page splash that looks like it took several days to draw, because it includes about 30 human bodies in action.
SUPER SONS #10 (DC, 2017) – “One Fine Day,” [W] Peter J. Tomasi, [A] José Luis. As the title suggests, this is a self-contained day-in-the-life issue, in which Bruce and Clark build Jon and Damian their own fortress. It’s full of adorable moments, like Jon teaching Damian to “fly.” The “intermezzo” in the middle of the issue seems completely unrelated to the rest of the story, and I wonder if it was inserted as part of some kind of crossover.
MIGHTY THOR #701 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Wrath of the Mangog,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] James Harren. The Mangog battles the War Thor. Meanwhile, Karnilla goes to Hel and encounters Balder. This was a forgettable issue, particularly since Jane doesn’t appear in it, and Russell Dauterman’s art is missed.
FUTURE QUEST PRESENTS #4 (DC, 2017) – “Galaxy’s Most Wanted!”, [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Ron Randall. In a flashback, Space Ghost hunts down three alien criminals, the Galaxy Trio, and convinces them to go straight. In the present day, Space Ghost decides to try to find the Galaxy Trio again after they’ve vanished fighting Omnikron. This was a fun comic, and because of the weird names, the outer-space milieu, and the team of two men and a women, it felt like a Legion comic. Jeff Parker would be a great Legion writer.
DESCENDER #26 (Image, 2017) – “Rise of the Robots 5 of 5,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. All hell breaks loose as the Harvesters return and Tim encounters his creator. Notable moments in this issue include Tim hugging Telsa, and the surprise four-page splash.
PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #297 (Marvel, 2017) – “Most Wanted, Part 1,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Andy Kubert. Peter’s home is invaded by some very well-prepared jackbooted thugs, and he has to escape with no spider-sense. This issue has Chip’s best action sequences yet; it really feels at times like Peter has no way out. And JJJ shows up to rescue him at the end, continuing the theme of last issue.
OUR ARMY AT WAR #291 (DC, 1976) – “Death Squad!”, [W] Robert Kanigher, [A] Frank Redondo. Sgt. Rock avenges some villagers who have been massacred by Nazis. This is a fairly powerful story, and a reminder that Kanigher really could write when he wanted to. There’s also a backup story with art by Golden Age artist Norman Maurer.
BLACK CROWN QUARTERLY #1 (IDW, 2017) – various stories, [E] Shelly Bond. This anthology issue has some impressive artwork by Rob Davis and Philip Bond, who I didn’t realize was married to Shelly. But too much of the issue is taken up with previews and text articles, although it’s a worthwhile purchase anyway.
JASON CONQUERS AMERICA #nn (Fantagraphics, 2011) – various stories, [W/A] Jason. This is a collection of previously unpublished short stories by Jason, as well as interviews with him and his colorist Hubert. It’s a quick and fun read which provides some useful insights into Jason’s process. I like Hubert’s qutation “My favorite color is the one I never use: black.”
PLANETARY #26 (Wildstorm, 2006) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] John Cassaday. I was reading this series when it was coming out, but somehow I gave up on it before the end, so I’ve never read this story before. This issue, Elijah Snow confronts Randall and Kim, i.e. Reed and Sue, and defeats them using a somewhat poorly explained deus ex machina.
PLANETARY #27 (Wildstorm, 2007) – as above. Last issue was just okay, but this final issue is one of the best Warren Ellis comics I’ve ever read. Most of his work leaves me cold, but this issue has some heart to it. Having defeated the Four, Elijah Snow is determined to rescue Ambrose, a Planetary member who died earlier in the series, and he succeeds. Also, a bunch of his future selves show up to watch him do it.
WONDER WOMAN/CONAN #3 (DC, 2017) – “The Dance of Wicked Crows,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] Aaron Lopresti. In the present-day sequence, Conan and Diana escape from the sharks only to fall into the hands (talons?) of the two raven women. I love how Diana calls the shark “great swallowing prince of many fangs” – in general, I think Gail writes animals very well. In the flashback, young Conan and Diana decide to run away together. This series has been fun, and Gail has managed to convince me that Conan and Diana are a potential couple, despite Conan’s womanizing and Diana’s perpetual virginity.
A BULLETPROOF COFFIN ONE-SHOT: THE 1000-YARD STARE #nn (Image, 2017) – “The 1000 Yard Stare,” [W] David Hine, [A] Shaky Kane. Compared to the previous Shaky Kane comic I read, this one is far better because it at least has a plot. That plot is mostly a bunch of metatextual self-mockery, but it’s well-executed at least, and Shaky Kane’s art is as stunning as usual.
ELRIC #6 (Pacific, 1984) – “At Last – Stormbringer!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] P. Craig Russell & Michael T. Gilbert. A very competent adaptation of the end of Elric of Melniboné, although lacking the brilliance of PCR’s Stormbringer adaptation. There’s a lot of stuff in this issue that I forgot about, or didn’t notice when I read the original book. For example, I didn’t realize just how vaginal or anal the Tunnel Under the Marsh was.
ANYTHING GOES! #6 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – various stories, [E] Gary Groth. This anthology issue includes a bunch of seemingly randomly selected stories, some of them reprinted from elsewhere. The best thing in the issue is probably the Matt Howarth story, which features some really weird aliens, and makes me want to read more of his work. The last story, Tom Sutton’s “That Damn Dog,” has brilliant art, but ends very abruptly with no conclusion. After some research, I believe that the reason is because this story is reprinted from a 1977 one-shot called Barn of Fear, except the last page was left out!
LUKE CAGE #1 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] David Walker, [A] Nelson Blake II. I really like the opening sequence of this issue, in which Luke rescues a kidnapped girl. The rest of the issue is not as good. Luke learns that Noah Burstein is dead, so he attends the funeral – which, tritely enough, takes place in the pouring rain – and then goes to New Orleans to investigate Burstein’s death.
LUKE CAGE #2 – as above. Luke encounters Mitchell Tanner and also a bunch of young criminals who Dr. Burstein was experimenting on. This issue is only average, and I really miss Iron Fist and Sanford Greene.
LUKE CAGE #3 – as above. A boring, lifeless issue. By this point it was clear to me that this series is an inferior substitute for Power Man & Iron Fist.
New comics received on November 24:
LUMBERJANES #44 (Boom!, 2017) – “Time After Crime,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Ayme Sotuyo. Molly chops down the time tree and saves the day. This storyline was fun as usual, but worse than the previous three stories; it was more plot-driven and less rich in detail or characterization. Also, I’m starting to get kind of tired of stories that are driven by Molly’s stepmother problem. I wish the other Lumberjanes would get their own character arcs.
ASTRO CITY #49 (DC, 2017) – “Resistance,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Brent Anderson. This story is nominally about the anti-Trump resistance, but most of it is taken up with the protagonist’s attempt to discover her father’s fate. I love the idea of a group of heroes each of whom gets stronger as their number increases. However, Kurt wastes too much of the issue on plot, and thereby loses the opportunity to make a truly meaningful statement about politics.
RAT QUEENS V2 #6 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Kurtis Wiebe, [A] Owen Gieni. I’ve lost track of what’s been going on in this series, but this is a good issue. The hallucination sequence, drawn in a cartoony style, is a very funny moment.
MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #25 (Marvel, 2017) – “Fantastic Three, Part 1,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Natacha Bustos. Lunella teams up with Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm and they fight the Silver Surfer. Meanwhile, in what must be a homage to Fantastic Four #2, someone is committing crimes using the Fantastic Four’s powers. This is a fun issue and it makes me wish Marvel was publishing a monthly FF title.
ANGELIC #3 (Image, 2017) – “Heirs and Graces, Part 3,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Caspar Winjgaard. Qora and Complainer continue their quest for Ay. Meanwhile, the other monks, who never cared about Qora before she left them, use her disappearance as a pretext to start a war. This is both an adorable animal story and an effective work of science fiction. I think it’s my favorite Simon Spurrier miniseries besides The Spire.
SNOTGIRL #8 (Image, 2017) – “The Boys Issue,” [W] Bryan Lee O’Malley, [A] Leslie Hung. As the title indicates, this issue focuses on the male characters, and is full of fanservice targeted at female readers. The two primary characters are Lottie’s ex-boyfriend Sunny and Meg’s fiance Ashley – Lottie is Snotgirl and I forget who Meg is, but whatever. Ashley is an amazing depiction of a stereotypical dudebro. He literally thinks about nothing but exploiting women.
ELEANOR AND THE EGRET #5 (Aftershock, 2017) – “Broken Eggs,” [W] John Layman, [A] Sam Kieth. The conclusion to this miniseries does not provide as much clarification as I had hoped for, although we do learn that Anastasia Rüe is some kind of creativity vampire, and Eleanor’s quest is to defeat Anastasia and reclaim all the creativity she stole. I’m still not sure where the egret came from. On Twitter, Layman reported that he and Rob Guillory were unable to get work at Marvel despite the success of Chew. That’s very frustrating.
BATGIRL #17 (DC, 2017) – “Summer of Lies Finale,” [W] Hope Larson, [A] Chris Wildgoose. I had to reread this entire issue just now, because I honestly wasn’t sure if I had finished it or not. I guess when I read this, I was so exhausted that I couldn’t retain it in my memory. But this is a good conclusion to the story, and a poignant examination of Babs and Dick’s relationship.
ADVENTURE COMICS #418 (DC, 1972) – “The Face of the Dragon,” [W] Len Wein, [A] José Delbo, plus other stories. The main attraction of this issue is the eight-page Black Canary story by Alex Toth. Alex is a consummate master of storytelling, and his Dinah Lance is both cute and powerful. It’s too bad that he only did two Black Canary stories – the other appeared in the following issue, which I need to get. This issue’s main story, in which Supergirl and Jonny Double investigate a crime in Chinatown, is okay, but includes some annoying Orientalist stereotypes. This issue also includes a Phantom Stranger reprint, and a previously unpublished Dr. Mid-Nite inventory story from the Golden Age, with new inking by Sal Amendola.
On November 25, I went to a local comic book store – not Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find – for a Black Friday sale. It was not a productive trip. Let me quote how I d escribed this store on Facebook: “Lots of back issues but almost all Marvel and DC, unenthusiastic service, clutter everywhere, boxes that were too full to look through, a limited graphic novel selection… I was there for at least half an hour and could only find $16 worth of stuff I wanted. At one point in my collecting career I would have loved a place like this, but my standards have gotten higher.”
To elaborate on the last line, the store had a pretty big back issue selection, but it was mostly comics I already have. At this point in my collecting career, I already have most of the low-hanging fruit, so it takes more to impress me. One of the comics I did buy at that store was this:
SPIDER-WOMAN #42 (Marvel, 1982) – “The Judas Man,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Steve Leialoha. Thanks to the Slings and Arrows Guide, I just learned that Claremont wrote Spider-Woman. In this issue Jessica Drew battles Silver Samurai and Viper, the latter of whom has some sort of personal connection to her. As a result, in this issue the Viper shows some very uncharacteristic humanity and emotion. This issue also has some nice character interaction between Jessica and her roommates. On the whole, this issue isn’t as good as Claremont’s Ms. Marvel, but I’m glad to have something else to collect now that my Ms. Marvel collection is almost complete.
GIANT DAYS 2017 HOLIDAY SPECIAL #1 (Boom!, 2017) – “To Us, You Are Perfect,” [W] John Allison, [A] Jenn St.-Onge. The absence of Max Sarin in this issue makes me realize how essential he is to this series. His art is full of sight gags and magic-realist touches, and it contributes greatly to the comic’s sense of humor. This issue, the girls go to London to stay with a friend, and try to help her choose between her two suitors. This is a good issue, but as noted, Max Sarin is missed.
SHERLOCK FRANKENSTEIN AND THE LEGION OF EVIL #2 (Dark Horse, 2017) – “The Call of Cthu-Lou!”, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] David Rubín. The second villain on Lucy’s list is Cthu-Lou, a plumber who was transformed into an eldritch monstrosity. The highlight of the series so far is Lucy’s encounter with Cthu-Lou’s little daughter Cthu-Louise. You get the sense that Cthu-Louise parents have made her feel ashamed of herself, and that Lucy’s positive interaction with her might have made a real difference to her self-esteem.
DARK HORSE PRESENTS #70 (Dark Horse, 1993) – “The Madwoman of the Sacred Heart, Part 1,” [W] Moebius, [A] Alejandro Jodorowsky, plus other stories. This issue’s lead story is the first chapter of a BD album about a pompous professor. Moebius’s art is beautiful, but it’s presented in black and white, which is truly unfortunate given the central role that color plays in Moebius’s work. Luckily there’s a color edition of this album. This issue also includes an okay strip by Gary Davis, and some Alec strips by Eddie Campbell, most or all of which I’ve read elsewhere. Among these strips is the one with the line “The successful candidate will not partially fill panels.”
DEPT. H #20 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Matt Kindt. This issue reveals the origin of Q, who grew up in the Australian outback and killed his father before embarking on a life of crime. Kindt powerfully depicts Q’s miserable, doomed existence, although he relies a bit on stereotypes of Aboriginal Australians. I was just reading the proofs of my chapter on MIND MGMT, and I’m reminded of the lengths to which Kindt went in order to make that series a materially rich experience. Dept. H is not a bad series, but its materiality is much less powerful.
THE PHANTOM STRANGER #2 (DC, 1969) – “The Man Who Died Three Times!”, [W] Otto Binder, [A] Bill Draut, et al. This issue consists of two old reprinted stories with a new framing sequence. Both the reprints and the new material are stupid, and the Phantom Stranger is depicted as just some vaguely mysterious dude, rather than an ominous being of incredible power. The modern version of the Phantom Stranger didn’t appear until at least #4 of this series.
SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND LOIS LANE #94 (DC, 1969) – “The Lois Lane in the Mystic Mirror,” [W] Leo Dorfman, [A] Curt Swan. Lois uses a magic mirror to switch places with her duplicate from a parallel world, who is married to Superman and has a child. This story doesn’t make any sense – the alternate Lois abandons her husband and son for no reason at all. The backup story, a reprint by Siegel and Schaffenberger, is even worse. It’s so full of misogyny and fat-shaming that it would have been considered offensive even in 1969.
BLACK PANTHER #167 (Marvel, 2017) – “Avengers of the New World, Part 8,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Leonard Kirk. T’Challa and Shuri forcibly recruit Thunderball as an ally against Klaw, then they travel into the Djalla, i.e. the realm of the ancestors. The interesting things in this issue are, first, getting to see inside Thunderball’s head, and second, the flashback sequence showing how the Wakandans stole their land from the native beast-people. I guess the lesson here is that Wakanda isn’t the perfect anti-colonial utopia.
FANTASTIC FOUR #155 (Marvel, 1975) – “Battle Royal!”, [W] Len Wein, [A] Rich Buckler. A surprisingly fun story from an undistinguished period in the FF’s history. The Silver Surfer discovers that Shalla Bal is on Earth but has somehow become Dr. Doom’s wife.
AVENGERS #287 (Marvel, 1988) – “Invasion!”, [W] Roger Stern & Ralph Macchio, [A] John Buscema. The Avengers search for Marrina, who was kidnapped by the Fixer and Mentallo. Meanwhile, Dr. Druid openly challenges Captain Marvel’s leadership. The subplot about Monica’s leadership problem is interesting, but the main plot of this comic is not, and the Avengers lineup at this point was terrible.
LEGIONNAIRES #81 (DC, 2000) – “Widening Rifts, Part 2: Event Horizon,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Adam DeKraker. In the midst of a crisis in which Stargates stop functioning, the UP votes to disband the Legion and impeach RJ Brande. This is the last issue of the series, and is followed by Legion Lost and then The Legion. It’s exciting, but also includes some annoying moments, such as Jo and Tinya acting codependent, and Jazmin being rude to Star Boy.
SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #134 (Marvel, 1988) – “Sin-Cere,” [W] Peter David, [A] Sal Buscema. In the first part of the sequel to “The Death of Jean DeWolff,” the former Sin-Eater is paroled. Also, Electro finally defeats Spider-Man after realizing that Spidey uses static electricity to stick to walls. This seems to have been the official explanation of Spidey’s wall-crawling at the time, but was later abandoned. This is an entertaining issue with some cute moments, like the page where Peter surprises MJ taking pictures, but the art is bad and the inking is worse.
SUPERMAN #306 (DC, 1976) – “Backward Battle for the Bizarro World!”, [W] Martin Pasko, [A] Curt Swan. Bizarro invades Earth, mistakenly thinking that Bizarro World has disappeared somehow. Superman proves to him that Bizarro World still exists. A mediocre issue.
SUICIDE SQUAD #17 (DC, 1988) – “Battleground Manhattan,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Luke McDonnell. Disappointingly, this issue’s first 15 pages are taken up by of an overlong action sequence in which the Jihad invade Manhattan. The rest of the issue consists of more typical Suicide Squad material, and is more fun to read. I do like the idea that the Jihad’s members are all from countries that have been destabilized by American intervention.
MYSTERY IN SPACE #114 (DC, 1980) – “Betrayal on Gamma Nova,” [W] Carl Wessler, [A] Johnny Craig. This issue’s lead story was created by two men with a combined age of well over 100, and it shows. The other material in the issue is better. There’s a three-pager by Levitz and Spiegle in which Earth is saved thanks to the existence of a single good man. The horrible alien creatures in the last panel are a nice touch. Other creators represented in the issue include Dan Mishkin & Gary Cohn, Steve Ditko, and the underrated Tom Yeates. The juxtaposition of Ditko and Yeates in the last two stories is striking.
New comics received on December 1, which was kind of an awful day because I was terrified about the tax bill:
BATMAN: CREATURE OF THE NIGHT #1 (DC, 2017) – “Book One: I Shall Become…”, [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] John Paul Leon. This miniseries is the spiritual sequel to Superman: Secret Identity. Like its predecessor, Creature of the Night is the best story about its title character in many years. It’s clearly a labor of love for both Busiek and Leon, whose art in this issue is the best of his career, as was Stuart Immonen’s art in Secret Identity. Both Alfred and little Bruce are deeply compelling characters. I especially like the implication that Alfred can’t be Bruce’s adoptive father because he’s gay. Besides Secret Identity, this series also bears a heavy resemblance to Batman: Year One, but is much warmer and more emotional.
MOTOR CRUSH #8 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Babs Tarr, [W] Brenden Fletcher & Cameron Stewart. Domino, Lola and Cal invade a Crush processing plant. Besides being another high-quality issue of Motor Crush, this issue is notable for its spotlight on Catball. Until now Catball was just a generic annoying mascot, but in this issue it finally starts to show a distinct personality.
HI-FI FIGHT CLUB #4 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] Carly Usdin, [A] Nina Vakueva. For legal reasons this issue was published under a different title, but I refuse to acknowledge that title because it’s dumb. In this final issue, the good guys use the power of music and electronics to rescue the kidnapped band, then the protagonist and her crush start a relationship. This was a fun series, but like so many other Boom! titles, it didn’t get the chance to realize its potential. Both its creators are quite talented, and I hope we see more of them.
MANIFEST DESTINY #32 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. This issue is narrated by Irene the French maid, a character who I didn’t even realize existed until now, but who, of course, has her own story and her own perspective. All the narration in this issue is in French, which is appropriate because it demonstrates the separation between Irene and the Anglophones who constitute the rest of the party. (I’m proud to report that I can read French and I didn’t need the translation, except for an unfamiliar word or two.) I hope they go on and do an issue narrated by Sacagawea in Shoshone. This issue is also very relevant at the present cultural moment, because the plot is that one of the soldiers has sexually assaulted Irene, and she knows he’s planning to do it again and no one will stop him. So she takes matters into her own hands – or maybe I should say claws – and kills him, with Sacagawea’s unexpected help.
SUPER SONS ANNUAL #1 (DC, 2017) – “Animal Planet,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [A] Paul Pelletier. Stories about teams of super-pets are nothing new at this point, but this is a really good one nonetheless. In the part of the issue involving the pets, all the dialogue is in animal noises, but Tomasi and Pelletier’s storytelling is strong enough that the story makes sense anyway. The pets are funny and have distinctive personalities, especially Streaky, and their adventure is exciting. As a Legion fan, I’m disappointed that Proty was replaced by “Clay Critter.”
ATOMIC ROBO AND THE SPECTRE OF TOMORROW #2 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. This issue continues all the subplots from last issue. Also, a bunch of killer robots, resembling the one from the first issue, appear all over the world. So far, this is my favorite Atomic Robo miniseries since Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur.
SWORD OF AGES #1 (IDW, 2017) – “Prelude: Castaways,” [W/A] Gabriel Rodriguez. Gabriel Rodriguez’s first full solo work is further proof that he’s one of the best artists in American comics. However, this feels more like a European comic than an American one, since Rodriguez’s artwork and Lovern Kindzierski’s coloring are heavily influenced by Moebius. The subject matter – an adventure on an alien planet that blends SF and fantasy –reminds me of French SF comics like Aquablue or Lanfeust de Troy. Even the chapter titles, in black text inserted into the panel gutters, are reminiscent of Moebius. As suggested, Rodriguez’s draftsmanship and storytelling are amazing, but the plot of this comic is unclear; there are multiple different plotlines with different characters, and it’s not clear how these plots are connected. I’m sure it’ll make sense eventually, though.
SPIDER-GWEN #26 (Marvel, 2017) – “Gwenom,” [W] Jason Latour, [A] Robbi Rodriguez. Besides the Bodega Bandit scene, this is another grim and depressing issue. I wish Gwen would just kill Matt Murdock already. I hope this storyline will have a happy ending.
MARVEL ADVENTURES: FANTASTIC FOUR #35 (Marvel, 2008) – “Go One Way Orrgo Another,” [W] Paul Tobin, [A] David Nakayama. I haven’t collected this series as avidly as the other Marvel Adventures titles, but this issue is fantastic, and a perfect example of Tobin’s ability to blend humor with the Silver Age Marvel writing style. The FF battle Orrgo, a monster from Marvel’s pre-superhero era. Then Johnny and Ben are invited to serve as judges for a beauty pageant, and it turns out Orrgo is the other judge. The scenes with Ben and Orrgo discussing the contestants are as hilarious as you’d expect. There’s also a further plot involving AIM, and Sue Storm teams up with the coincidentally named Chili Storm, from Millie the Model, to save the day.
DC COMICS PRESENTS #31 (Marvel, 1981) – “The Deadliest Show on Earth!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] José Luis García-López. Superman teams up with Robin to defeat a circus of criminals. This plot is familiar from lots of Marvel comics, and the writer acknowledges this; at one point Robin suggests that Superman should attack the ringmaster first because “isn’t he usually the guy who’s the mastermind in all the comic books?” At least this story is a bit different from your average Circus of Crime story because of Robin’s circus upbringing. However, the main attraction of this comic is JLGL’s brilliant artwork.
TANTALIZING STORIES PRESENTS FRANK IN THE RIVER #1 (Tundra, 1992) – “Frank in ‘The River’”, [W/A] Jim Woodring. The main story in this one-shot was probably one of Woodring’s first stories in color, and it’s a masterpiece. The artwork and coloring are phenomenal. The plot is clearer than in the previous Woodring comics I reviewed, though its narrative logic is based on magic instead of causality. This issue also includes a backup story by Mark Martin, which is interesting and well-done, but pales in comparison to the lead story.
MISTER MIRACLE SPECIAL #1 (DC, 1987) – “No Escape from Destiny!!!”, [W] Mark Evanier, [A] Steve Rude. Evanier and Rude are the perfect creative team for a Mister Miracle adaptation. The former was Kirby’s assistant on the original Fourth World comics, and the latter has been described (by Jon B. Cooke) as one of the few artists who truly “gets” Kirby. Together, they show a deep understanding of Kirby’s sensibility, resulting in one of the best post-Kirby Fourth World stories. The plot is that Funky Flashman coaxes Scott Free out of retirement for one more show, threatening Scott’s marriage since Barda wants him to stop risking his life. Also, the risk is even worse than Scott realizes, because Funky Flashman is working for Darkseid.
SUPERMAN #263 (DC, 1973) – “Man of Molten Steel!”, [W] Elliot S! Maggin, [A] Curt Swan. An unimpressive effort by my favorite Superman creative team. The plot is about a director named Simon March who makes his actors perform risky stunts, but beyond that, it’s a bunch of mystical mumbo jumbo that makes no sense. The World of Krypton backup story isn’t much better.
TALES FROM THE CRYPT #7 (Russ Cochran, 1994) – various stories, [E] Bill Gaines. This was originally Tales from the Crypt #23. The highlight of this issue is Graham Ingels’s “Last Respects.” In this story, a wealthy but underage heiress secretly marries her chauffeur. Her tyrannical uncle has the marriage annulled, and she dies of grief. The chauffeur murders the uncle in revenge, but then when he visits his wife’s mausoleum to say goodbye, he gets locked in and can’t escape. He survives for a month by eating… well, you can figure out what… but eventually he dies too, from formaldehyde poisoning. This is one of the grimmest, bleakest EC stories I’ve read, thanks in part to Ingels’s “ghastly” art. This issue also includes lesser stories by Feldstein, Davis and Craig. Jack Davis’s “Seance” is the best of these three, though its shock ending is too predictable.
CHARLTON BULLSEYE #1 (Charlton, 1981) – “The Enigma!”, [W] Benjamin Smith, [A] Dan Reed. This Blue Beetle/Question teamup is a piece of hackwork that demonstrates Charlton’s low standards. The story is of no interest at all (notably, the plot is credited to “A. Committee”), and the only time the art is effective is when it’s blatantly copied from Neal Adams.
WORLD OF ANIMOSITY #1 (Aftershock, 2017) – untitled, [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Rafael De Latorre. This mostly text-based issue is a compendium of information about the world of the series. It effectively fleshes out Animosity’s world, but is full of tiny text that’s tedious to read. Moreover, at the same time that it tells us more about Animosity’s world, it also provides more evidence that the premise of the series makes no logical sense. For example, Bennett is forced to acknowledge that animals shouldn’t be able to speak if they don’t have vocal cords, though I guess that might be a plot point.
LUKE CAGE #4 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] David Walker, [A] Nelson Blake. This is the best issue yet, though that’s a low bar to clear. Noah Burstein is, of course, not dead, and on encountering him again, Luke has to confront their dysfunctional and exploitative relationship. Noah claims to be Luke’s father, but really he takes all the credit for all the good Luke does, without accepting blame for the bad consequences of all his other experiments. I’d enjoy this series more if it had more of this kind of storytelling.
SPY SEAL #4 (Image, 2017) – “The Corten-Steel Phoenix” (part 4), [W/A] Rich Tommaso. The first storyline ends in an exciting if somewhat predictable way. As I’ve suggested before, this comic might be underwhelming to French readers, because it’s so similar to Tintin. But in the American market, Spy Seal is a very unusual comic because it’s explicitly influenced by Clear Line comics, and American commercial comics have mostly ignored this source of influence.
ACES HIGH #4 (Gemstone, 1999) – various stories, [E] Bill Gaines. This issue includes aviation stories by George Evans, Bernie Krigstein, Wally Wood and Jack Davis. George Evans is the only artist in this issue who’s not in the Eisner Hall of Fame, and he really should be. His story, “The Green Kids,” is probably the highlight of the issue, though it reminds me a lot of “The Keg” from Piracy #5, also by Evans. Both these stories are about commanding officers who seem to be horrible brutes, but who turn out to have been secretly protecting their men.
BLACK MAGICK #9 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Nicola Scott. This issue just advances all the ongoing plotlines a little bit. The cat on the cover only appears on a few pages of the comic.
WILDMAN COMICS #6 (Miller, 1989) – “Wildman & Rubberoy in Paradise,” [W/A] Grass Green. This comic includes three stories by Grass Green: two superhero parodies, and an installment in the long-running saga of his main character, Xal-Kor the Human Cat. Grass Green is known as a fan artist, but his work is of professional quality, though it’s not spectacular. His art is heavily influenced by Ditko, and is more energetic than most of Ditko’s later work.
SHATTER SPECIAL #1 (First, 1985) – “Headhunters,” [W] Peter B. Gillis, [A] Mike Saenz. This is historically important as the self-proclaimed “first computerized comic,” though who knows if that’s really true. Mike Saenz’s art appears to have been created with the same version of MacPaint that was on my childhood computer. It looks hopelessly primitive today, but Saenz’s ability to achieve subtle effects with very crude tools is impressive. Gillis’s story is pretty standard cyberpunk material.
ROWANS RUIN #3 (Boom!, 2015) – untitled, [W] Mike Carey, [A] Mike Perkins. This was pretty good, but I wish I’d had the time to reread issues 1 and 2 before reading it.
POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #83 (Marvel, 1982) – “War Without End!”, [W] Mary Jo Duffy, [A] Denys Cowan. Luke and Danny separately battle Warhawk. Meanwhile some other stuff happens, like Noah Burstein trying to get Luke back together with his ex-girlfriend Claire Temple. This issue passes the black female Bechdel test because of a scene in which Misty Knight and Harmony Young talk about boots. Other than that, this is a well-written issue, but not Duffy’s best, and Denys Cowan’s art is lackluster.
WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #278 (DC, 1982) – “Assault on Thanagar!”, [W] Bob Rozakis, [A] Rich Buckler. The best things in this oversized issue are the Zatanna story drawn by Dan Spiegle, and the Marvel Family story drawn by Don Newton. However, nothing in this issue is truly great.
THE WORLD BELOW: DEEPER AND STRANGER #1 (Dark Horse, 1999) – “The Spare!”, [W/A] Paul Chadwick. In this sequel to an earlier miniseries, some strange people explore an even stranger underground world. The premise of this comic is similar to that of Cave Carson, but Chadwick’s underground creatures and environments are truly bizarre – the trees with ring-shaped branches are just one of the many weird things in this issue. Chadwick is such a brilliant writer that you sometimes forget he’s also a phenomenal artist, and because this story lacks the philosophical and literary depth of Concrete, it gives the reader the chance to appreciate Chadwick’s art.
MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #72 (Marvel, 1981) – “The Might of Maelstrom,” [W] Mark Gruenwald & Ralph Macchio, [A] Ron Wilson. The Thing and the Inhumans battle Maelstrom and his minions. Gruenwald also provides some new or retconned information about the Inhumans’ history. This comic was pretty average.
FRANK #4 (Fantagraphics, 2001) – “Frank’s High Horse, Part 2,” [W/A] Jim Woodring. This issue begins with a summary of part one, which is very helpful, since I read part one but didn’t understand it. It turns out that Whim was teaching Frank to “pull dupes from hidden yonis,” but instead of a dupe, Frank got a High Horse – the thing that looks kind of like an evil stingray. This issue, Frank and his High Horse terrorize a bunch of other innocent creatures, until the High Horse decides to go back into the cosmic vagina that it came from. Frank follows it through, and finds himself in a world full of horrible creatures. I audibly gasped on seeing the two-page spread in which Frank arrives in the High Horse’s dimension. This issue also includes a four-pager in which Frank tries to capture a creature in a jar, but the creature keeps getting bigger. Sadly, this is the last of the Woodring comics I bought in October. I’m going to need to get more.
WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE #5 (Exhibit A, 1995) – “That Model Client,” [W/A] Batton Lash. This issue introduces the model Dawn Devine, Byrd’s future love interest. She becomes Wolff and Byrd’s client when she tries to get out of her modeling contract, and her employer retaliates by revoking the beauty spell he cast on her. This story would be considered fat-shaming if it were published today, but it’s very funny and entertaining, in typical Wolff & Byrd fashion.
KILL OR BE KILLED #2 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Needing to kill a bad person, the protagonist remembers having learned of a childhood friend who was repeatedly raped by his older brother, so he tracks down the brother and kills him in cold blood. This issue demonstrates why the protagonist of this comic is a morally ambiguous and disturbing character, more of a villain than a hero. Even if the older brother was a sexual predator, did he deserve to be shot without a trial? You can tell that the protagonist himself is unsure of that.