A few comics that I read just before Heroes Con:
VALIANT HIGH #2 (Valiant, 2008) – “The Big Test, Part Two,” [W] Daniel Kibblesmith, [A] Derek Charm. A lot more high school drama happens. At the end of the issue, Pete Stanchek and Ninja-K break into Aric’s shed and discover that he seems to be immortal. Derek Charm’s artwork has a very appealing simplicity. I’m interested in this series because it has kind of a similar feel to Faith, which was sadly cancelled.
AZTEC ACE #15 (Eclipse, 1985) – “Relax! Bridget Goes to Hollywood,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Dan Day. Caza and Bridget discover an old film that inexplicably includes Bridget as an extra. They travel back in time to 1930s Hollywood, where Bridget embarks on a successful film career, despite Caza’s warnings that she’s causing all kinds of time paradoxes. Lots of convoluted drama ensues. Like issue 11, reviewed above, this comic is less confusing than I expect from Aztec Ace, and the interplay between Ace and Caza is interesting. Doug Moench writes way too much text, but he always does that. Dan Day’s art resembles his brother Gene’s art, though it’s not as good.
<MR. MONSTER #3 (Dark Horse, 1988) – “The Death of Mr. Monster?”, [W/A] Michael T. Gilbert. I always had trouble getting into this series because it’s extremely overblown and histrionic, probably on purpose. But if you come into it expecting that, then it’s a pretty fun comic. In this chapter of the Origins storyline, the previous Mr. Monster, Strongfort Stearn’s father, decides to give up fighting monsters and get married, but suffers severe mental torment as a result. Ken Bruzenak’s lettering is a key part of this comic’s visual aesthetic. This issue’s backup story is a reprint from Commando Comics #21, one of the WWII-era Canadian Whites.
DC COMICS PRESENTS #94 (DC, 1986) – “The Challenge of the Volt Lord,” [W] Barbara Kesel & Bob Greenberger, [A] Tom Mandrake & Don Heck. This is one of very few comics written by Bob Greenberger, who was almost exclusively an editor. It guest-stars Harbinger, Pariah and Lady Quark, three of the new characters from Crisis. Lady Quark was the only one of these who had any success after Crisis; the other two seem more like plot devices. This issue effectively advances Lady Quark’s character, but fails to make the reader care about Harbinger or Pariah.
LOCKE & KEY: OMEGA #5 (IDW, 2013) – “The Fall,” [W] Joe Hill, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. I have no idea how the plot got to this point, but this issue begins with a bunch of high school students fighting monsters that flee from the light (so grues, basically). Meanwhile, Rendell is dying of a gunshot wound. The most memorable thing in this issue is the opening scene, where a minor character named Mandy Sawyer says to herself “You are a nerd, girl, and nerds need to be brave” and attacks one of the monsters, only to get killed immediately. One reason why Joe Hill is an effective horror writer is that, like his father, he’s very good at showing the psychological effects of horrific situations upon even minor characters.
ARCHIE #18 (Archie, 2017) – “No Reason,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Pete Woods. Archie and Veronica go on a date which is disappointing because of their lack of interests. Meanwhile, Betty and Dilton bond over their shared love of cars. This was an okay but forgettable issue.
SPIDER-WOMAN #17 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Dennis Hopeless, [A] Veronica Fish. Jess holds another rooftop party, paralleling the one from the start of the series. Meanwhile, Gerry turns out to have wallcrawling powers, leading to a hilarious sequence where he almost gets himself killed. Roger (who wasn’t dead) helps save Gerry, helping Jess’s rather judgmental friends realize what Jess sees in him. This is a satisfying conclusion to Dennis Hopeless’s Spider-Woman run. I should have been reading this run while it was coming out, but as noted earlier, I was prejudiced against the writer because I’d heard bad things about Avengers Arena.
EXIT STAGE LEFT: THE SNAGGLEPUSS CHRONICLES #6 (DC, 2018) – “Going Underground,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Mike Feehan. This issue takes place five years after #6, when a depressed, blacklisted Snagglepuss is recruited by Huckleberry Hound to work in the new medium of cartoons. This series is the latest in a string of extremely impressive works by Mark Russell, and I look forward to seeing what he does next. As usual, though, the Sasquatch Detective backup story is worse than no story at all.
ZERO ZERO #20 (Fantagraphics, 1997) – various stories, [E] Kim Thompson. This anthology collects a number of stories which are all surrealist in some way. It begins with the last chapter of Dave Cooper’s Crumple. I read one Dave Cooper comic a long time ago and didn’t really get it, but his art and lettering in this story are really good, although the story, in which all men on Earth are replaced by parthenogenetic aliens, is kind of pointless. Maybe the highlight of the issue is Al Columbia’s “Amnesia,” a brilliantly designed tribute to silent animation, with sepia-toned art that combines photorealistic backgrounds with Max Fleischer-style figures. The next two stories, by Glenn Head and Francesca Ghermandi, aren’t as good. The last story, by Mack White, is drawn in a style resembling that of Dan Spiegle or Doug Wildey, making it an interesting contrast to the rest of the issue. The strip on this issue’s back cover is Lewis Trondheim’s first American publication.
A1 #2 (Atomeka, 1989) – many stories, [E] Garry Leach & Dave Elliott. I bought this at Heroes Con last year, but couldn’t be bothered to read it because it’s 128 pages. It includes stories by a large number of mostly British artists, as well as a jam story in which each panel has a different artist. There’s so much material in this issue that none of it realy stood out, but it’s an exciting survey of the best British comics of the time.
KANE #2 (Dancing Elephant, 1993) – “Another Blast from the Past,” [W/A] Paul Grist. Kane investigates a bombing campaign. Meanwhile, a bunny-suited criminal named Mister Floppsie Whoppsie escapes from jail. This was a pretty typical example of Paul Grist’s style.
MARTHA WASHINGTON GOES TO WAR #1 (Dark Horse, 1994) – “The Killing Fields,” [W] Frank Miller, [A] Dave Gibbons. I’d forgotten I had this. As of the end of Give Me Liberty, America is now split into a lot of warring nations. Martha is nearly killed in a battle with soldiers from a hamburger franchise (it kind of makes sense in context) and finds herself in the clutches of the Surgeon General, an old enemy she thought was dead. And then she encounters her old friend Wasserstein, who she also thought was dead. I bought some of the other issues of this miniseries at Heroes Con, but haven’t read them yet.
SUPERMAN #14 (DC, 1987) – “Lost Love,” [W/A] John Byrne. I read this because it came up in a Facebook discussion for some reason. Also, I just noticed its title has the initials LL, no doubt on purpose. This issue is the post-Crisis debut of Lori Lemaris. It’s a very emotional and engaging story, although it’s basically a carbon copy of the classic “The Girl in Superman’s Past” from Superman #129. Clark does a couple really problematic things in this issue. First, when Lori turns down his marriage proposal, Clark (who at this point thinks Lori is a paraplegic, not a mermaid) says “Is it because of your paralysis? You know that doesn’t affect the way I feel about you. But… I could search the whole world…” That is a horrible thing to say to a disabled person. Second, at the end of the issue, when Clark discovers that Lori is in love with a merman, he asks her “How could you be so unfair? So unfeeling?” At this point, Clark and Lori have been broken up for some time, and yet Clark assumes that he still has exclusive rights to Lori’s affections.
I was at Heroes Con from June 14 to 16. As usual I had a great time. The highlight of the convention was the panel I did with Matt Kindt, Derek Royal, Craig Fischer and Andrew Kunka, which was based on my new book Between Panel and Screen: Comics, Materiality, and the Book of the Future. You can hear that panel here: http://comicsalternative.com/on-location-heroescon-2018-the-between-pen-and-pixel-panel/ I also moderated a panel on publication design with Katie Skelly, Ben Sears, Chuck Forsman and Bryce Carlson. And I bought a lot of comics, including:
THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #124 (DC, 1976) – “Small War of the Super Rifles,” [W] Bob Haney, [A] Jim Aparo. This has one of the best covers of Aparo’s career – the one where a masked man threatens to kill Aparo unless he draws Sgt. Rock killing Batman. The interior story is just as thrilling and weird as the cover. It features Haney, Aparo and Murray Boltinoff as characters. As on the cover, some terrorists threaten to kill them unless they draw a story in which Sgt. Rock and Batman get killed, but the heroes and the creators both manage to save the day. The logic behind this story is left tantalizingly unexplained; it seems like the DC heroes and the DC creators exist in the same world, and yet the creators have the ability to influence what happens to the heroes. At the end of the story, Batman and Rock track the terrorists down to the same lighthouse where Jim Aparo is hiding out while drawing the story. Yet Batman and Rock never meet Aparo, so the reader is left to wonder just how the two diegetic levels of the story are connected. This story almost feels like Cortazar’s “Continuity of Parks,” in which a man is killed by a character in the book he’s reading. Perhaps the most implausible thing about it is that it depicts Aparo drawing an entire comic book in one night.
MS. MARVEL #16 (Marvel, 1978) – “The Deep Deadly Silence!”, [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Jim Mooney. This was one of my collecting Holy Grails – it’s one of the two Claremont Ms. Marvels I was missing. After fruitlessly searching for it at every convention for the past year, I finally found a copy for $6, a major bargain. That just leaves #18, which will be the hardest of all, since it’s the first appearance of Mystique. Claremont himself was at Heroes Con, and I got to talk to him a little bit. Ms. Marvel #16 itself is a bit disappointing because most of it consists of a fight between Carol, Tiger Shark, and a giant squid. However, there are some nice scenes at the start where Carol hangs out with the Beast and the Scarlet Witch. Namorita also guest-stars, and Claremont effectively distinguishes the three female superheroes in the issue from each other.
UNCLE SCROOGE #36 (Dell, 1962) – “The Midas Touch,” [W/A] Carl Barks. This issue introduces Magica de Spell. Barks created her at the end of his active career, although he managed to use her nine times before he retired. Magica’s first appearance introduces all the major tropes associated with the character – her obsession Scrooge’s Number One Dime, her home on Mount Vesuvius, her foof-bombs, etc. Magica herself is an impressive character because she’s a formidable and strong-willed woman, and she’s sexy without being sexualized. “The Midas Touch” is an excellent story, although it’s just the standard example of the basic plot in which Magica tries to steal Old Number One. In later stories, Magica would come up with ever more elaborate means of accomplishing her goal. This issue also includes some other stories that are less notable.
SCOOBY-DOO MYSTERY COMICS #28 (Gold Key, 1974) – “The Ancient Astronaut” and “Curse of the Wishing Well,” [W] Vic Lockman (?) and Mark Evanier, [A] Dan Spiegle. I’ve seen a few issues of this series at other conventions, but haven’t bought any because I wasn’t sure which issues were written by Evanier. It looks like he wrote #21 to #30, though I’m not even sure of that. This issue’s first story is just average, and, according to the GCD, was originally written for a special issue that was never published. But the second story is a classic example of Mark’s style. The plot is that some crooks are trying to steal the proceeds from a telethon, so it gives Mark an opportunity to display his sense of humor and his encyclopedic knowledge of Hollywood. Jackie Jacobs, the host of the telethon, is presumably based on some actual star of the time, though I’m not sure who. Also, Dan Spiegle’s art is as brilliant as ever. This comic is as good as other Evanier works like Crossfire and Hollywood Superstars, and I’ll be actively looking for the rest of Evanier and Spiegle’s Scooby-Doos.
UNCANNY X-MEN #269 (Marvel, 1990) – “Rogue Redux,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Jim Lee. I was surprised to discover that I didn’t have this issue already. This issue, Rogue goes through the Siege Perilous to the Savage Land, where she fights some kind of clone version of Ms. Marvel. This issue’s plot is a little flimsy, but Jim Lee’s art is spectacular. Back in 1990, his style was still fresh and new, rather than being the standard idiom of the entire industry. This issue continues the ongoing saga of Rogue’s rivalry with Ms. Marvel, which began back in the ‘70s. One of Claremont’s notable skills was his ability to plan storylines years ahead of time. I wish I’d asked him how far in advance he planned his stories, but I already asked him enough questions.
KIM & KIM #3 (Black Mask, 2016) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Eva Cabrera. I think this was the last Kim & Kim that I didn’t have. The Kims spend muuch of this issue fighting robot gorillas, and there’s also some other convoluted plot stuff. I think the first Kim & Kim miniseries is the best thing Mags has written so far, and I look forward to the upcoming third miniseries.
AQUAMAN #13 (DC, 1964) – “Invasion of the Giant Reptiles,” [W] Jack Miller, [A] Nick Cardy. This is Mera’s second appearance. My copy is in terrible condition, but is complete and readable. This issue’s plot is that some criminals from the future travel back in time and attack Aquaman using mind-controlled sea creatures, and then they also use their mind control on Mera, I forget why. Jack Miller wasn’t the best writer, but Mera was a very progressive character for the time – she had flashier powers than Aquaman, and was a queen in her own right – and Nick Cardy draws her beautifully.
FLASH GORDON #1 (King, 1966) – “Flash Gordon” and “Flash Gordon and the Mole Machine,” [W/A] Al Williamson, [W] Archie Goodwin and/or Larry Ivie. Another fantastic work by the greatest draftsperson in the history of American comic books. Al Williamson’s action sequences and cityscapes are unparalleled. Almost every panel is breathtaking. The scripts are maybe not the best, but you can’t have anything. This issue’s plot appears to be a continuation of the plot of the classic Alex Raymond strip. The second story takes place in an underground city called Krenkelium, named after Al’s friend Roy Krenkel.
INCREDIBLE HULK #125 (Marvel, 1970) – “…And Now, the Absorbing Man!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Herb Trimpe. This is another well-drawn comic, though not nearly at the same level as Flash Gordon #1. This issue, Bruce Banner is sent on a mission to destroy a rogue comet, only the comet turns out to be the Absorbing Man. Crusher Creel is depicted in this issue as an unrepentant murderer, so Saladin Ahmed’s much friendlier version of this character involved some retconning. This issue’s plot is rather flimsy. Bruce is sent on the mission to destroy the comet because the army needs a “scientifically trained human pilot,” but surely there are other people (like Ben Grimm) who could do the mision equally well without the risk of turning into a rampaging monster.
At this point I got another comics shipment:
EXILES #4 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Rodríguez. The Exiles’ next destination is the 18th century, where they join Blackbeard the Pirate, a.k.a. Ben Grimm, on a mission to stop the slave trade. This is another great issue. The two-page splash depicting the fight with the Juggernautical is brilliant, and it also includes a hilarious joke where Wolvie explains that he “used those bracket thingies” to understand the captive Africans’ language. This issue is also a funny tribute to the Blackbeard scene from Fantastic Four #5. See the review of Superman/Batman #51, below, for a possible inspiration for the Wolvie character.
UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #33 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. Using a previously unmentioned power, Squirrel Girl escapes the death trap by biting through the floor. And it actually makes sense that she can do this. Then she and her friends solve a bunch more puzzles, one of which the reader is invited to solve with them, although unfortunately it can’t be solved with just the information the reader is given. And it turns out the escape room was set up by Mojo II, a villain who hasn’t appeared since the ‘90s, though he does have his own trading card. At the end, Squirrel Girl and her friends are arrested for hanging out with Kraven.
NAUGHTY BITS #6 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – “Hippie Bitch Gets Laid,” [W/A] Roberta Gregory. Rebelling against her horrible parents, a teenage Midge discovers marijuana, pop music and tampons, and also loses her virginity and gets pregnant. This story is a funny, poignant and feminist depiction of growing up in the ‘60s, and was deservedly nominated for an Eisner. This issue also has a backup story about dogs having sex.
BY NIGHT #1 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Christine Larsen. This series is about two recent college graduates, making it a natural counterpart to Bad Machinery (about high schoolers) and Giant Days (about college students). Needing a distraction from their boring lives, they break into an abandoned house where they find a magical portal. Like Giant Days #1 (see https://ogresfeathers.wordpress.com/2015/05/20/reviews-of-105-comic-books-give-or-take/#gida1), this issue didn’t impress me massively, and I’m not sure where it’s going, but I’m excited to find out.
UNCANNY X-MEN #116 (Marvel, 1978) – “To Save the Savage Land,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] John Byrne. This is one of Claremont and Byrne’s less memorable issues. The best thing about it is the scene where Storm tries to save Garokk, but fails because her claustrophobia flares up. Byrne and Terry Austin’s artwork is amazing; I’m especially impressed by Garokk’s intricately drawn fortress on pages 2 and 3.
NANCY DREW #1 (Dynamite, 2018) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Jenn St.-Onge. An exciting YA detective story, with effective writing by one of the top writers in the industry. This comic does feel kind of like a generic teen girl detective story – it’s in the same genre as Goldie Vance, but lacks the elements that make Goldie Vance distinctive. However, this is forgivable because Nancy Drew created this genre in the first place. I never read Nancy Drew as a child (though I did read the Hardy Boys, and their appearance in this issue is delightful), and I’m not sure how heavily this series is based on the original books.
MECH CADET YU # 9 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa. The fight with the Sharg gets even more hopeless, and the Mech Cadets have to choose between equally bad options. They succeed in destroying one Sharg mothership, but eight more show up, and Buddy decides to sacrifice itself to power the super-robo. I await the next issue with both excitement and dread. I do suspect that the Sharg aren’t as bad as they look, and that Central Command is concealing some kind of crucial information.
MISTER MIRACLE #9 (DC, 2018) – untitled, [W] Tom King, [A] Mitch Gerads. Scott and Barda negotiate a peace treaty with Kalibak, a horrible brutal monster. The table supported by captured New Gods is a striking example of Kalibak’s awfulness. Reading this issue, you almost feel angry with Scott and Barda for negotiating, rather than wiping the evil of Apokolips from the universe, whatever the cost. It feels like negotiating with these monsters just legitimates them. Of course there are parallels here to contemporary American politics. The issue ends with Darkseid demanding that Scott and Barda surrender their son to him. Unfortunately this plot twist was already spoiled in solicits for future issues.
NANCY #167 (Dell, 1959) – various stories, [W/A] John Stanley. This comic is in barely readable condition, but at least it appears to be complete. I bought a Little Lulu comic at Heroes Con that turned out to be missing its centerfold. I do want to try to start collecting John Stanley’s Little Lulu, but I need to be more careful when doing so. The stories in this issue are often rather farfetched, but are impressive because of their intricate and satisfying plots and their perfect comic timing. I’ll have more to say about John Stanley in another review below.
LASSIE #58 (Dell, 1962) – “Picaro’s Big Day” and “Antlered Fury,” [W] Gaylord Du Bois, [A] Bob Fujitani. This comic was not on my radar at all until I read the Slings & Arrows Guide, which praises it very highly. And the praise is justified, because this comic has some really nice art, and the stories aren’t bad either. In the first story, Timmy meets a young migrant worker boy and adopts his pet raccoon. The raccoon is adorable, and Gaylord Du Bois’s script shows sympathy for Mexican immigrants, a quality which is sadly lacking in some contemporary Americans. In the backup story, Timmy and Lassie encounter two deer whose horns have gotten locked together, as well as a poacher who tries to illegally kill the deer. It turns out that male deer actually can get their horns locked, and it usually has fatal consequences.
MARVEL RISING: ALPHA #1 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Devin Grayson, [A] Georges Duarte. This is really good, and I’m sorry that it’s a special event and not an ongoing series. This issue is a team-up between Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl. Devin writes both these characters very well, and effectively differentiates them from each other. This issue’s villain, Emulator, is a girl gamer who has the power to summon objects from video games. After suffering constant sexual harassment and misogyny, she decides to use her powers for evil. It’s disappinting that her charater arc goes in this direction, but I guess the difference between heroes and villains is that heroes use their trauma as motivation for good rather than evil. And anyway, I expect Emulator will be redeemed in the end.
AMERICAN SPLENDOR: ODDS & ENDS #nn (Dark Horse, 1997) – various stories, [W] Harvey Pekar, [A] various. As this one-shot’s title indicates, it includes a heterogeneous range of material, including music and literature reviews and “Peeling and Eating a Tangerine (and disposing of the seeds)”. Probably the best story in the issue is “Breakfast at Billy’s”, drawn by Joe Sacco, which explores the topic of gentrification long before it would become a household word. “An Almost All-Expense-Paid Vacation,” drawn by Zabel and Dumm, is a foreshadowing of the American Splendor movie.
BATGIRL #13 (DC, 2017) – “The Truth About Bats and Dogs,” [W] Hope Larson, [A] Rafael Albuquerque. This may be Hope Larson’s best issue of Batgirl. Babs discovers Esme, the seven-year-old hacker, searching for a kidnapped celebrity dog. They run into Catwoman, who’s looking for a kidnapped celebrity cat. Obviously both problems are related, and a team-up ensues. This issue is full of cute cats and dogs and cute Esme moments, and it’s a funny investigation of the phenomenon of Internet-famous pets. A nice moment is when Batgirl guesses that Esme is from South Burnside, and Esme says “Why? ‘Cause I look poor, and that’s where the poor kids live?”
BIFF BAM POW! #1 (Slave Labor, 2007) – “The Fight of the Millennium!” and other stories, [W/A] Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer. I didn’t know this comic existed until I bought it – from my favorite dealer at Heroes Con, the one who has the $1 underground and alternative comics. This issue consists mostly of kid-oriented humorous superhero stories. The main story is about a female professional boxer turned superhero. There’s also a backup story starring Kid Blastoff, a character created for Disney Adventures, as well as a couple reprints. This is a fun and well-crafted comic. There weren’t any other issues of this series, although Evan said on Twitter that he’d like to do more stories in this universe.
LUCIFER #1 (Trident, 1990) – “Hi, I’m Lucifer,” [W] Eddie Campbell, [A] Phil Elliott. This has nothing to do with the better-known Lucifer comic from Vertigo, except that they’re both inspired by the Biblical Lucifer. The “Lucifer” in this series is a crazy drifter who manages to inveigle his way into hell and is given a guided tour. This comic has rather modest intentions and not much of a plot, but it’s well-drawn and it demonstrates Eddie’s subtle style of humor. The highlight of the issue is when Lucifer discovers that there’s a special place in hell for people who don’t buy their round at the pub.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #158 (Marvel, 1976) – “Hammerhead is Out!”, [W] Len Wein, [A] Ross Andru. A classic Doc Ock/Aunt May story, with the odd complication that Doc Ock is being pursued by the ghost of Hammerhead. There are also some nice bits of characterization. Early in the issue, Len has Robbie Robertson summon Peter to the Daily Bugle offices for no real reason, just so that Peter can be present when a news flash comes in that reveals where Doc Ock is.
AVENGERS #42 (Marvel, 1967) – “The Plan – and the Power!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] John Buscema. This issue has an awesome splash page, in which Hercules leans back in his chair eating grapes while the other Avengers yell at him. Here and throughout the issue, Roy demonstrates that Hercules is quite different from Thor despite being a potentially very similar character. The plot of the issue is that Diablo is trying to create an army of Dragon Men.
EGYPT #2 (Vertigo, 1995) – “The Book of the Shadow,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Glyn Dillon. Vincent Me meets a nice girl named Hopi, but the Pharaoh’s agents find them, cut Hopi’s tongue out (eww), and force Vincent to betray his co-conspirators. Hopi’s mutilation is a very painful scene that emphasizes the depth of Vincent’s self-centeredness, but overall this is a fun and sexy comic, and it shows evidence of at least some knowledge of ancient Egypt. I just hope this series doesn’t become less coherent as it goes on, as is common with Peter Milligan’s miniseries.
THE PHANTOM #74 (Charlton, 1977) – “The Phantom of 1776,” [W/A] Don Newton. The last issue of this series is a special bicentennial story, in which an earlier Phantom travels to America in 1776 to rescue the enslaved son of an African chief. This is an exciting and unique comic that features some of Don Newton’s best art, and it’s become something of a classic. Unfortunately at times it comes perilously close to making excuses for slavery, but it does end by suggesting that America, as imperfect as it is, is going to get better – although that’s hard to believe on a day like today, when the Supreme Court has just affirmed Trump’s Muslim ban.
BABYTEETH #11 (Aftershock, 2018) – “Cradle,” [W] Donny Cates, [A] Garry Brown. Sadie wants to go to the Red Realm to rescue her son, but the adults tell her not to. There’s a flashback in which Olivia cuts off her son’s arm to save him from a trap. This issue is kind of problematic because it denies Sadie any agency. Sadie has been taking a very passive role throughout this entire series, and I was fine with that because I assumed she would eventually grow a backbone. But now that she has found some motivation, her dad is telling her that her mission is too dangerous for a girl.
DOCTOR SOLAR AND THE KINGDOM OF LOST TOMORROWS #4 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Max Fiumara. I should mention here that I’m glad Dark Horse has changed its anti-transgender policies, because otherwise I would have felt guilty about writing this review. This issue is a very sad story about a father witnessing his son’s death (and also his wife’s death, but the son’s death is more untimely). This comic still has no clear connection to the world of Black Hammer, but that’s fine; like Astro City, Black Hammer is a vehicle that Jeff can use to tell different kinds of stories. I’m sorry we didn’t get to see more of the Star Sheriffs.
GRIP: THE STRANGE WORLD OF MEN #2 (Vertigo, 2002) – “Gripping Fear and Romance,” [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. This issue has little to do with issue 3, which I reviewed earlier this year. It’s a convoluted story that revolves around a little girl named Esme, who kind of resembles Venus, and an animated empty sack of shed skin. Besides the shed skin, this issue is not as weird or disturbing as #3.
THE SPECTRE #5 (DC, 1968) – “The Spectre Means Death?”, [W/A] Neal Adams. This issue has fantastic art but a very convoluted story. With his powers drained, the Spectre has to overcome both the Psycho-Pirate and Jim Corrigan, who, at this point in continuity, is a separate character whose body the Spectre shares. As usual with Spectre stories, the writer has to depower the Spectre and to make him fight enemies who he can’t just overpower, or else there wouldn’t be any suspense.
SUPER DINOSAUR #23 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Jason Howard. I thought I had bought this entire series when it came out, but it turns out that in addition to this issue, there are also two others that I missed. This issue, Derek’s parents set off a bomb that defeats all the evil dinosaurs, but unfortunately it also makes Super Dinosaur sick. The issue ends on a cliffhanger that I doubt will ever be resolved. Super Dinosaur was a fun series while it lasted, but compared to other more recent series like Lumberjanes and Goldie Vance, it doesn’t look quite as impressive anymore. In particular, it’s annoying that Derek gets to be the hero just because he’s a boy, and Jason Howard’s kids have the same faces as his adults.
MONSTRESS #17 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. This issue is a giant fight scene. It’s pretty thrilling, although I sometimes have trouble keeping track of who’s on which side. Sana Takeda’s art in this issue seems looser and less detailed than in earlier issues, though that could just be my imagination.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #90 (Marvel, 1970) – “And Death Shall Come!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Gil Kane. Again, my copy of this issue is in awful condition and has been heavily repaired with tape. Most of this issue is a straightforward fight between Peter and Doc Ock, but it ends with the death of Captain Stacy. His death is a shocking and tragic, and also historically important. Besides Uncle Ben, Captain Stacy may have been the first of Peter’s loved ones who got killed during one of Spider-Man’s battles. Nowadays Peter’s habit of getting his friends killed has become a cliché, but back in 1970, it would have been genuinely shocking that such a thing could happen.
PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #305 (Marvel, 2018) – “No More – Part Two,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Adam Kubert. The two Peters and the surviving superheroes team up to defeat Norman Osborn, and Peter, Teresa and JJJ go back to their native timeline. The highlight of this issue was Captain America shouting “Avengers assemble!”
PROXIMA CENTAURI #1 (Image, 2018) – “A.L.F.O.”, [W/A] Farel Dalrymple. This new series appears to be a sequel to Farel’s serialized story from Island. As usual I can’t make head or tail of its plot, but I don’t read Farel’s comics for the plot, and his artwork, design, and lettering are as brilliant as usual.
SUICIDE SQUAD #10 (DC, 1987) – “Up Against the Wall,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Luke McDonnell. Batman infiltrates Belle Reve Prison to gather information about the Suicide Squad, but Amanda Waller successfully convinces him to back down, by threatening to reveal his secret identity. The Waller/Batman scene is memorable because it’s a suspensful confrontation between two very formidable characters. Also, Batman’s method of sneaking into the prison is kind of brilliant. It’s too bad John Ostrander didn’t write more Batman comics.
POPE HATS #1 (self-published, 2009) – “Wherein Frances Scarland Quietly Battles Demons,” [W/A] Ethan Rilly (a.k.a. Hartley Lin). Part one of “Young Frances” is quite different from the rest of the story. The art and lettering are cruder, possibly because part of the issue was originally published as a minicomic. And at this point Frances hasn’t yet taken the job at the law firm, so the central theme of the rest of Young Frances – the cutthroat nature of her professional life – is missing. Instead, this story focuses on Frances and Vickie’s relationship. Still, I’m glad that I’ve finally read the whole thing.
GENE WOLFE’S THE SHADOW OF THE TORTURER #1 (Innovation, 1991) – “Torturers’ Apprentice,” [W] Scott Rockwell, [A] Ted Naifeh. I found this in a five-for-a-dollar box, and I had to buy it for its weirdness value. Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun is a very poor candidate for a comics adaptation because Wolfe has the most literary prose style of any SF writer. Half the point of reading his work is the rhythm of his prose. The Book of the New Sun is one of the densest SF series ever, and it’s full of things that are hard to visualize because the reader doesn’t know what they mean (e.g. destriers, which are like horses but not quite, and the color fuligin, which is darker than black). Faced with the impossible challenge of adapting this unadaptable book, Scott Rockwell and Ted Naifeh do a surprisingly good job. There’s not too much text, the page layouts help to create a sense of visual rhythm, and the characters and settings look reasonably close to how I imagined them. Also, it’s nice to be able to revisit the beginning of The Shadow of the Torturer, because I haven’t read it in a long time, and when I read it, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on.
MYSTERY IN SPACE #95 (DC, 1964) – Space Ranger in “The Moon Pygmies of Callisto,” [W] Dave Wood, [A] Phil Kelsey; and “The Hydra-Head from Outer Space,” [W] Dave Wood, [A] Lee Elias. This issue’s first story is more of a waste of space than a mystery in space. The Adam Strange story is better. Its plot is pretty dumb, but Alanna is a really cool character. Much like Mera (see the review of Aquaman 13 above), Alanna is a fairly equal partner with the same powers as Adam, rather than just a damsel in distress.
THE FLASH #177 (DC, 1968) – “The Swell-Headed Super-Hero!”, [W] Gardner Fox, [A] Ross Andru. An excellent issue. The Trickster shoots the Flash with a “swell-head ray” that both turns him into an egomaniac and causes his head to swell to giant size. The Trickster is a great villain, and his interactions with Wally are really fun to watch. He even has a pet mynah, who may be the best thing about this issue. I tend to think of Gardner Fox as a stodgy, old-fashioned writer, but he could be really fun.
SUPERMAN/BATMAN #51 (DC, 2008) – “Li’l Leaguers, Part 1,” [W] Michael Green & Mike Johnson, [A] Rafael Albuquerque. This comic is utterly hilarious and adorable. Batman and Superman encounter their counterparts from a parallel world, where all the Justice Leaguers are little kids, and everything is kid-friendly. Little Superman was sent to Earth because Krypton was too rainy, and little Batman decided to become a superhero when a bully pushed his parents to the ground. There are also kid versions of Wonder Woman, Zatanna, etc. The kids’ optimism and naivete provide a powerful contrast to the grim grittiness of the regular DC Universe. This story reminds me a lot of the character of Wolvie in Exiles, and I actually just tweeted at Saladin Ahmed and asked him if he was familiar with Superman/Batman #51. Michael Green and Mike Johnson have worked mostly in animation rather than comics, but they clearly have a lot of writing experience.
YEAH! #3 (DC, 1999) – “Stalky,” [W] Peter Bagge, [A] Gilbert Hernandez. This series is a sort of science fiction version of Josie and the Pussycats, starring a musical group whose biggest fans are aliens. I bought the previous issue of this comic when it came out. The series only lasted nine issues, and I somehow have the impression that it wasn’t as good as it should have been, given the creators involved. But this issue is fairly entertaining, and it includes some excellent dialogue. The plot is that Yeah!’s manager convinces them to play a free gig as the backing band for Miss Hellraiser, who they can’t stand.
BATMAN #263 (DC, 1975) – “Riddler on the Move!”, [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Ernie Chua. The Riddler is one of my favorite Batman villains, but I’ve never read a Riddler comic book that was as good as the Riddler sidequests in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Batman #263 is no exception to that, though it’s a reasonably good Riddler story. Some of the riddles in this issue are unsolvable without mind-reading; for example, the Riddler asks Batman to come up with the question corresponding to the answer “A centipede with fallen arches!”, and the question turns out to be “A giraffe with a sore throat!” This riddle does provide an excuse for a scene where Batman pole-vaults off the neck of a live giraffe.
ATOMIC ROBO: DOGS OF WAR #1 (Red 5, 2008) – “Operation Husky,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. I bought a bunch of cheap Atomic Robo back issues at Heroes Con, and also met Scott Wegener. This story takes place during World War II, when Atomic Robo assists in the invasion of Sicily and has to fight some giant tank robots. It’s a pretty typical Atomic Robo story.
GOOD GIRLS #6 (Rip Off, 1991) – “Face to Face, Mano a Mano,” [W/A] Carol Lay. This was the last issue, and the only one published by Rip Off. After a lot of complicated drama, Irene ends up with her blind boyfriend, Kurt, and defeats two villains who are plotting to steal her money. A supporting character in this issue is Erma from Burma, who has an absurdly long neck. In general, Good Girls is a hilarious comic that effectively blends romance, mystery and satire, and I’m sorry there isn’t more of it.
THIRTEEN #9 (Dell, 1994) – “Strange Story” and other stories, [W/A] John Stanley. This teen humor comic is an impressive display of John Stanley’s mastery of storytelling. It’s hard to quantify why exactly this comic is so perfect, but Stanley’s dialogue is witty, his jokes are funny, his scary momens are suspenseful, and his comic timing is perfect. You can see why his style heavily influenced the Hernandez brothers. After reading this issue, I feel like I get John Stanley in a way that I didn’t before, and now I want to collect his work more actively.
DRY COUNTY #2 (Image, 2018) – “The Blue Lantern,” [W/A] Rich Tommaso. It turns out I actually did order this from DCBS, but my order was cancelled. They were shorted on their order, and the shortage was not made up. But I bought a copy from Rich Tommaso at Heroes Con, and he did a sketch in it. This issue, Lou Rossi investigates Janet’s kidnapping on his own, since he’s been told that she’ll be killed if he calls the cops. Besides being a brilliant designer, Rich Tommaso laso does a good job of evoking the mood and visual appearance of Florida.
BLOODSTRIKE BRUTALISTS #0 (Image, 2018) – “Dead Meat Club,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. For most of my collecting career I’ve believed that Rob Liefeld is a blight on the industry, a terrible artist and a bad influence on later generations. But some younger artists, like Michel Fiffe and Ed Piskor, have absorbed his influence and used it as inspiration for exciting and original work. This issue is a good example of a comic that takes Rob’s influence in a direction that Rob might not have predicted. It has a fairly conventional plot, and some of its characters are blatant ripoffs of Marvl characters (which is not Michel’s fault), but it’s elevated to a different level by Michel’s brilliant art, lettering and coloring. I do think it’s unfortunate that this comic is printed on slick paper, because Copra’s use of newsprint is a big part of its visual aesthetic. (We talked a lot about paper during my publication design panel; see the review of La Mano del Destino below.) But this is a visually stunning comic anyway.
INFINITY 8 #2 (Lion Forge, 2018) – “Love and Mummies, Part 2,” [W] Lewis Trondheim & Zep, [A] Dominique Bertail. I didn’t get this until after #3 was already out. This issue, Agent Keren and Sagoss, her creepy alien stalker, try to save the Infinity 8 from being destroyed by insane Kornaliens. Bertail’s artwork in this issue is often breathtaking, especially in the two-page spread depicting a ship full of zombies. This level of draftspersonship is rare in American comic books because it’s cost-prohibitive, but it’s standard in French comics, which have a much slower production schedule (and also the artists are better paid). But Bertail is impressive even compared to other French cartoonists.
DRY COUNTY #4 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Rich Tommaso. Lou’s quest for Janet continues, although his comic strip gets cancelled. This is another exciting and suspenseful issue. Dry County is a good example of what Kim Thompson was talking about when he said that “more crap is what we need.” By “crap” he meant well-executed, entertaining genre material without the highest artistic intentions.
CODA #2 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Matías Bergara. I hesitated to read this because the previous issue was really long, and a bit tedious. But Coda #2 is a really good comic. Spurrier’s worldbuilding is impressive, as usual, and Matías Bergara is one of the best artists he’s worked with. In this issue the protagonist encounters a crazy old wizard and his bandit daughter. I don’t think this protagonist has a name yet.
INFINITY 8 #3 (Lion Forge, 2018) – “Love and Mummies, Part 3,” as above. Keren defeats the Kornaliens, and apparently finds a man to father her child. That’s the end of this story arc. The next one will have a different artist.
SAN FRANCISCO COMIC BOOK #5 (Print Mint, 1979) – various stories, [E] Gary Arlington. I was specifically looking for underground and alternative comics at Heroes Con, and I found a fair number of them. As usual with underground comics, the stories in this issue are of mixed quality. The highlight of this issue is two stories by Bill Griffith. I’m only familiar with Griffith from Zippy. It’s exciting to see what he can do when working in a more realistic style, and when drawing full pages rather than strips. Other notable contributors to this issue include Kim Deitch, Trina Robbins and Robert Williams. This issue’s cover is drawn by Willy Murphy, who died before it was published.
New comics received on Friday, June 22, rather late in the day:
RUNAWAYS #10 (Marvel, 2018) – “Best Friends Forever, Part IV,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Kris Anka. Another amazing issue of what would be my favorrite Marvel title, if not for my brand loyalty to Squirrel Girl and Runaways. In a flashback, we learn that Abigail got the cupcakes of eternal youth from the Enchantress. Even in this very brief scene, Rainbow shows a deep understanding of the Enchantress’s character. Then Julie and the Runaways get the antidote to the cupcake from Abigail, and Julie returns herself to her proper age, only to then break up with Karolina because she feels neglected. And I’m afraid that I can’t disagree with Julie’s decision. In this issue Julie says that the cupcake made her younger than her little sister, so Katie is at least 14, which means Franklin must be around 13… but figuring out the age of Marvel characters is like figuring out what state Springfield is in.
FLAVOR #2 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Joe Keatinge, [A] Wook Jin Clark. Another amazing issue. This issue gives us lots more information about The Bowl, the food-obsessed city where the comic takes place. It turns out The Bowl has bars that serve ice cream on tap, and an underground black market that has a secret Iron Chef fight club. I kind of want to live there, even though it’s surrounded by monsters or something. Also, we meet Xoo’s childhood friend Anant Kaur, a student in an elite cooking academy. Besides the art and story, this comic’s coloring, by Tamra Bonvillain, is spectacular.
BLACKWOOD #1 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Evan Dorkin, [A] Veronica Fish. This new series is a very spooky piece of Lovecraftian horror. It takes place at a small college of esoteric sciences, where the new first-year students find themselves all having the same dreams. This is somewhat standard horror material, but Dorkin demonstrates a mastery of that genre (much more so than in his and Sarah Dyer’s graphic novel Calla Cthulhu, which I did not like). I’ve only seen Veronica Fish’s artwork in humor and superhero titles, but she turns out to be an impressive horror artist as well. One thing that makes this comic work is Evan Dorkin’s dialogue and characterization. His teenagers all have distinctive personalities and realistic flaws, and they don’t all hit it off immediately.
FENCE #7 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] C.S. Pacat, [A] Johanna the Mad. Nicholas barely beats Aiden, setting up an epic confrontation with Seiji. This comic is still really fun, but its pace has gotten a bit slow. Its pacing is similar to that of a shojo manga, but it has fewer pages at its disposal than a shojo manga, so I’d lke to see it move a bit faster.
BLACK HAMMER: AGE OF DOOM #3 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dean Ormston. The new Black Hammer meets some really obvious ripoffs of the Endless, minus Desire and Despair, and they help her get back to her native storyline. On the way there, she takes an accidental side trip to the world of Sweet Tooth. The Sweet Tooth page is a cute Easter egg, and I wonder if the page before that, with the zombies, is also a reference to some other Lemire comic. Meanwhile, back on Black Hammer Farm, Madame Dragonfly has been manipulating the citizens so they’ll make her teammates happy. The next-issue blurb says that “all is revealed” in issue 4, and I hope that’s true.
USAGI YOJIMBO #169/THE HIDDEN #4 (Dark Horse, 2018) – “The Hidden, Part 4,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. This issue only advances the plot a little bit. We still don’t know what’s in the box, or who the killers are. I can’t remember if Inspector Ishida’s infant son has appeared before. I seem to recall that in his first appearance, he and his wife had just lost a child, so I guess they had another one. I wonder if Hama the carpenter is named after Larry Hama.
MY LITTLE PONY: PONYVILLE MYSTERIES #2 (IDW, 2018) – “Those Pins Really Tied the Room Together,” [W] Christina Rice, [A] Agnes Garbowska. That’s not the actual title, but it is a line of dialogue in the issue. This issue, Walter and Jeff Letrotski ask the CMC to find some stolen bowling pins. It turns out the thief is Snips, who didn’t want Walter and Jeff to break his grandfather’s bowling record. This issue is full of Big Lebowski references, including some that probably went over my head because I haven’t seen that movie in years.
GIDEON FALLS #4 (Image, 2018) – “Twin Shadows,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. It looks like I forgot to order issue 3. This issue mostly just continues the plot of the previous two issues, but what particularly impresses me about it is Andrea Sorrentino’s page layouts. The two-page splash with the infinity symbol made out of cubes is spectacular, but many of the other pages have layouts that are impressive in less flashy ways.
KINGS WATCH #3 (Dynamite, 2013) – untitled, [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Marc Laming. I didn’t know this miniseries comic existed until I bought it at Heroes Con, but it takes place before King: The Phantom and the other four series that takes place along with it, and explains how Ming took over the Earth. It has a sequel called Kings Quest, and then Kings Cross was the sequel to that. In this issue, Flash Gordon, Phantom and Mandrake team up against Cobra and Ming. It’s an exciting and well-written adventure comic, as usual with Jeff. Marc Laming’s art is fairly effective, and reminds me of Doc Shaner’s art.
THE ADVENTURES OF LITTLE ARCHIE #27 (Archie, 1963) – “The Missing Astronaut Mystery,” [W/A] Bob Bolling, and other stories. This may be the best Little Archie comic I’ve read. It begins with a 25-page story in which Archie saves America’s first female astronaut from Communist spies. (The female astronaut doesn’t play a very active role in the story, but in creating this character, Bolling was twenty years ahead of his time. Sally Ride didn’t go into space until 1983.) This story is drawn in a more realistic style than most Little Archie comics. According to the GCD, Bolling also used this style for the two Little Archie Mystery comics that were published that same year, and “The Missing Astronaut Mystery” may well have been intended for that series. The 25-page length and the realistic art style enable Bolling to show what he was capable of, and the result is a thrilling adventure story that’s worthy of Barks. It ends with a surprising but logical twist, when Archie shoots down the fleeing Russians using an experimental harpoon that was introduced at the start of the story. If Little Archie Mystery #1 and #2 are anything like this comic, then I really want to read them. This issue also includes another Bolling story, “210 Oak Street,” about some glasses that allow the wearer to see into the past, as well as some Dexter Taylor stories.
MUTANT, TEXAS: TALES OF IDA RED #2 (Oni, 2002) – untitled, [W] Paul Dini, [A] J. Bone. This rather obscure comic is Paul Dini’s other creator-owned property, besides Jingle Belle. Its protagonist, Ida Red, is a native of a Texas town where everyone has super powers or is some kind of mutant. It’s a funny comic with cute characters and a complicated but logical plot, and it effectively blends the Western genre with… I’m not sure what other genre it is. J. Bone’s art is notable for its cuteness as well as its effective spotting of blacks.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP #2 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Javier Garrón. Scott and Nadia find themselves in a microverse full of bizarre creatures who look like many-mouthed potatoes. This issue emphasizes how weird Marvel’s microverse is. It also provides some insight into Scott and Nadia’s characters. For example, we learn that Nadia learned English from Downton Abbey. This series has been fun so far, though it’s not as good as Unstoppable Wasp.
FRENCH TICKLERS #3 (Kitchen Sink, 1990) – various stories, [E] Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficer. This was the final issue of this French humor anthology series. Its cancellation is unsurprising, but also unfortunate because this series contained some really good material. In particular, this series included the only American publications by Daniel Goossens, a major French cartoonist. His story in French Ticklers #3 is unimpressive, but it’s exciting to see his work in English at all. This issue also includes a five-page excerpt of Dupuy and Berberian’s pre-Monsieur Jean work, Henrietta, as well as stories by Franquin, Moebius, and Binet (not to mention yet another Carmen Cru story by Lelong).
TRILLIUM #2 (Vertigo, 2013) – “Binary Systems,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. I believe that someone on my “Between Pen and Pixel” panel mentioned this series as a example of productive uses of materiality. This issue is kind of a prototype for Barrier. It focuses on two characters, a woman from the far future and a man from 1921, who don’t speak the same language. Each of the first twelve pages has either a red or a blue background. On the red pages, only the woman’s dialogue is legible; on the blue pages, only the man’s. As a result, the reader is almost as confused as the characters. The issue ends with a two-page splash where the two characters eat a flower called trillium and learn to understand each other. Lemire comes up with a fascinating visual device for depicting their moment of understanding. I can’t really describe it, but see http://www.nickgregorio.com/2015/02/13/jeff-lemires-trillium-stretching-the-limits-of-comics-with-purpose-and-precision/. According to the review at that link, there are other interesting tricks in the other issues of this series, so I will have to collect them.
PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “Paper Trail,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Mike Allred. This issue’s main story is told from JJJ’s perspective. People like him are horrible in real life (a certain American president comes to mind), but they’re funny to read about, and Chip’s story displays both JJJ’s awful and his lovable aspects. The plot is that JJJ’s rival, Barney Bushkin, tries to kill JJJ with a Jonah-Slayer robot. I don’t know if Mike Allred has drawn Spider-Man comics before, but he’s good at it. The backup story is awful, though Chris Bachalo’s art is quite good. The writer, Mike Drucker, appears to be a successful stand-up comedian, but that doesn’t mean he can write comics.
ANIMAL MAN #29 (DC, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Jeff Lemire, [A] Travel Foreman. I stopped reading this series after Travel Foreman left, but this, the final issue, is notable because it includes art by both Foreman and Lemire himself. The central section of the issue, drawn by Lemire, is a bedtime story that Maxine tells to Buddy. It’s the same idea as Luke Cage #170, but it’s not as impressive because all the pages are splash pages, and Lemire is less successful than David Walker at writing a small child’s dialogue. But this is still an enjoyable issue, and a nice conclusion to the run. Also, it turns out Cliff isn’t actually dead, but has been turned into an insect, which I guess is an improvement.
LA MANO DEL DESTINO #1 (Castle & Key, 2016) – untitled, [W/A] J. Gonzo. Some people at my publication design panel mentioned this comic because of its use of newsprint, and I heard that after the panel, people came to J. Gonzo’s table and asked to smell his comics. Because the smell of newsprint is one of its important material properties. It kind of makes sense in context. So after that, I went to J. Gonzo and bought this comic. It’s a visually impressive artifact with good publication design and an unusual blue, pink and yellow color scheme, and it tells an entertaining story about lucha libre. This is a topic I know nothing about, but J. Gonzo seems to know a lot about it. The next time I see him at a convention, I’ll buy something else from him.
SHANGHAI RED #1 (Image, 2018) – “Life Amongst the Rats,” [W] Chris Sebela, [A] Joshua Hixson. Some shanghaied sailors are released from their two-year impressment. One of them proceeds to kill the entire crew of the ship, take command of it, and sail it to Portland, Oregon. Also it turns out she’s a woman. And she’s trying to find her mother and sister, whom she lost track of when she was shanghaied. This comic has a very high level of violence and it’s not the sort of thing I usually like, but it’s very well done. Chris’s grim writing and Joshua Hixson’s murky art create a strong sense of atmosphere, and Portland in the 19th century is an interesting setting. I plan to stick with this series.
AVENGERS #3 (Marvel, 2018) – “Where Space Gods Go to Die,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Paco Medina & Ed McGuinness. This one, on the other hand… I’m a fan of Jason Aaron, but I tend to avoid big flagship titles, and this issue demonstrates why. It’s all plot with only incidental characterization, and the plot isn’t grabbing me. The best Avengers writers (Busiek, Thomas, Englehart, Stern, etc.) wrote exciting cosmic epics, but they also wrote scenes where the characters just sat around and talked, and Jason has yet to do that. I’ll give this series a few more issues to impress me, but it’s on the chopping block.
THOR #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “God of Thunder Reborn” and “The Grace of Thor,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mike Del Mundo & Christian Ward. Jason Aaron’s Avengers hasn’t excited me yet, but he is the best Thor writer since Walt Simonson, and in this issue he collaborates with two of the most skilled artists in superhero comics. This issue’s first story resumes the ongoing plotline about Malekith’s takeover of the Nine Worlds, which was interrupted by the Mangog saga. It issue also includes some scenes with characters who we haven’t seen in a while. I was actually wondering what had happened to Balder before he showed up on the last page. Mike Del Mundo’s art is a lot blurrier here than in Weirdworld, but it’s still impressive. In the backup story, the far-future Allfather Thor attends the deathbed of Jane, the progenitor of the new human race he created, and then meets a very elderly Wolverine.
WORLD’S GREATEST CARTOONISTS: FCBD 2018 (Fantagraphics, 2018) – various stories, [E] Eric Reynolds. Just like last year, Fantagraphics’s FCBD comic is a collection of original short stories by their current artists. This is a great idea, but its execution is a bit disappointing. Many of the stories are too short to create any narrative momentum. For example, Anne Simon’s story is just a preview for her graphic novel, and makes little sense on its own. The highlight of the issue is Dash Shaw’s “Loony Reunion 2018,” a realistic story of a breakup. I wasn’t all that impressed with Shaw’s Cosplayers, but I should read more of his work. Also, I haven’t heard of Charles Glaubitz before, but his artwork in this issue is spectacular. This issue also includes a wordless story by Jim Woodring, which reveals that Frank has somehow lost a leg and a hand.
SPIDER-GWEN #33 (Marvel, 2018) – “The Life of Gwen Stacy, Part 4,” [W] Jason Latour, [A] Robbi Rodriguez & Chris Visions. Gwen goes to prison – I’m not sure what she was charged with, or why she was willing to stand trial – and then gets into a bunch of fights with other inmates. I really don’t get the appeal of Chris Visions’s art, and this issue would have been unimpressive even if Robbi had drawn the whole thing. I’m glad this series is almost over.
XOMBI #3 (Milestone, 1994) – “Silent Cathedrals, Part Three: Screaming Meat!”, [W] John Rozum, [A] J.J. Birch. Xombi and Nun of the Above encounter a bizarre creature made of meat. This issue didn’t impress me as much as other Xombi comics I’ve read, though it does have an absurdist, spooky sensibility that reminds me of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol.
THE DARK MANSION OF FORBIDDEN LOVE #2 (DC, 1971) – “Honeymoon of Horror,” [W] Sy Reit & Jack Oleck, [A] Tony DeZuniga. This is an example of DC’s short-lived line of gothic romance comics. I haven’t read any of these comics before, so this was a really exciting find. It has a beautiful Joe Orlando cover, and the story inside isn’t bad either. A newlywed couple, David and Ellen Drew, get into a car accident. David is killed, and when Ellen wakes up, a man named Edwin claims that she’s not Ellen Drew but his fiancee Mary Cartwright. Ellen/Mary gives in to Edwin’s gaslighting and marries him, only to discover that she’s been the victim of a complicated plot. Reit, Oleck and DeZuniga tell an exciting and atmospheric story that seamlessly blends the horror and romance genres. There’s also a backup story which is forgettable.
MOONDOG #3 (Print Mint, 1973) – several untitled stories, [W/A] George Metzger. This issue contains multiple stories set in a postapocalyptic California. George Metzger’s plots aren’t all that exciting, but his storytelling is fascinating. Most of the underground cartoonists used fairly standard page layouts and camera angles, but Metzger draws his characters from weird perspectives, and his panels often run the entire length of the page. In terms of storytelling, his work is closer to manga or Steranko than to most other underground comics. (I previously made a similar observation in my review of San Francisco Comic Book #3.) Fantagraphics ought to publish a collection of his work, like they’ve done for other artists such as Rand Holmes and Rory Hayes.
MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #10 (Marvel, 1975) – “Is This the Day the World Ends!”, [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Bob Brown. This is a good team-up comic because it pairs two very different characters – the Thing and the Black Widow – and they combine their unique skills to solve a problem that’s beyond either of them alone. In this issue’s climactic sequence, the Thing has to pull a bomb attached to a three-mile-long rope into an aircraft, while Black Widow fights off some goons who are trying to make Ben drop the rope. Of course they succeed, but it’s an exciting challenge. Claremont shows a solid understanding of both characters, even though he didn’t use them very often (though he later used Natasha in Marvel Team-Up #82-85, a classic story). It’s too bad that Bob Brown’s artwork is very boring.
ETERNITY GIRL #4 (DC, 2018) – “The Beat,” [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Sonny Liew. I’m not quite sure what’s going on in this issue, but it’s a brilliant display of Sonny Liew’s stylistic versatility. It includes multiple sequences drawn in different styles, including one sequence that’s based on Peanuts. Liew’s ability to switch between so many different styles of artwork is amazing. After reading this issue I decided it was finally time to read Liew’s The Art of Chan Hock Chye, which includes a number of similar sequences based on other comics, and I thought that that book was amazing.
PLASTIC MAN #1 (DC, 2018) – “Plastic Man,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] Adriana Melo. Plas is a tough character to write properly. Most writers, even Grant Morrison, have written him as a wisecracking jokester, but in Jack Cole’s original comics, Plas was a serious man with a stiff upper lip; it was the world around him that was bizarre and absurd. To my knowledge, the only Plastic Man writer who has understood that, besides Cole himself, is Kyle Baker. But in this revised origin story, Gail shows that she understands Plastic Man too. Her version of the character uses his shapeshifting ability in really weird ways, but Gail mostly allows the absurdity of Plas’s world to reveal itself. I look forward to seeing what else she does with Plas.
QUICKSILVER: NO SURRENDER #2 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Eric Nguyen. I felt lukewarm about this series’ first issue, but I enjoyed the second issue much more, largely because Quicksilver’s internal monologue is a lot more interesting. I really like Quicksilver’s discussion of anti-Roma racism, especially since people have publicly called for Marvel to address this exact topic (see http://www.comicsbeat.com/rromani-representation-peter-david-apologizes-and-roma-pop-responds-with-a-statement-and-goals/). And Pietro’s comments about his lack of a relationship with his daughter are both true and sad. Also, this issue Pietro follows the lead of Rainbow Dash by getting a pet turtle. I don’t recognize the mall in Minnesota that Luna is visiting; it doesn’t look like the Mall of America.
MEASLES #2 (Fantagraphics, 1999) – various stories, [E] Gilbert Hernandez. The stories in this comic are mostly about kids, but I don’t think actual kids are the audience. This issue includes two stories by Gilbert and one by Jaime, as well as one each by Rick Altergott, Sam Henderson, and Steven Weissman. These stories are well-done and inoffensive, but not all that great. The two Venus stories by Beto are the highlight. I really like Rick Altergott’s art style, but not so much his writing.
ACTION COMICS #325 (DC, 1965) – “The Skyscraper Superman,” [W] unknown, [A] Curt Swan; and “Ugly Duckling Teacher of Stanhope College,” [W] Leo Dorfman, [A] Jim Mooney. In this issue, red kryptonite turns Superman into a giant, and he remembers a similar incident that occurred when he was Superbaby. This story is bad enough, but the next story is a monument to sexism. A new teacher at Stanhope College, Miss Sparrow, is depressed because she’s an ugly spinster and her students are bullying her. Supergirl could have befriended Miss Sparrow teacher and helped her to develop more self-esteem and to stop caring what some assholes think about her. Instead, Supergirl gets some Atlantean scientists to give Miss Sparrow a makeover and modify her personality. Miss Sparrow immediately gets engaged to a handsome man, who she previously met while he was disguised as a tramp. This story sends the message that every woman’s goal is to get married, and oh, by the way, it’s okay to change people’s personalities without their consent. See http://active-voice.net/jessplummer/?p=3503 for more on this awful piece of crap.
LASSIE #61 (Gold Key, 1963) – “The Yawning Pit” and “Spears Among the Shadows,” [W] Gaylord Du Bois, [A] Jerry Robinson. The art in this issue is excellent. Jerry Robinson said that he hated drawing Lassie (http://www.tcj.com/jerry-robinson-been-there-done-that/5/), but he seems have put his full effort into the artwork anyway. This issue’s stories are problematic because they’re set in Nigeria, and they contain the expected neocolonialism. In the first story, Timmy and his dad convince some superstitious natives to leave their village so their land can be used for mining. They do it with the approval of the Nigerian government, but it’s still creepy. As a sort of nitpicky point, the natives in this story live on the Jos Plateau, but they seem to be Yoruba. The Yoruba are indigenous to Nigeria, but not that part of Nigeria. The backup story is better in terms of representation, though it’s still a bit of a white savior narrative. Timmy and Lassie befriend the son of a Fulani sultan and help save him from bandits.
JONNY QUEST #19 (Comico, 1987) – “Lesson One,” [W] William Messner-Loebs, [A] Ernie Colón. One of the lesser issues of this run. In the main plot, Jonny and Hadji become students of a yoga guru, Dr. Dharma. This part of the story is probably a satire of the New Age phenomenon, but not the funniest satire. In the subplot, Benton Quest and Race Bannon have a heart-to-heart talk. Here as elsewhere in this run, Bill Loebs heavily implies that Benton and Race are a couple, and it’s hard to believe he wasn’t doing this on purpose.
THE PEOPLE’S COMICS #1 (Kitchen Sink, 1972/1995) – “The Confessions of R. Crumb” and other stories, [W/A] Robert Crumb. The first two stories in this issue are basically just misogynistic sex fantasies, like many of the Crumb comics I’ve read. The last story, “Fritz the Cat Superstar,” is an improvement because Fritz faces some consequences for his sexist and narcissistic behavior; the story ends with Fritz’s jilted girlfriend stabbing him to death with an ice pick. (Which I just realized is probably a reference to Trotsky’s death.) After reading this issue, I posted the following status on Facebook: “I’ve read a moderate amount of R. Crumb, and I still have mixed feelings about his work. Some of his comics, like “Uncle Bob’s Mid-Life Crisis” and “The Goose and the Gander Were Talking One Night,” are really profound, but a lot of his other works are just misogynistic racist power fantasies. Is there something about Crumb that I’m missing?” The responses to this thread were very interesting and helped me understand Crumb’s appeal better, but I still think he’s very problematic.
FEATHERS #3 (Boom!, 2015) – untitled, [W/A] Jorge Corona. I stopped reading this series after #2 because I forgot to order #3, but I finally bought it at Heroes Con. This is a fairly well-done series, but nothing spectacular. I think my favorite thing about it is the birdlike appearance of the main character.
WALLY THE WIZARD #3 (Marvel, 1985) – “Folkquest,” [W/A] Bob Bolling. In this issue, Wally the Wizard and his friend Vikk the Viking search for their missing parents. This issue has an intricate plot, to the point where I wondered how Bolling was going to wrap it up in the space available, and the characters are quite likable. But the art is not Bolling’s best. The evocative landscapes of Bolling’s best Little Archie stories are mostly absent, and the action sequences aren’t that exciting.
BATGIRL #5 (DC, 2017) – “Beyond Burnside, Finale,” [W] Hope Larson, [A] Rafael Albuquerque. Batgirl finally defeats the Teacher and gets ready to return to Burnside. “Beyond Burnside”was Hope Larson’s worst Batgirl story; it was boring enough that it caused me to stop reading the series. Her Batgirl run didn’t hit its stride until issue 6.
BATMAN #266 (DC, 1975) – “The Curious Case of the Catwoman’s Coincidences!”, [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Irv Novick. Batman battles the Catwoman, who has a cat that’s been trained to steal jewels. The cat is probably the best thing abut the issue. Also, I like how Catwoman is “one of the few people who have such utter rapport with felines that [she] can train them!” The story’s title refers to the fact that it includes a lot of coincidences, but this is just a dumb gimmick.
LOCKE & KEY: HEAD GAMES #3 (IDW, 2009) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. Bode finds the key that unlocks people’s heads, and then Rendell experiments with it too. The two-page splash depicting the inside of Bode’s head is spectacular. The dialogue in this issue is also impressive. There’s a cute joke where Bode inserts a cookbook into his head, then tries to pronounce “tsp” and “tbsp”.
DAREDEVIL #2 (Marvel, 2011) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Paolo Rivera. Daredevil fights Captain America and investigates a mysterious plot against an accused criminal, Ahmed Jobrani. Mark was probably the best Daredevil writer since Frank Miller, largely because he avoided copying Miller’s grim-and-gritty film-noir style, and Paolo Rivera’s artwork in this issue is impressive too. I notice that Javier Rodriguez is credited as the colorist on this issue. Maybe it was his coloring that gave Mark’s Daredevil run such a consistent visual aesthetic, even though it had several different artists.