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First reviews of 2018

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This is now the sixth calendar year in which I’ve worked on this project.

Comics I read before the first new comic book day of 2018:

USAGI YOJIMBO #165 (Dark Horse, 2017) – “Mouse Trap, Part 3,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Usagi and Ishida capture the lesser criminals, but their mastermind escapes. This was not a bad conclusion, and it effectively set up the next story. I think this is the last issue with the current numbering; it looks like the next Usagi story will be a miniseries.

BATGIRL #18 (DC, 2017) – “White Elephant,” [W] Hope Larson, [A] Sami Basri. Babs and her friends get together for Christmas, but Harley Quinn shows up and leads them on an adventure. There’s also a subplot about an evil dudebro venture capitalist. This was a fun issue, but I don’t remember much about it now.

WONDER WOMAN/CONAN #4 (DC, 2017) – “War and the Windrider,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] Aaron Lopresti. This issue has some fun character interactions, but it doesn’t advance the plot much. This series could maybe have been five issues instead of six.

SPIDER-GWEN #27 (Marvel, 2017) – “Gwenom,” [W] Jason Latour, [A] Veronica Fish & Olivia Margraf. Another issue in which not very much happens. This issue has pages by two separate artists, but it’s hard to tell them apart.

DETECTIVE COMICS #645 (DC, 1992) – “Electric City, Part 2: Grounded!”, [W] Chuck Dixon, [A] Tom Lyle. Batman and the Electrocutioner, Gotham’s version of the Punisher, race against each other to catch a serial  killer. Despite my intense dislike for Chuck Dixon, I thought this was a fairly exciting comic.

SOMERSET HOLMES #3 (Pacific, 1984) – untitled, [W] Bruce Jones & April Campbell, [A] Brent Anderson. This series, one of Bruce Jones’s numerous creator-owned titles, is a hard-boiled detective story. It’s very well-drawn, but hard to follow because it’s part 3 in an ongoing story. In my memory I confused it with Hand of Fate, which is also a detective comic by Bruce Jones, but with more of a supernatural element. This issue also includes a backup story with excellent art by Al Williamson.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #9 (DC, 1991) – “The Prophet Margin,” [W] Peter Miligan, [A] Chris Bachalo. Like many Peter Milligan comics, this comic felt very profound and complex when I was reading it, but I couldn’t remember much about it afterward. In this story Shade battles an aging hippie who wants to share his LSD addiction with the rest of the world, or something like that, and also Shade gets stuck in the body of a giant newborn baby.

MICKEY MOUSE #228 (Gladstone, 1987) – “The Captive Castaways,” [W/A] Floyd Gottfredson, [W] Merrill de Maris. Now that I’ve read the awful pre-Gottfredson Mickey strips (see my review of The Uncensored Mouse #1 from last year), I understand what a great storyteller Gottfredson was. This issue is the conclusion to a complex and funny story in which Peg-Leg Pete becomes the captain of a pirate ship and kidnaps Minnie. But Mickey tricks Pete into making Mickey the captain, so that Mickey can perform Pete and Minnie’s wedding, and Mickey orders Pete’s men to mutiny. The plot is driven by Mickey’s brilliance and Pete’s stupidity – the fact that Pete can’t read is a significant plot point. After reading this issue, I begin to understand why Gottfredson was so great, and I want to collect more of the Gladstone reprints of his work.

TWO-FISTED TALES #8 (Russ Cochran, 1951/1994) – four stories, [E] Harvey Kurtzman. The first two stories, Jack Davis’s “Mud!” and Wally Wood’s “Bunker Hill!”, have excellent artwork, but the plots aren’t that great. The highlight of this issue is “Corpse on the Imjin!”, one of Kurtzman’s most famous stories. An American soldier sits by the Imjin river watching a corpse float by, then gets attacked by a North Korean soldier. The American kills the North Korean with his bare hands, turning him into another corpse floating in the river. This story exhibits the great themes of Kurtzman’s war comics – the brutality of war and the common humanity of “us” and “them”. The story is also a masterful demonstration of cartooning, especially the page in which Kurtzman depicts the orgasmic buildup to the Korean soldier’s death, and the release of tension afterward. Severin and Elder’s “Buzz Bomb!” is another good-but-not-great story.

ASTONISHING TALES #9 (Marvel, 1971) – “The Legend of the Lizard Men!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] John Buscema. For unspecified reasons, the story originally intended for this issue was postponed to issue 10. This may have been related to the fact that #9 was the first issue of Astonishing Tales with only one feature instead of two. Instead, #9 consists of a fill-in story in which Ka-Zar encounters a witch who turns men into lizardmen. This story has some nice artwork, but is otherwise forgettable. This issue also includes a reprinted “story” starring Lorna the Jungle Girl, with art by Jay Scott Pike. I put “story” in quotation marks because the first four and the last two pages of this story are in fact reprinted from two different stories, both originally published in the same issue. I assume this was not intentional.

DAREDEVIL #145 (Marvel, 1977) – “Danger Rides the Bitter Wind!”, [W] Jim Shooter & Gerry Conway, [A] George Tuska. Daredevil battles the Owl, whose last adventure has left him in a wheelchair. This is a boring issue from a bad run of Daredevil comics.

NAUGHTY BITS #5 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – “Toadman Returns,” [W/A] Roberta Gregory. Earlier in the series, Midge had an unsatisfying sexual encounter with a man named Lyle, a.k.a. Toadman. This issue, he turns out to be Midge’s new coworker. Toadman instantly starts hitting on Midge, to the point of sexually harassing her. All his Midge’s female coworkers encourage him in it, while needling Midge for refusing his advances. This is an effective depiction of how sexism and workplace harassment are perpetuated by women as well as men. In the end, Midge takes Toadman out on a date just so she can tell him to go to hell (https://www.instagram.com/p/BdjJ0eCFIf1/?taken-by=aaronkashtan). Toadman subsequently gets fired for conducting personal business on work time and for being a deadbeat dad, but his female coworkers all make excuses for him, showing that while Toadman may be gone, he’s just a symptom of a bigger problem.

THE SPIRIT #44 (Kitchen Sink, 1988) – “The Crime of Passion” and three other stories, [W/A] Will Eisner. This series is probably the best way to collect The Spirit, since the Archives volumes are beyond my price range, but it’s a pity that the stories are reprinted in black and white. Without color, Eisner’s artwork can be difficult to read. The four stories in this issue are all good examples of Eisner’s postwar style, but none of them particularly stand out. The last one, “Black Alley,” is marginally better than the rest.

MADMAN ATOMIC COMICS #16 (Image, 2009) – “Last Night the Atomics Saved My Life!”, [W] Jamie S. Rich, [A] Joëlle Jones; and “Tweenage Wasteland!”, [W/A] Mike Allred. This issue’s main story is narrated by a groupie who falls in love with the lead singer of the Atomics. The backup story also guest-stars the Atomics. Neither story is all that great.

USAGI YOJIMBO #22 (Fantagraphics, 1990) – “Blood Wings, Part 2,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Usagi defends a village from the Komori ninja. These characters are a poor fit for this series because they have superhuman abilities that correspond to the animal they’re based on – in other words, they can fly because they’re bats. The animal forms of most of the other characters in Usagi Yojimbo are purely cosmetic; for example, Usagi is effectively a human with a rabbit’s head, not a human-sized rabbit. Maybe this is why Stan has used the Komori ninja very rarely in recent years. The backup story in this issue is a little better than usual because some of the art is by Stan.

LEGEND OF OZ: THE WICKED WEST VOL. 2 #1 (Big Dog Ink, 2012) – untitled, [W] Tom Hutchison, [A] Alisson Borges. A trite and poorly drawn Oz parody. I got this for free at a convention, and I’m glad I didn’t waste any money on it.

FIGHTIN’ ARMY #103 (Charlton, 1972) – “The Sniper,” [W] unknown, [A] Sam Glanzman. This issue’s lead story has some good art, but the writing is lifeless, and the writer makes no attempt to examine the psychology of the characters. The other stories in this issue don’t even have Glanzman artwork to recommend them.

THE MIGHTY AVENGERS #28 (Marvel, 2009) – “The Unspoken, Part 2,” [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Khoi Pham. I bought this from a 50-cent box because I like both the writers, but they both phoned it in on this issue. There are at least some rudimentary attempts at characterization, including some scenes with Stature, but it doesn’t feel like a lot of effort went into this comic.

The following comics were waiting for me when I came back from MLA:

PAPER GIRLS #19 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Cliff Chiang. An average issue. There are more scenes with Charlotte and Jahpo and giant robots, but none of it is especially striking or memorable.

RAT QUEENS #7 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Kurtis J. Wiebe, [A] Owen Gieni. This issue’s main plot is about a bar that’s serving some weird mushrooms. Also, Orc Dave has somehow gotten his son killed, and Violet’s father is dead. I had trouble following this issue’s plot – in particular, I can’t remember what happened to Dave’s son. But the Cheech Wizard character shows up on the last page, suggesting that all or part of this issue was a dream sequence or a hallucination.

MISTER MIRACLE #6 (DC, 2018) – untitled, [W] Tom King, [A] Mitch Gerads. A truly touching piece of work. Barda and Scott have a conversation about renovating their condo, all while escaping traps and battling Orion’s flunkies. It turns out the reason Barda wants to renovate the condo is because she’s pregnant. This is an adorable moment that totally changes the tone of the issue, although then there’s another jarring shift in tone when Scott reaches Orion’s throne room and finds him dead, with Darkseid standing over him.

X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN #2 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Ed Piskor. This issue continues the story up to the point where X-Men was cancelled. The next miniseries, coming later this year, will start with Giant-Size X-Men #1. The stories summarized in this issue were written by multiple people and were not originally intended as a single cohesive plot. Piskor’s achievement is to combine all these different stories into a giant overarching narrative, hence the title Grand Design. He even makes it seem like the X-Men writers prior to Claremont were intentionally setting up for events in Claremont’s run, even though that is obviously not factually true. In general, this is an awesome comic; it’s probably the best Marvel comic since Vision, and the best X-Men comic in at least a decade.

RISE OF THE BLACK PANTHER #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “The King at the End of Everything,” [W] Evan Narcisse w/ Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Paul Renaud. This is possibly even better than the regular Black Panther series. Narcisse retells Black Panther’s origin clearly and passionately, revealing lots of details that are either new or unfamiliar to me, and investing these details with strong emotion. T’Challa’s mother N’Yami is an impressive character, whose death in childbirth is surprising and saddening. This series will be the definitive Black Panther origin story.

GIANT DAYS #34 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. Esther and Ed go on  a pub crawl, which ends with Ed falling off a roof. This was a pretty typical issue of Giant Days.

HAWKEYE #14 (Marvel, 2018) – “Family Reunion,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Leonardo Romero. Eden Vale offers to bring back Kate’s mom if Kate helps her against Clint. Kate touchingly refuses because Clint is as much her family as her mother is. Then Madame Masque and Eden Vale decide to team up. This is a pretty good issue of a series that will be sadly missed.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE SPECTRE OF TOMORROW #3 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. This is good, but it suffers from “third issue syndrome,” meaning that it continues all the existing plotlines but doesn’t resolve any of them. I don’t remember much about it.

ROGUE & GAMBIT #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “Ring of Fire, Part 1,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Pere Pérez. This is one of the few new X-Men comics I’ve bought since Wolverine and the X-Men ended. I think one of Marvel’s bigger problems at the moment is their inability to produce successful X-Men comics. This series is at least a reasonable attempt at an X-Men title that has top-tier creators and appeals to a broad audience. Rogue and Gambit were never my favorite X-Men, partly because of their accents, but I grew up reading about them in Fabian Nicieza’s X-Men and watching them on the TV cartoon, so this issue triggers some nice feelings of nostalgia, and Kelly Thompson displays her usual brilliant characterization.

SCALES & SCOUNDRELS #5 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Sebastian Girner, [A] Galaad. Tom Spurgeon just said something nice about this comic on Twitter, and it’s definitely not the sort of comic he usually praises. This issue, the heroes finally get to the treasure, but then the prince falls off a cliff.

DOOM PATROL #61 (DC, 1992) – “…”, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Richard Case & Stan Woch. The Candlemaker systematically demolishes the Doom Patrol, but Dorothy, Cliff and Rebis succeed in defeating him, only to realize that Niles Caulder’s nanomachines are an even bigger threat. This issue is an epic conclusion to one of Grant’s greatest works.

WORLDS’ FINEST #0 (DC, 2012) – “Beginnings,” [W] Paul Levitz, [A] Kevin Maguire. I bought this when it came out, but never read it. When Paul was writing Huntress and Power Girl in the ‘70s, they were among DC’s best female characters. But when he returned to these characters in the 2010s, the standards for female superheroes were much higher, while Paul was still the same writer he was in the ‘70s, so his Worlds’ Finest series was a failure. This issue depicts Huntress/Robin and Power Girl/Supergirl’s first team-up, and it has some nice moments. But it covers the same events as Paul’s “From Each Ending… a Beginning” in DC Super Stars #17, and that story was better.

BLACK BOLT #9 (Marvel, 2018) – “The Midnight King Returns to Earth,” [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Christian Ward. Black Bolt and Titania get in a fight which ends when Titania realizes her husband is dead. Carl Creel’s wake and funeral are very touching, even if it won’t be long before Carl is resurrected by some other writer. Then some evil Inhumans invade the funeral and kidnap Blinky. There’s a rumor that this series is going to end with #12, which would be a pity, but Saladin Ahmed is going to go on to bigger and better things; see my review of Abbott #1 below.

DIVA #2 (Starhead, 1994) – “Doudou, the Poilu in Strays,” [W/A] Diana Sasse, plus other stories. An anthology of comics by women, edited by Michael Dowers and with creators such as Donna Barr and Roberta Gregory. The first story in this anthology title is a translated German comic, taking place in a postapocalyptic world divided between humans, or Poilus, and centaurs, or Boches. These terms of course also refer to French and German soldiers. As Donna Barr points out in her introduction, this comic is shockingly similar to Stinz, although I assume Donna didn’t discover it until Stinz already existed. This issue also includes some intriguing but narratively weak comics by E. Fitz Smith, who is better known as a graphic designer. The highlight of the issue is the multiple stories by Roberta Gregory, including one in which Bitchy Bitch meets Bitchy Butch, and they don’t hit it off well.

FIGHTIN’ FIVE #28 (Charlton, 1964) – “Introducing the Fightin’ 5, America’s Super Squad,” [W] Joe Gill, [A] Bill Montes. Despite the issue number, this is the first appearance of these characters. As usual, Charlton continued the numbering from a cancelled title, Space War, in order to qualify for lower mailing rates. As the GCD points out, the Fightin’ 5 are very similar to the Blackhawks, except they lack individual personalities. Still, Joe Gill clearly put more effort into this comic than into the dozens of other stories he churned out every month, and the result is an exciting adventure story with lots of references to Cold War politics.

VIC & BLOOD #1 (Mad Dog, 1987) – “Eggsucker,” [W] Harlan Ellison, [A] Richard Corben. This is Corben’s adaptation of Ellison’s classic short story “A Boy and His Dog.” I’ve never read any of Ellison’s non-comics work, although I have one of his short story collections, but this comic makes me interested in reading more of his work. It stars a teenage boy and his telepathic dog, who live in a very bleak and disturbing fantasy world. Corben’s art is up to his usual high standards.

GIANT-SIZE SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP #2 (Marvel, 1975) – “To Bestride the World!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Mike Sekowsky. Based on Namor and Doom’s costumes in this issue, I thought it might be the issue where Doom says “Doom toots as he pleases,” but it’s not. In this issue, Doom and Namor team up against a robot named Andro who makes androids. It’s a tiresome and overly long piece of work. The backup story, a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #8, is much better than the main story.

SUPERB #5 (Lion Forge, 2017) – “Matters of Trust,” [W] Sheena Howard & David Walker, [A] Ray-Anthony Height & Alitha Martinez. Another cute issue of an enjoyable series. The issue begins with a flashback to Jonah and Kayla’s childhoods, then Jonah and Kayla plan their assault on the facility where their parents are being held, and Jonah repeatedly insists that Kayla choose a code name.

HAPPY HOUR IN AMERICA #1 (Fantagraphics, 2017) – “Steve McQueen Has Vanished,” [W/A] Tim Lane. This is an ambitious piece of work, with beautiful art and lavish production design. The main story focuses on Steve McQueen, who is traveling the country incognito just after becoming America’s highest-paid film star. Steve McQueen died before I was born and I know nothing about him, so this story was a fun look at some history I’m not familiar with. Tim Lane’s artwork reminds me of Drew Friedman’s because of its photorealism and its nostalgia for mid-century America, though Lane’s draftsmanship is nothing like Friedman’s. This comic could be an Eisner contender.

NOT BRAND ECCH #14 (Marvel, 2017) – “Secret Empire: Abridged,” [W] Nick Spencer, [A] Scott Koblish. This issue’s main story is a frustrating piece of trollery. In this story, Nick Spencer repeats fans’ criticisms of Secret Empire in a mocking way, without in any way addressing the concerns behind these criticisms. This is a classic example of lampshading, where a text points out its own problems and then makes no attempt to resolve those problems. This story demonstrates Spencer’s hostility to his readers and his inability to accept criticism, and it won’t win him any new fans. It’s a shame that this story draws the reader’s attention away from the other quality work in this issue, including stories by Katie Cook, Jay Fosgitt, and Ryan North and Erica Henderson.

PLANETARY #6 (Wildstorm, 1999) – “It’s a Strange World,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] John Cassaday. I’ve bought a bunch of issues of this comic lately, and I only need #4, #9, #23 and #25 for a complete run. This issue narrates the origin of the Four, a.k.a. the Fantastic Four, the primary villains of the series.

PRYDE AND WISDOM #1 (Marvel, 1996) – “Mystery School,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Terry Dodson. This miniseries co-stars Kitty Pryde, one of my favorite Marvel characters, but it has two serious problems. The first is Terry Dodson’s barely competent artwork. He’s become something of a fan favorite, but I’m not sure why. The second problem is the other co-star, Pete Wisdom, who is a blatant Gary Stu. He’s not a totally unoriginal character, but he’s also not as interesting as Ellis thinks, and it takes some nerve for Ellis to refer to Pete and Kitty –  rather than Nightcrawler, Meggan or Captain Britain – as “the heart and soul of Excalibur. (BTW, I need to get that annual that introduces Brian and Meggan’s baby.) I have the other two issues of this miniseries, but I haven’t felt like reading them.

SUPERMAN #29 (DC, 2017) – “A Minute Longer,” [W] Keith Champagne, [A] Doug Mahnke. I only bought this comic because I didn’t realize Peter Tomasi had left the series. I only read it because I was about to go to sleep, and I wanted to read something non-challenging. This comic has one good line – “courage is fear trying to hold on a minute longer” – but otherwise it’s pointless.

AVENGERS #99 (Marvel, 1972) – “—They First Make Mad!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Barry Windsor-Smith. I read this story many years ago when it was reprinted in one of the later issues of Kurt Busiek’s run. In this issue, an amnesiac Hercules explains how he lost his memory, and then the Avengers fight Kratos and Bia, who show up to kidnap Herc. Meanwhile, there’s an extended subplot involving a love triangle between Vision, Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye. This subplot includes perhaps the worst line Roy Thomas ever wrote – “in which case, Witchie, there’s weddin’ bells in your future!” – but Wanda’s growing passion for Vizh, despite her brother’s attempts to scare her away from him, is genuinely touching. BWS’s artwork on this issue is very good, though not up to the level of his later issues of Conan.

SNOID COMICS #1 (Kitchen Sink, 1980/1989) – “The Snoid Goes Bohemian” and other stories, [W/A] R. Crumb. The various stories in this issue are more notable for their misogyny and their bizarre sexual obsessions than for their artistic quality. One of them is about the Snoid’s foot fetish. After reading a bunch of Crumb comics, I still feel like I’m not quite getting the point. What other work has he done that’s on the same level as “Uncle Bob’s Mid-Life Crisis” or “The Goose and the Gander Were Talking One Night”? What is there to his work besides weird male power fantasies? The artistic highlight of the issue is the famous “A Short History of America,” which depicts the same piece of ground at intervals of many years, although this piece originally appeared in a non-comics publication.

FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS #2 (Rip Off, 1972/1980) – “Shootout at the County Slammer” and other stories, [W/A] Gilbert Shelton. Unlike Crumb, Shelton is genuinely fun even when his work lacks philosophical depth, as it generally does. This issue begins with a ten-page story in which the Freak Brothers break into a prison. Then there are a bunch of one-page strips, as well as some short pieces by Bobby London, Ted Richards and Dave Sheridan. In one of the sequences of strips, the Freak Brothers split up and return to their family homes (they’re not actually brothers), and Fat Freddy ends up sleeping with his own sister.

EXIT STAGE LEFT: THE SNAGGLEPUSS CHRONICLES #1 (DC, 2018) – untitled, [W] Mark Russell, [A] Mike Feehan. This is a thematic sequel to Flintstones, although it’s much more “realistic,” in that the only fantastic element is that some of the characters are anthropomorphic animals. I’m not familiar with Snagglepuss, but it seems like all I need to know about him is that he’s an anthropomorphic lion, like Loony Leo from Astro City. This issue is set in the ‘50s and initially seems very straightforward, but it quickly takes a surprising turn when Snagglepuss disguises himself and visits the Stonewall Inn. Meanwhile, the McCarthy hearings are in full swing, and it looks like Snagglepuss will be blackmailed into testifying. The Rosenbergs and Dorothy Parker also appear, and the latter has some very witty dialogue. Like Prez and Flintstones, this comic is a deep, complex and political work, even though – or especially because – it’s based on some very banal source material.

MICKEY MOUSE #256 (Gladstone, 1990) – “The Mystery of Tapiocus VI,” [W/A] Romano Scarpa. I was disappointed to realize that this wasn’t by Gottfredson. But at least instead it’s by Scarpa, perhaps the only European Disney artist I actually like, and its cleverness and epic scope are worthy of Gottfredson or Barks. In this story, Mickey encounters an old man who behaves exactly like a six-year-old child. It turns out the old man is a king who’s been deposed and rendered amnesiac by Pete, and Mickey restores his memory and returns him to his throne.

New comics received on January 16:

RUNAWAYS #5 (Marvel, 2018) – “Find Your Way Home Part V,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Kris Anka. I’m loving this comic so much that I read it before Ms. Marvel or Squirrel Girl. Gert is now living with Molly and her grandmother, but it becomes clear that Molly’s grandmother has ulterior motives, and Gert and Molly decide to escape and return to their former teammates. Molly’s grandmother catches them escaping, but Chase, Nico, Karolina and Victor show up in the nick of time. This comic continues the major themes of the series – nostalgia for childhood and the inability to go home again – and Rowell and Anka depict the characters’ emotions beautifully, especially Gert’s homesickness. Also, this issue is full of cats and cute cat-shaped objects. The panel with the eight unconscious cats is just amazing. Until reading this comic, I actually didn’t know that you could buy loose catnip and give it to cats, and I have now bought some for my own cat. So who says comics can’t be educational?

MS. MARVEL #26 (Marvel, 2018) – “Teenage Wasteland, Part 2,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Nico Leon. The Legion of Substitute Kamalas (I just thought of that name) battles a giant robot lizard, and Zoe realizes that it must be the work of the Inventor, who returns for the first time since issue 11 of the previous volume. It turns out the Inventor has switched to kidnapping old people instead of teenagers. Also, Naftali makes another brief appearance.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #28 (Marvel, 2018) – “The Forbidden Pla-Nut” (part 2), [W] Ryan North, [A] Erica Henderson. Doreen and Loki defeat Dormammu by summoning squirrel ghosts, then they head to the squirrel planet and defeat the fake Galactus. But then the real Silver Surfer shows up and Doreen mistakes him for the fake one, with unfortunate results. Until I read through this issue again, I didn’t notice the visual gag on the last page, where Norrin’s body is conveniently positioned so that Doreen misreads Loki’s message. The letters page includes a letter from (a squirrel friend of) a Professor Scott who teaches at Longwood and goes to Heroes Con. I’d like to meet that person.

MECH CADET YU #5 (Boom!, 2018) – A good but not great issue. The kids are grounded and forced to work as janitors with Stanford’s mom – and by the way, this series makes the important point that janitors are just as important as anyone else. Then they clean up some alien eggs, and Skip Tanaka gives them some special training.

ROYAL CITY #9 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Jeff Lemire. This issue doesn’t advance the plot very much, except that it shows us the scene where Pat quits the factory, which we’ve already seen as a flashback.

NEW SUPER-MAN #19 (DC, 2018) – “Day in the Life of a Shanghai Reporter,” [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] Brent Peeples. I gave up on this comic months ago, but I ordered this issue because it’s written by Mariko Tamaki. This issue is not a classic, but it’s much better than Gene Luen Yang’s issues of this series. Tamaki is much better at writing periodical comics than Yang. She succeeds in making Laney Lan a unique character rather than a Lois Lane clone, and her story feels like it’s set in China rather than in America disguised as China, which was my problem with Yang’s run on this series.

STUMPTOWN #4 (Oni, 2014) – “The Case of the King of Clubs, Part 4,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Justin Greenwood. I can’t remember much about this issue’s plot, but it’s an entertaining detective story. Unfortunately, Justin Greenwood is perhaps the worst artist Rucka has ever collaborated with.

BABYTEETH #7 (Aftershock, 2018) – “The Coyote,” [W] Donny Cates, [A] Garry Brown. This issue begins with a flashback to an earlier Antichrist-baby incident. Then Sadie and Heather’s mom, who appeared at the end of last issue, starts trying to impose her will on her children and ex-husband, but Heather is not willing to put up with it. Heather is so much more forceful and proactive than Sadie that she’s almost the real protagonist of the series. Sadie has a meek personality and is in a near-constant state of shock, making her almost recede into the background. The issue ends with Carl the assassin deciding to switch sides and protect Sadie instead of killing her.

BATMAN #1: BATMAN DAY SPECIAL EDITION (DC, 2016) – “I Am Gotham, Part One,” [W] Tom King, [A] David Finch. This is a reprint of Batman: Rebirth #1 that was distributed for free. It consists of an extended action sequence in which Batman nearly sacrifices his life to save an airliner from crashing, but is saved at the last minute by two new characters, Gotham and Gotham Girl. It’s an okay Batman story, but it doesn’t make me want to read any more of Tom King’s Batman. The John Workman lettering is a nice touch.

ARCHIE #20 (Archie, 2017) – “Over the Edge, Part 1,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Pete Woods. Reggie challenges Archie to a dangerous illegal drag race. Trying to stop them, Betty gets in a near-fatal car crash. This is only an average issue, but it leads to some very interesting plot twists.

SWORD OF AGES #2 (IDW, 2018) – “The Sacred Cave” and other chapters, [W/A] Gabriel Rodríguez. This issue didn’t impress me as the last issue, because I knew what to expect, but it’s still an exciting and exquisitely drawn SF/adventure comic. It’s an attempt to create an American commercial comic with the same level of quality as French commercial comics. Rodríguez’s writing is maybe not the best, and I have trouble following the plot, but his art and visual storytelling are so good that the plot almost doesn’t matter.

THE SPIRIT #2 (Kitchen Sink, 1983) – “Hildie & Satin” and other stories, [W/A] Will Eisner. The early issues of this series were in color. This issue’s first story introduces Silk Satin’s daughter Hildie, while in the last story, Eisner gets rid of Ebony, who had become an embarrassment, by sending him to school to learn to speak proper English. The racist implications of this are unfortunate, but at least this story shows that Eisner was beginning to regret his portrayal of Ebony. What especially impresses me about all these stories is their narrative compression. Eisner succeeded in telling complete and satisfying stories in seven pages by having multiple things happen in the same panel, and by relying on the reader to supply missing information.

TWO-FISTED TALES #4 (Russ Cochran, 1951/1993) – four stories, [E] Harvey Kurtzman. In Jack Davis’s “Ambush!”, eight soldiers get caught in a North Korean ambush, and only one of them survives. This story is less impressive for its shock ending, in which the surviving soldier realizes that he survived because he didn’t have his good luck charm, than for Davis’s brutal depiction of the soldiers’ deaths. For example, one of them sacrifices his life to throw back a grenade at the enemy, and the expression on his face is indescribable. Severin and Elder’s “Pigs of the Roman Empire” is an underwhelming story about an alcoholic Roman commander. In Wally Wood’s “The Murmansk Run!”, a sailor is forced to stand watch on the deck in freezing cold. Disobeying orders, he lights a can of Sterno to warm himself, but this reveals his ship’s location to an enemy sub, which sinks the ship. We hate the sailor for his selfishness and insubordination, but at the same time, we sympathize with him for the inhuman conditions in which he’s placed. Finally, Kurtzman’s “Search” is kind of predictable. Its protagonist, an American soldier who emigrated to Italy, has returned to Italy during World War II and is looking for his brother who never left. Of course the brother turns out to be dead. But at least this story is a rare and valuable example of Kurtzman artwork.

ARCHIE GIANT SERIES #596 (Archie, 1989) – “A Reel Experience” and other stories, [W/A] Bob Bolling. This issue begins with another of Bolling’s excellent nature stories, in which Archie tries to catch the Perilous Pike. The next story isn’t that great, but at least it includes the line “grown-ups aren’t supposed to be happy.” There are two other stories, one in which Betty’s cat causes mayhem, and another in which Archie’s dog-washing business causes even more mayhem.

HATE #19 (Fantagraphics, 1995) – “Partners,” [W/A] Peter Bagge. Buddy opens a book and record store with his partner Jay, who nearly runs the business into the ground with his drug addiction. This issue is less funny than some issues of Hate, but it’s an effective depiction of the ‘90s alternative cultural scene and the perils of small business ownership. This story takes place in Jersey and not Seattle, but when I read it, I kept visualizing Buddy’s store as the Fantagraphics store. At the end of the story, Jay overcomes his addiction, which is heartwarming if somewhat hard to believe.

INCREDIBLE HULK #169 (Marvel, 1973) – “Calamity in the Clouds!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Herb Trimpe. The Hulk and the Harpy, a.k.a. Betty Ross, encounter the Bi-Beast, who makes his/their first appearance in this issue. Despite the stupid villain, this is a pretty exciting issue from a good run of Hulk comics.

HERO CATS #20 (Action Lab, 2018) – “Bot to the Future!”, [W] Kyle Puttkammer, [A] Andy Duggan. The Hero Cats team up with a robot from the future, resulting in some Terminator jokes. This issue is another piece of good clean fun. Next issue is billed as the finale of “season one.” The series has been running since 2014, so it seems rather disingenuous to declare that the whole series so far has been one season.

STUMPTOWN #6 (Oni, 2015) – “The Case of a Cup of Joe: Part One,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Justin Greenwood. Despite Greenwood’s very subpar artwork, this is an entertaining story and a funny sendup of the Pacific Northwest’s coffee culture. A coffee franchise owner named Weeks hires Dex Parios to pick up a shipment of his new civet coffee – I won’t describe what civet coffee is, but it’s pretty gross. Then Weekes’s professional rival tries to hire Dex to deliver some of the coffee to him instead. Meanwhile, Dex’s ne’er-do-well sister drops in on her unannounced and demands to stay for six weeks.

SHE-HULK #161 (Marvel, 2018) – “Jen Walters Must Die,” [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] Jahnoy Lindsay. Jen defeats the Leader, then visits someone named Flo for therapy. I had no recollection of who Flo was, but Google tells me that she appeared earlier in this series, and that she’s a therapist who Jen was supposed to visit but didn’t. This was a fairly unimpressive issue, and it’s further proof that Mariko Tamaki is better at characterization than superheroic action.

BLACK PANTHER #168 (Marvel, 2018) – “Avengers of the New World, Part 9,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Chris Sprouse. Half of this issue is a fight scene between T’Challa and his allies and the ancient gods. The other half depicts negotiations between T’Challa’s stepmom and the Dora Milaje. This is still a good comic, but the current storyline has dragged on way too long (much like “Panther’s Rage”), and I still haven’t read issue 169.

ADVENTURE FINDERS #3 (Antarctic, 2018) – “The Village of Orphans,” [W/A] Rod Espinosa. I ordered this because Espinosa’s previous work, Courageous Princess, got a positive review in the Slings & Arrows Guide. This comic is an epic fantasy narrative with a teen girl protagonist. Espinosa relies too much on standard epic fantasy cliches, he includes too many unimportant named characters, and his facial expressions are kind of ugly. But this comic is exciting enough that I enjoyed it despite all that, and I’d read more of it.

SLASHER #1 (Floating World, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Charles Forsman. I have this entire series now, and I finally decided to finish reading it. This issue introduces us to two protagonists: a disabled boy and a girl who’s obsessed with blood. The girl turns to murder and violence for unclear reasons. This is a gruesome and enigmatic but intriguing work, with a much looser art style than Forsman’s I Am Not Okay With This, which I just read.

STUMPTOWN #7 (Oni, 2015) – “The Case of a Cup of Joe, Part Two,” as above. Dex delivers the first shipment of coffee, then returns home to find that her sister Fuji has been a terrible houseguest. But Fuji has weaseled her way into the good graces of Dex’s disabled brother, so it won’t be easy for Dex to get rid of her. I read r/relationships frequently, and I see so many stories about people who have awful roommates that they can’t get rid of, so Fuji’s behavior seems very realistic.

STUMPTOWN #9 (Oni, 2015) – “The Case of a Cup of Joe, Part Four,” as above. I forgot to order issue 8, but I was able to understand issue 9 anyway. As if Fuji’s behavior wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that she’s been conspiring with some local louts to steal the civet coffee. In a parlor scene, Dex defeats both plots to steal the coffee. Then Fuji finally leaves town. This was a cute and entertaining story.

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