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Pre-Heroes Con reviews

This review post is even longer than the last one.

6-5-18

Another huge stack.

New comics received on May 11:

RUNAWAYS #9 (Marvel, 2018) – “Best Friends Forever Pt. III,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Kris Anka. The fight with Doom (or a Doombot) is resolved peacefully, but Karolina and Julie are going through a rough patch. Meanwhile, Molly gets more and more tempted to eat the cupcake of evil, because all her teammates wish they were 13 again. BTW, when I was 13, I certainly didn’t want to stay 13 forever; seventh to ninth grade were among the worst years of my life. Anyway, Molly’s decision is taken out of her hands when Julie eats the cupcake instead. I can’t help wondering if this was done on purpose because Julie’s current age is a continuity problem – her age is difficult to reconcile with Alex, Franklin and Valeria’s ages. But that seems really cynical. Anyway, another good issue.

SOUTHERN BASTARDS #20 (Image, 2018) – “Gut Check Conclusion,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Jason Latour. I had the impression that “Gut Check” had taken over a year to complete, but the first part actually came out last November. This issue, Boone tries to kill Coach Boss and fails. Then Roberta has him dead to rights, but decides to leave him alive so she can tear down everything he built. That’s kind of an anticlimax, and also, that plan never works when supervillains try it.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #32 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. Erica Henderson is irreplacable, but Derek Charm is a reasonable substitute. As I flip through the issue, I notice the striking panel where Doreen unmasks herself to Kraven. This issue’s plot is that Doreen and her friends invite Kraven to accompany them to an escape room, which turns out to be a death trap. This is the second comic I’ve read in less than a month that had an escape room scene (cf. Batgirl #8). I kind of want to visit an escape room myself now.

EXILES #3 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Rodriguez. It was a pleasure to get to meet Saladin Ahmed at WisCon and to hear his powerful keynote speech about his great-grandmother. He’s both a great talent and a very nice man. This issue begins with two quick trips to two bizarre worlds, one that’s full of armored dinosaurs and another that’s based on hippie culture. Then the Exiles have a more extended adventure in a world where Peggy Carter is Captain America. This comic is hilarious and exciting, but it’s also impressive because of its stylistic range, both in terms of the characters and the worlds they explore. This comic includes serious stuff, like Nazis and an aging Kamala Khan from a dystopian reality. But it also includes Valkyrie and little Wolvie, and a squadron of armored dinosaurs and an octopus’s garden. Saladin is not afraid to mix the grim-gritty and wacky sides of the Marvel Universe, and only an excessively purist reader would be upset with him for doing so.

ISOLA #2 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Brenden Fletcher, [W/A] Karl Kerschl, [A] Msassyk. In an old ruin, Rook encounters a former comrade who tries to blackmail her into sleeping with him, and justifiably gets killed. She also meets a mysterious little girl who lives with wolves. Meanwhile, the tiger queen meets the old dude who looks like a monkey. This issue is exciting and its art is gorgeous, but I’d appreciate an explanation of just what’s going on in this world.

MONSTRESS #16 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. Maika and Zinn enter the Shaman-Empress’s sanctum, where they fight a robotic monster. Ren and Kippa do not appear. At WisCon I moderated a panel on Fantasy Worldbuilding in Comics, which included Monstress’s editor, Jennifer Margret Smith. Monstress came up frequently during the panel, and she had a lot of interesting things to say about its creative process. At the panel, I mentioned the cat café scene in issue 13 as an example of how comics can effectively show multiple things happening at once.

BARRIER #1 (Image, 2018) – “Nos Llaman Coyotes,” [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Marcos Martín. Even before reading it, one can tell that this is a unique comic. It was originally published as a webcomic, and this weekly five-issue miniseries is intended to be its only print edition ever. To preserve the original reading experience, it’s formatted horizontally and is much taller than a normal comic, though it still fits in my boxes. The interior of this comic is also quite unusual. The first issue tells two parallel stories, one about Liddy, a Texas rancher whose horses are dying mysteriously, and another about Oscar, a Honduran undocumented immigrant trying to reach America. The artists make the surprising decision to use untranslated Honduran Spanish for Oscar’s scenes. This is going to annoy readers who can’t read Spanish, but that’s on purpose. The reader is supposed to be bewildered, just like in the sign-language issue of Hawkeye. Of course the reading experience is different if the reader does understand Spanish, as I do – there are some important points that aren’t clear from the art, such as the fact that one of Oscar’s fellow emigrants is transgender. Even then, Oscar’s scenes include a lot of words I didn’t recognize because they’re unique to Honduran Spanish. As I read this issue, I Googled those words, but that was probably a mistake because, again, I’m not supposed to understand anything. This comic is a fascinating reading experience, thanks in large part to Marcos Martin’s brilliant storytelling. Oh, yeah, and at the end of the issue, Oscar and Liddy are abducted by aliens.

BARRIER #2 (Image, 2018) – “Estamos Muertos y Esto es el Infierno,” as above. Liddy and Oscar wake up on the alien ship and find that they can’t understand each other, and also, Liddy is naked for some reason. The master stroke of the issue comes at the end, where the aliens summon Oscar and Liddy and speak to them – and the aliens’ speech is represented as jagged word balloons filled with solid color, and hearing it makes Liddy’s ears bleed. With these visual devices, BKV and Martín powerfully show that the aliens’ language is beyond human comprehension, to such an extent that humans can’t stand to hear it. This scene also reveals the central theme of the series: the “barriers” in the title are language barriers. This comic is all about language and how it makes us misunderstand each other, as Krazy said.

I also want to mention one other major theme of this comic: undocumented immigration from Central America. Just before I wrote this, a certain political figure said that Central American immigrants are “violent animals,” and that anyone who defends them is an “MS-13 lover.” His rhetoric demands that we see Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans as less than human. This comic helps to counter those narratives by showing that Oscar is a person with hopes and dreams, and that he’s exactly as human as Liddy is.

PETER PARKER: THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #304 (Marvel, 2018) – “No More – Part One,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Adam Kubert. Peter, JJJ and Teresa return to the present, only to discover that it’s a dystopia where America is ruled by an evil dictator with bad hair. How farfetched. This was an okay issue, but I can’t remember much about it.

CRUSH FREE PREVIEW #nn (Yen Press, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Svetlana Chmakova. I really liked Awkward and Brave, and this FCBD issue is a preview of another work in the same vein. The protagonist this time is Jorge, a kid who is very big for his age and is developing his first crush. Svetlana Chmakova is one of the better YA graphic novelists; her style is very manga-influenced (hence why she’s published by Yen Press) but also original, and she has a strong grasp of kids’ personalities.

FCBD 2018: ALL AGES (Dark Horse, 2018) – “Lost Pets,” [W] Michael Dante DiMartino, [A] Jayd Aït-Kaci; and “A Call to Arms,” [W] Ian Flynn, [A] Joe Ng. In the Legend of Korra story, Korra and Meelo go looking for a lost pet and discover a homeless man who takes care of animals. This story doesn’t require any prior knowledge of Korra’s story – it takes place in an evacuee camp, but I’m not even sure where its inhabitants were evacuated from, and it doesn’t really matter. But for that reason, this story is also lacking in substance. The Arms backup story, about characters with springs for arms, has appealing artwork but is just an extended toy ad.

ETERNITY GIRL #3 (DC, 2018) – “Weapon ∞,” [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Sonny Liew. This comic has some really nice artwork, especially the two next-to-last pages, but I can’t recall much else about it. Sonny Liew tweeted that he bought my book on Charles Hatfield’s recommendation.

SPIDER-WOMAN #4 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, [W] Dennis Hopeless, [A] Javier Rodriguez. The conclusion of a three-part story in which Jessica goes to an alien maternity hospital that gets invaded by Skrulls. Jess gets an emergency C-section and gives birth, then immediately beats up an army of Skrulls. The post-birth fight scene is an awesome moment, precisely because it’s so implausible – this woman is a superhero, so of course she can fight a bunch of aliens just after having a C-section. And Javier Rodriguez’s artwork is amazing.

AIR #10 (Vertigo, 2009) – “Place of the Egrets,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] M.K. Perker. A flashback story taking place in ancient Mesoamerica. This is kind of a wasted issue, and overall Air has never impressed me.

KORG: 70,000 B.C. #5 (Charlton, 1976) – The Slings & Arrows Guide described this obscure caveman comic as one of Pat Boyette’s works. Indeed, it has strong characterization and humor, to the point where it almost reaches the level of Anthro, though not quite. In this issue, the protagonist rescues a woman, Zoni, from a brutal bald dude, Smyer. Both Korg’s brother and son fall in love with Zoni, but Smyer kidnaps her and she decides to stay with him, thus providing the earliest known example of Stockholm syndrome.

HAWKMOON: THE RUNESTAFF #3 (First, 1988) – “The Runestaff,” [W] Roger Salick, [A] Rafael Kayanan. This adaptation of a Michael Moorcock novel suffers from boring writing and lifeless art, but at least it makes me want to read the novel it’s based on. The letters page includes a useful guide to the order in which to read the Eternal Champion series.

STUMPTOWN #1 (Oni, 2009) – “The Case of the Girl Who Took Her Shampoo But Left Her Mini, Part One,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Matthew Southworth. This is the first Stumptown comic. It begins with Dex getting shot, then in a flashback, we learn that she’s a compulsive gambler and that she takes care of her developmentally disabled brother. This comic is a good introduction to the series, and Matthew Southworth is a better artist than Justin Greenwood.

Q2: THE RETURN OF QUANTUM AND WOODY #3 (Valiant, 2014) – “The Banjo” etc., [W] Christopher Priest, [A] M.D. Bright. This is an enjoyable Quantum & Woody story, though like most of Priest’s work it’s difficult to follow. The new Woody is a non-binary kid, and unsurprisingly the original Woody turns out to be quite a transphobe.

SPIDER-WOMAN #9 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, [W] Dennis Hopeless, [A] Javier Rodriguez. Jess and Porcupine go to a Canadian ski resort to investigate some Wendigo appearances. It turns out the way you become a Wendigo is by eating human flesh while on Canadian soil, and the resort is serving smoked meat for dinner… uh-oh. Like the issue reviewed above, this is a fun comic with excellent art. The highlight of the issue is the scene where Carol Danvers calls Jess and refuses to hang up. This scene demonstrates why I hate talking on the phone.

TALES FROM THE HEART #4 (Slave Labor, 1988) – “Wa,” [W] Cindy Goff, [A] Rafael Nieves. A (semi?)-autobiographical series about a woman working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Central African Republic. This issue, she witnesses a brush fire and is utterly terrified, but the local people are much less worried, because for them such fires are a regular occurrence. This comic could easily have become a racist white savior narrative, but the writer effectively portrays the protagonist’s naïveté and ignorance of the local culture. Cindy Goff was one of the first comics pros I ever met, at an event at the Comic Book College.

CINDER & ASHE #1 (DC, 1988) – “Book One,” [W] Gerry Conway, [A] José Luis García-López. An incredible comic. The two title characters are New Orleans private detectives or bounty hunters. In flahsbacks, we learn that Cinder is the child of a black American soldier and a Vietnamese woman. When her parents are killed in the Tet Offensive, an evil man named Lacey takes her in and trains her as a thief, as well as brutally raping her. Ashe, a Cajun soldier, presumably rescues her from Lacey, but now, back in America, Lacey has returned for revenge. Despite its obscurity, this comic is one of the best works of either of its creators. JLGL’s artwork is, of course, spectacular, and Conway’s story deals intelligently with the legacy of the Vietnam War.

SPIDER-WOMAN #14 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Dennis Hopeless, [A] Veronica Fish. I had more issues of this series I realized, but that’s a good thing, because I really like it. I had a poor opinion of Dennis Hopeless because of Avengers Arena, but he’s an impressive writer. This issue, Roger/Porcupine has just been killed, and his ex-wife gives Jess a well-deserved chewing-out for taking advantage of him. Then Jess goes on a mission to avenge Roger’s death.

IRON MAN #12 (Marvel, 2013) – “The Secret Origin of Tony Stark Part Three,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Dale Eaglesham. In a flashback, with Tony Stark about to be born, Howard Stark and Recorder 451 go on a mission to fight some aliens. Tony is born at the end of the issue. This is an okay comic, but the storytelling is occasionally confusng – on the two-page spread with the captions “The Kitten” and “The Bear,” I had trouble figuring out what was going on. Overall this series doesn’t seem like the best use of Kieron Gillen’s talents, but then again, Iron Man has never been my favorite Marvel title – it’s the only major Marvel comic that’s never been on my pull list.

IZOMBIE #22 (DC, 2012) – “Collections,” [W] Chris Roberson, [A] Mike Allred. Later adapted into a TV series which was more successful than the comic, iZombie is about a zombie woman who has to eat brains to survive. This issue is reasonably fun and well-drawn, but hard for a new reader to follow.

DAREDEVIL #133 (Marvel, 1976) – “Mind-Wave and His Fearsome Think Tank!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Bob Brown. Quite possibly the dumbest Marvel comic of the ’70s. This issue guest-stars Uri Geller, who, in real life, is a charlatan who falsely claims he can bend spoons with magic. But because this comic takes place in the Marvel Universe, it depicts Uri Geller as having actual mental powers which he acquired from aliens or something. In this issue he uses those powers to help Daredevil defeat a villain called Mind-Wave. This comic bends over backwards to depict Uri Geller as a superhuman magical prodigy rather than the fraud he actually was. In the letter column, Marv states that Geller came to the Marvel offices and performed a trick where he bent Marv’s key, thus “proving” that Geller was actually magical. In a 1997 interview, Marv admitted that he wasn’t actually fooled by this trick. He also admitted that he wrote this comic because Marvel had already agreed to publish a comic guest-starring Geller, and nobody else wanted to write it. See https://www.cbr.com/remember-to-forget-daredevils-team-up-with-uri-geller/ for more information on this ridiculous issue.

HAWKMOON: THE MAD GOD’S AMULET #2 (First, 1987) – “The Mad God’s Amulet Book Two,” [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Rafael Kayanan. Only marginally better than the other Hawkmoon comic I reviewed above.

MICHAEL MOORCOCK’S MULTIVERSE #4 (DC, 1998) – “Moonbeams and Roses, Part Four: Loser Wins,” [W] Michael Moorcock, [A] Walt Simonson. This issue’s first story has some excellent Simonson artwork, but a confusing plot. It mentions the Spammer Gann, which also appears in Elric: The Balance Lost. It appears that to understand this story, one would need to read Moorcock’s Second Ether trilogy. The other two stories in this issue are less interesting. This comic itself isn’t all that great, but it does make me want to read more Moorcock.

I was going to review Imagine #3 here, but it looks like my copy of it is missing the middle eight pages, which include a P. Craig Russell story. So I’ll be needing a new copy of that issue. Crap.

STORMWATCH #42 (Image, 1996) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Tom Raney. Stormwatch battles a terrorist who’s trying to take over Japan. This comic has lousy art and a fairly average story, but at least it shows more than a rudimentary knowledge of Japanese culture. For example, we’re told that when Fuji was a sumo wrestler, his rank was ozeki – not yokozuna, which is the only sumo rank most people have heard of.

DETECTIVE COMICS #488 (DC, 1980) – “The Spook’s Death Sentence for Batman,” [W] Cary Burkett, [A] Don Newton, plus other stories. This issue’s lead story has some excellent art, but an unimpressive story. Also, the premise is that Batman is trying to stop the Spook from freeing a criminal from death row, meaning that Batman is complicit in state-sanctioned murder. I guess Batman won’t kill criminals, but he will help the government do it. The highlight of the issue is Denny O’Neil and Johnny Craig’s “The Last Duty,” about a subway cop who’s about to retire without ever having drawn his gun. In a departure from the usual cliché, he manages to defeat a criminal while still preserving his perfect record. I don’t know if cops like this have ever existed, but I sure wish there were more of them, and fewer of the kind of cops who shoot people at the drop of a hat. This issue also includes Batgirl, Robin and Elongated Man stories, which are fun but not great.

TIGER-MAN #3 (Atlas, 1975) – “Hell is Spelled… Hypnos!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Steve Ditko. Another in a long line of bad Atlas/Seaboard comics. Ditko’s art and Conway’s story are both equally uninspired. This comic’s protagonist gained superpowrs when he was injected with tiger blood while living in Zambia. This is rather odd since tigers aren’t native to Africa.

GREEN LANTERN #46 (DC, 1966) – “The Jailing of Hal Jordan!”, [W] Gardner Fox, [A] Gil Kane, and “The End of a Gladiator!”, [W] John Broome, [A] Gil Kane. This issue starts with a dumb story in which Hal battles some petty criminals. As the series went on, writers seem to have realized that stories like this aren’t appropriate to Green Lantern, and that he should be having cosmic adventures instead. The issue improves with the second story, in which Hal is mourned by his fellow Green Lanterns after having been seemingly killed by Dr. Polaris. Katma Tui’s grief over Hal’s “death” is a nice touch.

PUNKS NOT DEAD #4 (IDW, 2018) – “Teenage Kicks, Part 4,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Martin Simmonds. This is another fun issue, but it’s just a straightforward continuation of the plots of the last three issues. This issue, Fergie and Sid finally solve the mystery of the dancing pensioners.

COMICS FRIENDS FOREVER #nn (First Second, 2018) – “Be Prepared,” [W/A] Vera Brosgol, plus four other stories. This FCBD comic includes previews of five YA or middle-grade graphic novels. I’ve already read one of these, Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl, and I have two others, Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared and Hope Larson’s All Summer Long. The Vera Brosgol story looks like a great follow-up to Anya’s Ghost, and the Hope Larson story is very cute. The other two pieces in the issue are previews of Charise Mericle Harper’s The Amazing Crafty Cat and Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends. The Harper book is intended for really young readers, but Real Friends is a bit more interesting. My friend Lee Skallerup Bessette’s daughter read and enjoyed it.

DONALD DUCK ADVENTURES #16 (Gladstone, 1989) – “The Magic Hourglass,” [W/A] Carl Barks. I was a few pages into this story when I realized I’d already read it, in Uncle Scrooge #341. What tipped me off was the line “I can’t go on like this – losing a billion dollars a minute! I’ll be broke in 600 years!” I didn’t remember much else about this story besides that line, though, so it was worth rereading.

WHAT IF? #6 (Marvel, 1977) – “What If the Fantastic Four Had Different Super-Powers?”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Jim Craig & Rick Hoberg. The premise of this story is evident from the title. Reed gets the short end of the stick, transforming into a disembodied brain, and meanwhile Ben grows a pair of wings but is otherwise human. This sets up a mildly interesting romantic tension between Reed, Ben and Sue. But at the end of the issue Reed takes over Dr. Doom’s body, and we don’t get to see who Sue ends up with, if anyone. Otherwise this comic is pretty boring. This version of the Fantastic Four reappeared in What If? vol. 2 #39, one of the first comic books I ever read.

TRUE BELIEVERS: SPIDER-WOMAN #1 (Marvel, 2015) – untitled, [W] Dennis Hopeless, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This is a reprint of Spider-Woman vol. 5 #5. I assume they chose that issue to reprint because it’s the first issue drawn by Javier Rodriguez, as well as Jess’s first meeting with Roger. It’s a pretty fun issue, as usual with this series. However, Javier’s art looks weird because it’s colored in a three-dimensional style. Later issues havemuch flatter coloring, which suits his art better.

USAGI YOJIMBO #4 (Mirage, 1993) – “Shi, Part One,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Usagi meets a farmer who grows delicious daikon radishes. What the farmer doesn’t know is that there’s gold on his land, and some local villains have hired a group of four assassins (hence the title, which means both “four” and “death” to collect it. Also, the farmer’s daughter has a puppy-love crush on Usagi, who needs to find a way to let her down gently. In the following issue, which I read a long time ago, Usagi kills the assassins and convinces the daughter to stay with her boring fiancee, and the gold is forgotten because all the people who knew about it are dead. This is a realistic but somewhat depressing conclusion. The four assassins in this story are a different group from the other four assassins who appear in #75 of the Dark Horse series.

WEIRD WORLDS #5 (DC, 1973) – John Carter in “Deathknell,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Sal Amendola, and David Innes in “Combat!”, [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Dan Green. Both stories in this issue are pretty average, but at least the first story is a rare example of Sal Amendola’s art. This artist drew one of the greatest Batman stories ever, “Night of the Stalker” in Detective Comics #439, and his artwork in this issue is comparable in quality. However, he stopped drawing comics regularly after the early ’70s.

LEAVING MEGALOPOLIS: SURVIVING MEGALOPOLIS #1 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, [W] Gail Simone, [A] Jim Calafiore. I ordered this comic when it came out, but I shouldn’t have. It’s some kind of story about evil superheroes, kind of like Empire, but Gail doesn’t explain what the series’ premise is or who the characters are. The issue is impenetrable unless the reader has read the miniseries that preceded it. Jim Calafiore’s art has either declined or stagnated since his stint on Aquaman.

CLEAN ROOM #3 (DC, 2016) – “Good Things and Celebrity Deaths,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] Jon Davis-Hunt. This is better than the last comic I reviewed, but still not great. I read the first two issues of this series, then continued to buy it without reading it. As a result, I’ve forgotten what’s going on in this comic, except that it’s about a cult, and I didn’t understand what was going on in this issue.

GRASS KINGS #4 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Tyler Jenkins. Again, I’ve been buying this series but not reading it. I didn’t bother to read the first three issues before I read this one, and so I couldn’t figure out what was going on in it.

WANDERING STARS #1 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – “The Wanderer,” [W] Stuart Hopen, [A] Sam Kieth. This science fiction comic is the only issue of what was intended as an ongoing series. This comic is very long and somewhat tedious to read (especially since I spent the entire month of May in a state of exhaustion – it took me a while to get into summer vacation mode). But it shows effective worldbuilding and characterization, and if it had continued, it could have been a notable work. Stuart Hopen went on to publish one novel with Tor in 1995 before vanishing into obscurity. Sam Kieth’s art in this issue is excellent. This issue includes a cameo appearance by the Isz creatures who appear in The Maxx as well as several other Sam Kieth comics. I’ve always imagined the grues from Zork as looking like the black Isz from The Maxx.

New comics received on 5/18:

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #36 (Image, 2018) – “Monster” etc., [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Brian K. Vaughan. The opening sequence of this issue is a tour de force. It consists of eleven whole pages of battles between Ananke and Minerva, each of them occurring 100 years apart, with one panel for each battle. Each panel shows the characters dressed in historically and culturally accurate clothing. This sequence reveals the epic scope of human history, as well as the fact that most of that history took place outside the so-called West. These pages do remind me a bit of Shaolin Cowboy, which I hated, but the similarity is only coincidental. In the second half of the issue, we learn that Baal has to sacrifice children to survive. The unfair death of children is a constant theme of this series (as well as Kage Baker’s Children of the Company, which I just read).

FENCE #6 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] C.S. Pacat, [A] Johanna the Mad. Nicholas finally wins a match! And in the process, we learn a bit about fencing strategy. And there’s a massive line at the door of the men’s room. This was another fun issue.

BARRIER #3 (Image, 2018) – “…”, [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Marcos Martin. After hearing the alien language, Oscar and Liddy are both temporarily deaf, so this issue is mostly silent. This issue has some impressive dream/hallucination sequences, but is generally less impressive than #1 or #2.

FLAVOR #1 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Joe Keatinge, [A] Wook Jin Clark. One of the better debut issues of the year. It takes place in a walled city where everyone is obsessed with food. The protagonist is an underage chef who’s running an illegal restaurant and supporting her disabled parents. And her dog can apparently read. And the city is surrounded by a vast forest filled with monsters. What makes this comic so exciting is Wook Jin Clark’s art, coupled with Tamra Bonvillain’s coloring. Clark fills every panel with detail, invests the characters with life, and blends European and Japanese influences. This will be a fun series.

RAT QUEENS #9 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Kurtis Wiebe, [A] Owen Gieni. I thought that things would start getting clearer soon, but instead we get another issue that doesn’t make sense. Half the issue is a flashforward to a time when several of the Rat Queens have married and had children. This comic is still a lot of fun, but I’m completely unable to follow its plot, and I wish we’d get some clarity soon.

USAGI YOJIMBO #168 (Dark Horse, 2018) – “The Hidden, Part Three,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. This is a fun issue with some cute moments, like when Usagi pretends to see a blood stain, or intentionally almost damages a priceless vase. The two-page spread of the antique dealer’s shop is pretty cool. But this issue doesn’t advance the plot much, and I wonder if “The Hidden” could have been a bit shorter.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #66 (IDW, 2018) – “The Applewood Follies,” [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Tony Fleecs. The ponies visit Applewood (i.e. Hollywood), where they make short films about their own lives – or rather slide presentations, since Equestria has photography but not film. The films are pretty cool, espeially Pinkie Pie’s surrealist film that makes no sense, but otherwise this is just an average issue.

ASSASSINISTAS #5 (IDW, 2018) – “Pack Some Heat with That Lunch!”, [W] Tini Howard, [A] Gilbert Hernandez. Another good issue, but very similar to the last few. The best moment is when Carlos proposes to Octavia, and she pulls out a gun. Als, there’s a panel where the lizard licks its eye, and a fake ad for a “Bulletproof Baby-Pod.”

QUICKSILVER: NO SURRENDER #1 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Eric Nguyen. This is Saladin’s first comic that hasn’t really impressed me. Perhaps that’s because the entire issue is a monologue delivered by an unlikable character. Quicksilver gets stuck in a frozen world, and spends the entire issue running around and monologuing. But I’m going to keep reading and see where this series goes.

X-MEN: THE WEDDING SPECIAL #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “The Dream Before,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Todd Nauck, plus two other stories. I had such mixed feelings about this issue. Chris Claremont’s story is badly written by modern standards – there are some pages where the caption boxes take up almost as much space as the art. And yet it summoned such powerful memories of other, better X-Men stories, that it almost brought me to tears. It’s implausible that so many major events have happened to Kitty in her teens and twenties, but the combined weight of all that history is very powerful. In contrast, the Marc Guggenheim story is boring and mediocre. If this story is representative of his talents, then no wonder the X-Men franchise is doing so poorly. Kelly Thompson is, at the moment, the best of the three writers in the issue, but her story is also just average, although it’s a nice sequel to the Rogue & Gambit miniseries.

LUCY DREAMING #3 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] Max Bemis, [A] Michael Dialynas. This issue’s dream sequence is based on either Buffy or Teen Wolf, I’m not sure which. On the last page, Welsey (sic) kisses Lucy. This miniseries is entertaining, but it’s no Abbott.

DODGE CITY #3 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] Josh Trujillo, [A] Cara McGee. This issue has the same problem as the last two: there’s not enough story or characterization to complement the sports action. We have no reason to care whether the protagonists win or lose. At least the rules of dodgeball are finally making sense. It looks like issue 4 of this series will be the last, and I’m not sorry.

BLOODSHOT: SALVATION #9 (Valiant, 2018) – untitled, [W] Ray Fawkes with Jeff Lemire, [A] Renato Guedes. A waste of an issue. The entire issue is the origin story of Bloodshot’s dog. It takes place during World War I, and it’s full of blood, gore and misery, with no particular artistic motivation.

ETHER: THE COPPER GOLEMS #1 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. The first Ether miniseries was really not that well written, but it was worth reading anyway because of David Rubín’s art, and so is this. The plot of this issue is that Boone has to return to the Ether to find out how some copper golems ended up on Earth. David Rubín has an amazing visual imagination, and Kindt could be doing more to utilize his artist’s talents.

HUNT FOR WOLVERINE: CLAWS OF A KILLER #1 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] Butch Guice. I bought this comic because it was written by Mariko Tamaki, and I’m not sure that’s a sufficient reason. In this miniseries, Lady Deathstrike, Daken and Sabretooth team up to search for Wolverine. Butch Guice’s art is better than I expected, but the interactions between the three very different protagonists are less exciting than they could be.

AVENGERS #2 (Marvel, 2018) – “Still Avenging After All These Years,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Ed McGuinness. This wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. It lacks the strong characterization and character interaction that makes for truly great Avengers comics. I’m not sure if these last five comics really were unimpressive, or whether I was just tired when I read them.

LOCKE & KEY: SMALL WORLD #1 (IDW, 2016) – “Small World,” [W] Joe Hill, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. I don’t know how this one-shot fits into the continuity of Locke & Key, but it’s excellent. It takes place in Keyhouse in the early 20th century. The Locke family of the time includes four children, and as a birthday gift, they’ve received a dollhouse that contains portals to the actual Keyhouse. When a spider enters the dollhouse and becomes gigantic, the four children have to use the dollhouse and the real house together to save themselves. This issue reminds me of a Power Pack comic because of the interactions between the four kids, and the microcosm-macrocosm magic is really cool. Also, this issue features a giant cat.

MIGHTY THOR: AT THE GATES OF VALHALLA #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “The Tomorrow Girls” and “The Lord of the Realms,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Jen Bartel & Ramón Pérez. In the first half of this issue, Thor’s three granddaughters, from the far future, have an adventure in the Viking Age and then meet Jane Foster. This sequence was very fun. The second half of the issue was less so. In this sequence we see what Malekith has been doing during the Mangog war. Malekith is such a horrible monster that it’s difficult to believe in him, let alone hate him. He’s an example of “motiveless malignity.”

STAR WARS ADVENTURES FCBD 2018 (IDW, 2018) – “Hunter vs Hunted,” [W] Cavan Scott, [A] Derek Charm. I read this because I’ve been trying to read ten comics a day, in order to clear out some of my backlog of unread comics before I go buy even more comics at Heroes Con. And I’ve been reading a lot of comics, but I haven’t managed to meet my quota every day. Anyway, because of that, I wanted something quick and easy. This Han/Chewbacca prequel story is a quick read with appealing art, but the story is trivial and it ends on a cliffhanger.

MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS FCBD 2018 SPECIAL (Boom!, 2018) – “Shattered Grid,” [W] Kyle Higgins & Ryan Parrott, [A] Diego Galindo. This issue is mostly a recap of the original MMPR series. My problem with it is that in my opinion, the Power Rangers franchise is really stupid. I was ten years old when it originally aired, and even then I thought it was stupid. Kelly Thompson’s MMPR: Pink miniseries wasn’t good enough to change my mind, and this comic is worse than that one.

THOR: GOD OF THUNDER #2 (Marvel, 2013) – “The God Butcher, Part Two: Blood in the Clouds,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Esad Ribic. In the Viking Age, a young Thor, not yet worthy of Mjolnir, fights Gorr the God Butcher. This is an okay comic, but not as good as later issues. Esad Ribic draws some nice sound effects.

TRILLIUM #8 (DC, 2014) – “Two Stars Become One,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. This comic has excellent art, and I expect I would also be really impressed by the story, if I understood it. However, this is the last issue of the series, and it doesn’t provide any background on what’s going on. It ends with two characters going through a black hole and emerging in a different world.

GIVE ME LIBERTY #4 (Dark Horse, 1991) – “Death & Taxes,” [W] Frank Miller, [A] Dave Gibbons. I couldn’t be bothered to reread issue 3 before reading this issue, so I wasn’t 100% sure what was going on, though it eventually became clear. This issue, Martha and Moretti finally get rid of Moretti for good. Dave Gibbons’s art is spectacular, and Frank Miller’s script actually has something interesting to say about America and American values. This is surprising given his latest career trajectory, although to be fair, the precipitous decline of Frank’s career has tainted my opinions about his earlier work.

DRY COUNTY #3 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Rich Tommaso. I forgot to order issue 2 of this series. In this issue, Janet’s ex-boyfriend has kidnapped her. Lou is trying to send a message to her through his comic strip, and surprisingly it works. Dry County is a fairly average mystery comic, which is elevated to very good thanks to Tommaso’s art.

ENCOUNTER #3 (Lion Forge, 2018) – “The Wrath of Ribbon Rhonda!”, [W/A] Chris Giarrusso, [W] Art Baltazar & Franco. I also forgot to order this series’ second issue. This is a fun kid-oriented superhero comic, with more narrative complexity than is typical for Art and Franco.

CRUDE #1 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Steve Orlando, [A] Garry Brown. A rather grim crime fiction comic, whose protagonist, Piotr, is a former assassin living in the Russian city of Vladimir. Piotr’s son decides to move to a place called Blackstone for work, and is promptly murdered, forcing Piotr to go to Blackstone himself. Garry Brown’s art effectively conveys the grim atmosphere of Putin’s Russia, and this comic feels very stifling and depressing.

CRUDE #2 – as above. Piotr arrives in Blackstone and discovers that it’s run by various rival gangs. This issue’s story was hard to follow, and its premise really doesn’t appeal to me. I don’t like comics that are this violent and grim. I already ordered issues 3 and 4, unfortunately, but after that I’m done with this series.

AW YEAH COMICS: ACTION CAT & ADVENTURE BUG #3 (Dark Horse, 2018) – “Tooth-a-Cornea!”, [W/A] Art Baltazar, [W] Franco. Action Cat and Adventure Bug fight a giant animate tooth. This comic is basically Tiny Titans with original characters, and it has a similarly low level of narrative sophistication.

THREE STRIKES #2 (Oni, 2003) – “Needles,” [W] Nunzio DeFilippis & Christina Weir, [A] Brian Hurtt. This comic’s protagonist, Rey, is a young man who was sentenced to 22 years in prison for shoplifting. He escaped and he and his sleazy friend Billy are fleeing from the law. The main problem with this comic is that it’s not clear why we should sympathize with Rey. DeFilippis and Weir clearly want him to be an innocent victim of California’s harsh three-strikes law, and Rey’s sentence is indeed quite harsh, but he does seem to have committed the crime he was sentenced for. Also, he makes his family accomplices in his crime, and he doesn’t seem to have any kind of endgame in mind.

LOCKE & KEY: HEAD GAMES #6 (IDW, 2009) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. This issue focuses on Ellie, a single mother of a learning-disabled son, who has become the prisoner of the comic’s primary villain, Lucas Caravaggio. Using a key that unlocks Ellie’s head, Luke witnesses Ellie’s awful life with her abusive mother. Ellie’s mother is a brilliant portrait of an evil old battleaxe, and the reader is overjoyed when Lucas kills her, although that just means Ellie gets to be tormented by Lucas instead. I want to collect more Locke & Key.

When I got back from WisCon, a package of comics was waiting for me:

LUMBERJANES #50 (Boom!, 2018) – “Board, Board, Board,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Dozerdraws. The first story in this issue is fantastic. Jo and Hes’s board game gets increasingly complicated and bizarre, while Mal, Ripley and April get attacked by a giant centipede. The backup story, by Shannon Watters and Brooklyn Allen, is a flashback to Rosie and Abigail’s encounter with the Grootslang. It’s well-drawn, but it’s too short to have much impact on the reader.

BARRIER #4 (Image, 2018) – “El universo es un lugar oscuro y malparido pero seguimos luchando,” [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Marcos Martin. Oscar and Liddy capture one of the aliens and Oscar says “Llévanos con tu lider,” which is a nice pun if you can understand it. Otherwise I have nothing new to say about this issue.

PRINCELESS VOL. 2 #4 (Action Lab, 2013) – “Get Over Yourself, Part 4,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Emily Martin. This was the only comic book I bought while in Madison, from a dealer at WisCon. He also had some underground comics, including Sharon Rudahl’s The Adventures of Crystal Night, but they were all too expensive. In this issue, Adrienne figures out how to defeat the lion that’s guarding Angelica.

SUPER SONS #16 (DC, 2018) – “End of Innocence, Part Two,” [W] Peter J. Tomasi, [A] Carlo Barberi & Brent Peeples. This final issue begins with a flashforward where an older Jon (or someone else, I guess) is telling his grandchildren about the Super Sons’ adventures. Then, the present-day Jon and Damian team up with Cyborg to defeat Kid Amazo. Thankfully, although this is the last issue, a sequel has been announced.

THE TERRIFICS #4 (DC, 2018) – “The Girl from Bgztl!”, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Doc Shaner. This issue is narrated by Phantom Girl, and she’s just as cute and spunky as her 31st-century namesake. (So why couldn’t this character have been named Tinya instead of “Linnya”? Grrr.) Oh, except in this issue she gets back to Bgztl, only to discover that she’s been away for decades, and her father has died. Sad. The worst part of this series is still Plastic Man, although this issue does have a nice moment where he comforts Linnya.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN: THE PIRATE PRINCESS: YEAR TWO #7 (Action Lab, 2018) – “Love and Revenge, Part 7,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Christine Hipp. This series should just be called Raven: The Pirate Princess, because it no longer has any connection to Princeless. This issue we’re finally back with Raven and her shipmates. As usual this issue is full of queer relationship drama. Most notably, Raven tries to train Ximena to fence, and instead they get in a big fight. This issue has the best line of the entire series: “Oh, come on, it’s just a practice sword.” “WELL, THAT IS NOT MY PRACTICE BOOB, RAVEN!”

BATGIRL #23 (DC, 2018) – “Strange Loop, Part Two,” [W] Hope Larson, [A] Minkyu Jung. Babs figures out how to wake herself up, then defeats the wife-beater. This appears to be Hope Larson’s last issue, though it wasn’t announced as such. It certainly feels like a conclusion. Hope Larson’s Batgirl was an effective follow-up to Babs Tarr’s run, and a very enjoyable comic in its own right.

MANIFEST DESTINY #35 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. The men get increasingly sick of Pryor’s heavy-handed leadership. When the Mandan show up with Toussaint Charbonneau as a hostage, Pryor tries to negotiate with them, and they kill him. Good riddance to bad rubbish. I suspect that Charbonneau was not actually a hostage, but was working with the Mandan to lure Pryor out of the fort. The best line in the issue is when one of the men tells Pryor that “Indian” isn’t a language.

BLACK HAMMER: AGE OF DOOM #2 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dean Ormston. Since this is a Dark Horse comic, I might mention that I’m writing this just after reading Jay Edidin’s tweets about DH’s anti-transgender policies. I’m not going to stop reading DH comics because of this, but Jay’s revelations are disappointing, and it seems like Mike Richardson is personally to blame for this and other problems at Dark Horse. As for this issue of Black Hammer, not much happens in it.

INCOGNEGRO: RENAISSANCE #4 (Dark Horse, 2018) – “Pigeons,” [W] Mat Johnson, [A] Warren Pleece. Lots of great stuff in this issue, including the line “Hell no! Check’s already cleared! Go do your damn job!”, and the conversation about black people not being able to get a taxi. The solution to the mystery is becoming clear: it looks like Van Horn killed Xavier because Xavier actually wrote Van Horn’s book.

ANIMOSITY #14 (Aftershock, 2018) – “Power: Part One,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Rafael De Latorre. Sandor spends the first half of the issue searching for Jesse. Then we learn that Jesse has been taken to a creepy human breeding colony. This premise is interesting enough that I almost want to keep reading this series, but I’ve already decided to drop it.

NAUGHTY BITS #38 (Fantagraphics, 2003) – “Those Bitchy Blues” and other stories, [W/A] Roberta Gregory. This issue only includes a five-page Bitchy story. There’s also a six-page story about Roberta’s move to a different neighborhood. This is interesting, but contains more text than artwork. The second half of the issue is an illustrated prose piece about the artist Louis Wain. I wasn’t familiar with him, but apparently his artwork has been used (somewhat deceptively) to illustrate the progress of schizophrenia; supposedly, the crazier he got, the weirder his artwork became.

HELLBOY’S WEIRD TALES #8 (Dark Horse, 2004) – “Fifteen Minutes,” [W/A] Jill Thompson, etc. This issue begins with a Jill Thompson story about some skeletons who are hired as extras for one of Hellboy’s battles. It’s insubstantial, but funny and beautifully drawn. Next is “Toy Soldier,” by Kia Asamiya and C.B. “Akira Yoshida” Cebulski, about some dead kids whose ghosts summon giant toys. This is pretty funny, though it’s tainted by the knowledge that its writer was a white man passing as Japanese. Last is Evan Dorkin’s “Professional Help,” in which Hellboy battles some Scandinavian neo-Nazis. This was a pretty good issue.

WILD.C.A.T.S #23 (Image, 1995) – “Spaceside” and “Earthside,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] Ryan Benjamin and Jason Johnson. Void travels around Khera looking for their teammates, while back on Earth, Majestic and Ladytron fight a giant robot. Alan’s dialogue, characterization and worldbuilding are fantastic. However, this issue suffers from terrible artwork. Jason Johnson is okay, but Ryan Benjamin refuses to draw backgrounds, and on page 16, he makes Voodoo’s legs twice as long as her head and torso combined.

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #2 (Dark Horse, 2010) – “Metal Mob, Part Two: Deliverance,” [W] Jim Shooter, [A] Bill Reinhold with Mike Manley. This is an okay comic, but it suffers from Shooter’s typical misogyny. All the female characters in this issue are scantily clad damsels in distress. And the artwork is only average. This series was cancelled after four issues due to irreconcilable differences between Dark Horse and the copyright holder. However, I suspect it may not have lasted much longer than that anyway.

SOVEREIGN #2 (Image, 2014) – “Ghost Eaters” etc., [W] Chris Roberson, [A] Paul Maybury. This issue consists of a series of vignettes taking place in an Asian-influenced fantasy world. Paul Maybury’s art and coloring are very nice, but this comic has no plot to speak of. It’s all worldbuilding, and the world isn’t even all that interesting. Chris Roberson seems to have devoted all his effort to creating a world, without coming up with a story to go with it.

ARCHIE #13 (Archie, 2016) – “Worlds Apart,” [W] Mark Waid with Lori Matsumoto, [A] Joe Eisma. In Riverdale, Archie and Betty miss Veronica and Sayid respectively. At boarding school, Veronica meets Cheryl Blossom, who cruelly torments a poor classmate and blames Veronica for it. Cheryl’s first appearance reveals her basic personality: she’s like Veronica but with no conscience or empathy. The backup story is a reprint of Cheryl and Jason’s first appearance from 1982, but the characters in this story are just random teenagers. The versions of Cheryl and Jason we know today were created in 1994.

POWERPUFF GIRLS #8 (IDW, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Charm. I was surprised to see who wrote and drew this issue. In this story, a monster called Steve leads a monster attack on Townsville, and the Powerpuff Girls defeat him using some of Mojo Jojo’s robots. This comic is funny, but lacks the substance or depth of IDW’s My Little Pony comics.

TALES OF THE BEANWORLD #19 (Eclipse, 1991) – “Upsidedown & Backwards,” [W/A] Larry Marder. An ordinary Chow Sol’jer turns into Heyoka, the Upsidedown & Backwards Bean, and starts floating upward. This gives us a chance to see what’s above the Beanworld in the Big Picture, including the Inspiration Constellation, which is fascinatingly weird. In a subplot, the Goofy Service Jerks visit Mr. Teach’m and learn about the Influences, which are the kernels of new Pod’lpool worlds. I don’t quite understand everything in this issue, but it provides us with lots of new information, and creates a sense of a bigger universe beyond the Beanworld we know.

EAST OF WEST #8 (Image, 2013) – “The Street is Burning,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Dragotta. I read this, as well as some of the other comics above and below, just to clear out some unread comics I’ve had for years. The main plot of this issue is that an evil politician brutally suppresses a riot, telling her people that they should be grateful for what little they have. I don’t quite understand what’s going on in this issue, but that line struck a chord with me, because it’s the same thing the rich have been telling the poor since at least 2008.

ITTY BITTY HELLBOY #5 (Dark Horse, 2013) – untitled, [W/A] Art Baltazar, [W] Franco. This is readable in about five minutes and is only of interest to the youngest readers. The trouble with Baltazar and Franco’s style is that no matter what intellectual property they’re working on, the results are always the same.

MARVELS: EYE OF THE CAMERA #5 (Marvel, 2009) – “A Whole Lot of Paper,” [W] Kurt Busiek & Roger Stern, [A] Jay Anacleto. Phil learns he’s got terminal cancer, and his health deteriorates to the point where he can’t work on his book. In fiction as in real life, it’s tough when someone you love gradually declines. Phil hears about the original Secret Wars and the trial of Magneto without being able to witness them in person, but at the end of the issue he encounters someone he never expected to see again: Maggie, the mutant girl from Marvels #2. I think I have issue 6 somewhere, but I don’t know where. This miniseries is, of course, less of a classic than the original Marvels, but it’s a worthy sequel.

THE BOOK OF NIGHT #2 (Dark Horse, 1987) – “Children of the Stars” and other stories, [W/A] Charles Vess. Every story in this issue is beautifully drawn by Charles Vess, who was already one of the top draftspeople in American comics. However, the writing never reaches the same level as the art. The first three stories in this issue are all reprints from Epic Illustrated. “Children of the Stars” is overly convoluted and confusing. It has characters named after Bran and Branwen from the Mabinogi, but beyond that I can’t figure out what’s happening in it. Next is “Jack Tales,” which is printed poorly, so that some panels are too dark to read. Then there’s “The Legend,” written by Laurie Sutton, about a subterranean creature who discovers the surface. The issue ends with “Priest,” which previously appeared only in a comics industry magazine called Media Showcase, but is so pointless that it didn’t deserve to be reprinted.

EGYPT #1 (DC, 1995) – “The Book of the Remains,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Glyn Dillon. An excellent issue. Vincent Me, a homeless ne’er-do-well, is recruited by some college students who are in some kind of cult. It turns out they’re trying to perform an ancient Egyptian ritual in which pharaohs had near-death experiences, and they want to experiment on Vincent first. This leads to a funny exchange: “You’re insane! You’re all insane!” “How can we be insane, Vincent? We go to college.” They perform the ritual, and Vincent wakes up in ancient Egypt. This comic is quite entertaining, and contains a fair amount of tasteful sex and nudity. I want to read the rest of this miniseries.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #614 (Gladstone, 1997) – “Airheads,” [W/A] William Van Horn, plus other stories. As usual with this era of WDC&S, this series contains a lot of stories of widely varying quality. This explains why I have a bunch of ’90s WDC&S that I have not read. The main attraction in this issue is Don Rosa’s “Attack of the Hideous Space-Varmints.” But it’s only eight pages out of a longer story, and it’s at the very end of the issue, so you have to suffer through a bunch of lesser stories to get to it. In the letter column, a reader complains that the comic needs to be shorter and less expensive, and I agree. Gladstone and Gemstone’s fundamental problem was that Don Rosa could only draw a limited number of pages, and compared to his work, most of the other stuff they published felt like filler material. Of the non-Rosa stories in the issue, the best are Van Horn’s “Airheads,” in which Donald and the nephews enter a remote-control airplane contest, and Gottfredson’s “The Robin Hood Adventure.”

WIMMEN’S COMIX #13 (Renegade, 1988) – various stories, [E] Lee Binswanger. This issue is dedicated to Dori Seda, who died while it was in production, and has an occult theme. It begins with a Trina Robbins story in which some women from various countries get together, and the reader gradually realizes they’re all volcanoes. Next is a three-pager by Carol Tyler, in which she witnesses a house fire. Another highlight is Rebecka Wright and Barb Rausch’s “Clair de Lune,” in which women literally go to the moon when they menstruate.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #58 (DC, 1994) – “Deadly Encounter,” [W] Tom McCraw, [A] Stuart Immonen. The “Legion on the Run” fights some Khunds. There are way too many characters in this issue, and not enough attention is paid to any of them individually. This issue isn’t unreadable, but it does nothing to dispel the impression that the Legion is convoluted and confusing.

LEGIONNAIRES #76 (DC, 1999) – “The Fire This Time!”, [W] Tom McCraw & Roger Stern, [A] Jeffrey Moy. This issue comes from a slightly later, but similarly bad, period of Legion comics. At least it’s not as bad as the previously reviewed issue. In this story, Element Lad and Umbra help to merge the ghosts of Atom’X and Blast-Off, creating the postboot version of Wildfire. This issue has a heavy focus on the postboot Tasmia Mallor, by far the worst version of the character ever. But at least it shows her as having weaknesses. She spends most of the issue in a state of fear and revulsion, though it’s not 100% clear why.

HITMAN #11 (DC, 1997) – “Local Heroes, Part Three,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] John McCrea. This issue includes a famous scene where Hitman buys Kyle Rayner a drink, and Kyle can’t reciprocate because he has no pockets in his costume. That scene is funny, but otherwise this is a standard Hitman comic, and I really don’t like Hitman. In retrospect it may be the point where Garth Ennis’s career jumped the shark, because it caused him to focus on gross-out humor. Kyle’s portrayal in this issue has little in common with Ron Marz’s version of the character. You get the impression that Garth had never read any comics featuring Kyle, and that he just invented Kyle’s personality from scratch, giving him the exact opposite personality traits to Tommy Monaghan. But this isn’t a big deal because Kyle was a terrible character to begin with.

SAVAGE DRAGON #84 (Image, 2001) – “Breakout from Command ‘D’,” [W/A] Erik Larsen. The title is an obvious homage, but this issue has little to do with Kamandi. In Australia, Dragon battles Madman and the Atomics, who are under the control of Brainiape, and ultimately defeats and kills Brainiape. This has the effect of removing the psychic shield that Brainiape put up around Australia, so at the end of the issue, Sebastian Khan’s army shows up. This issue was just okay.

DAN O’NEILL’S COMICS AND STORIES #1 (Comics & Comix, 1975) – “Fred and Hugh and 5$ Are Dead!” and other stories, [W/A] Dan O’Neill. I’m glad to have this rare comic in my collection, but it’s not that great. Most of the issue consists of one-page strips about three characters named Fred, Hugh, and Bill, who have been condemned to hell. These appear to be reprints of O’Neill’s syndicated strip Odd Bodkins. They were obviously not intended for comic book format and are somewhat difficult to read, and not that funny either. Their primary characteristic is that they’re heavily influenced by Feiffer. The issue ends with some Disney and comic strip parodies which are more interesting. Unfortunately, Dan O’Neill’s most important works will probably never be reprinted.

IMAGINE #1 (Star*Reach, 1978) – “Flightmare,” [W] Neal Adams, [A] Frank Cirocco, plus other stories. In this issue’s first story, an old pilot imagines that he’s flying a naked woman the size of an airplane, and that he’s having a dogfight with a woman flying a naked man the size of an airplane. For a Neal Adams story, that’s actually kind of logical. The highlight of the issue is the central color section by Marshall Rogers, in which a hero saves a virgin from being sacrificed, and meanwhile a different character renders her unfit to be sacrificed by taking her virginity. This story is almost wordless, but it displays Rogers’s brilliant compositions and sexy women. The rest of the stories in this issue aren’t worth mentioning.

AQUAMAN #13 (DC, 1995) – “Judges,”[W] Peter David, [A] Marty Egeland. A villain called Thanatos forces Aquaman to experience some scary visions, starting with one where Aquaman is about to be guillotined. There are also subplots involving Mera, Koryak, etc. The funniest moment in the issue is when Mera cleans her son’s face (it’s left ambiguous whether this son is Arthur Curry Jr or not) and he says “C’mon, Ma, cut it out. I’m fine.” I remember my own mother doing that, and I hated it too. In general this is an exciting issue, and Marty Egeland’s art is really good. It’s too bad that this run of Aquaman was his only notable work.

BILLY BATSON AND THE MAGIC OF SHAZAM #5 (DC, 2009) – “Mr. Who? Mr. Atom?”, [W] Art Baltazar & Franco, [A] Byron Vaughns. I didn’t like the last few Baltazar/Franco comics I read, but this one was much better. When they’re not just doing gag strips, they’re capable of strong plotting and characterization. In this issue, Billy and Mary fight Mr. Atom, while also dealing with sibling rivalry and Billy’s crush on Helen Fidelity.

LETTER 44 #2 (Oni, 2013) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule, [A] Alberto Jiménez Albuquerque. The new President adjusts to the knowledge that Earth is being watched by aliens, while the space station crew does some extravehicular activity. I remember this comic being somewhat unpopular when it came out, but it was an Angouleme selection, and I like it. It’s a nice combination of political thriller and science fiction, and Charles Soule seems fairly well informed about space exploration.

LOVE & ROCKETS #5 (Fantagraphics, 2018) – various stories, [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez and Jaime Hernandez. This issue we finally find out what happened when Maggie and Hopey were being stalked by Eugene. After a long scary walk, they find some momentary safety with other people, but the other people turn out to be worse than Eugene. Luckily Maggie and Hopey make it home okay, but the whole sequence is very scary and unsettling. This issue also includes some other stories by both Jamie and Gilbert. As usual, the Gilbert stories didn’t grab me as much as the Jaime stories.

INVINCIBLE #141 (Image, 2017) – “The End of All Things, Part 9,” [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Ryan Ottley. On his deathbed due to wounds suffered fighting rogue Viltrumites, Nolan asks Mark to take over for him as leader of the Viltrumites, then dies. This is a powerful moment, but otherwise this issue only took a few minutes to read.

SPIDER-WOMAN #2 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, [W] Dennis Hopeless, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This is an earlier chapter of the alien maternity ward story from #4. The various pregnant aliens are fascinating – my favorite is the one who looks like a giant carrot. And Javier Rodriguez’s art is, as usual, excellent. Otherwise I have little to say about this comic.

I AM GROOT #2 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Forgotten Door, Part 2,” [W] Christopher Hastings, [A] Flaviano. Groot has some adventures on a weird alien world. This series was probably the worst of Marvel’s recent run of Rocket Raccoon and Groot comics, as evidenced by the fact that I stopped rading it after the first issue. Writing a story with Groot as the protagonist is uniquely difficult because he can only say “I am Groot.” There are two ways around this. First, you can write a story where all the dialogue is “I am Groot,” but that’s only funny once, and Skottie Young already did it. Second, you can add other characters who carry the primary weight of the story and characterization. In this issue Christopher Hastings tries to do that, but doesn’t quite succeed.

I AM GROOT #3 (Marvel, 2017) – “The Forgotten Door, Part 3,” as above. This is similar to the last issue. Hastings also introduces a bunch of bizarre alien concepts, like an army of robots that turn into a giant baby’s head. However, there’s no clear theme to all the stuff that’s happening on the alien world, and the issue just feels like a parade of random ooweirdness.

I received the following new comics on June 2:

SAGA #52 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Fiona Staples. Squire almost gets eaten by a giant mouth with worms for arms. Because this is Saga. The Will stupidly leaves the mole-faced assassin alive, then encounters Prince Robot, who proposes that they work together to kidnap Hazel. This story already took a dark turn with Doff’s murder, and now it threatens to get even darker, although in Saga’s world there’s always a sense that doom is lurking around the corner.

MS. MARVEL #30 (Marvel, 2018) – “Something New, Part 2,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Nico Leon. Much more relationship drama happens. The awful new girl reveals herself as Doc.X, the evil computer virus. She tries to blackmail Kamala using her knowledge of Kamala’s secret identity, but Kamala and Red Dagger team up to defeat her. Red Dagger goes back to Pakistan. Bruno tells Kwesi “I love you.” This is a cute moment. I remember reading a tweet recently about how in America, it’s unheard-of for men to say “I love you” to other men, but in other cultures it’s common. BTW, I just read Willow’s memoir The Butterfly Mosque, and besides being an excellent book, it gives me a better idea of what inspired Kamala Khan. I kind of want to go to WisCon next year so I can meet her (G. Willow Wilson, not Kamala).

ABBOTT #5 (Boom!, 2018) – “Someday We’ll Be Together,” [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Sami Kivelä. Elena defeats Bellcamp with the help of her friends, takes a job at a black newspaper, and starts a relationship with Amelia. Overall, Abbott was one of the best new comics of the year, and I’m sorry it’s not an ongoing series. I hope there’ll be a sequel.

BARRIER #5 (Image, 2018) – “La uniformidad engendra enfermedad,” [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Marcos Martin. Lily and Oscar convince the aliens to negotiate, and the aliens use some bizarre technology to get themselves, Lily and Oscar to understand each other’s languages. Universal translators are a standard science fiction cliché, but this comic is the best depiction I’ve ever seen of how they would actually work. An actual universal translator would be mind-altering and scary. We then get three flashback sequences, depicting Lily, the aliens and Oscar respectively, but using the alien language, English and Spanish in that order. It’s important that in the aliens’ flashback, they communicate in Spanish; this reduces them to the level of foreign humans rather than extraterrestrials. In Lily’s flashback, we almost get a sense of what the different colors of the alien language might mean. And Oscar’s flashback allows non-Spanish-literate readers to understand his heartbreaking story and to sympathize. The end is ambiguous: the aliens transport Oscar and Liddy to an Arabic-speaking country, and we’re not told what happens then. Ultimately this comic is all about both linguistic and territorial barriers. It not only advocates for the importance of overcoming those barriers, but also, through its unique narrative structure, it helps readers to do so themselves. It’s one of the best comics of the year.

STREET ANGEL’S DOG FCBD SPECIAL (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Jim Rugg, [A] Brian Maruca. I read the original Street Angel miniseries when I was in college, but I kind of stopped following Jim Rugg’s career after that. I bought a couple of the recent Street Angel albums, but haven’t read them yet. So this FCBD comic is exciting. The story is simple: Street Angel finds a lost dog, they fight ninjas together, then she finds a better home for him. But Jim Rugg’s writing and visual storytelling are amazing, and his work looks even better in color than in black and white.

ROYAL CITY #11 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Jeff Lemire. We get confirmation that the new character from the end of the last storyline is Tommy’s daughter. Tara gives Richie some money to pay off his creditors, but like the awful person he is, Richie leaves town instead. Only three issues remain. This issue’s cover depicts the same sort of faux-marble notebook that I discuss in my book, in the section on Lynda Barry’s Syllabus.

MY LITTLE PONY: PONYVILLE MYSTERIES #1 (IDW, 2018) – untitled, [W] Christina Rice, [A] Agnes Garbowska. I’m glad there’s a new ongoing series to replace Legends of Magic, because one pony comic a month isn’t enough. This comic is based on a series of children’s books, but is understandable without that context. In this first issue, the Cutie Mark Crusaders think that a janitor who resembles Groundskeeper Willie is stealing hospital supplies, but it turns out that some birds are actually responsible. Which means that this comic has the same twist ending as The Castafiore Emerald.

PRINCELESS: RAVEN THE PIRATE PRINCESS: YEAR TWO #8 (Action Lab, 2018) – “The Storm,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Christine Hipp. The two plotlines finally come together, as Sunshine and Ananda escape back to the ship, while Raven and Ximena express their love. Besides the big emotional kiss, Sunshine introducing the crew as “my family” is another cute moment. A point that came up in one of the panels I was on at WisCon is that found families are an important element of queer literature.

DESCENDER #30 (Image, 2018) – “The End of the Universe 2 of 4,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. The conflict intensifies as everyone on both sides tries to use Tim for their own purposes. In perhaps the most emotional moment of the series, Tim finds Andy again and gives him a huge hug. As I just noted, everyone in this series wants to take advantage of Tim, and I think the series is going to end when Tim finally figures out what he wants to do.

SPIDER-GWEN #32 (Marvel, 2018) – “The Life of Gwen Stacy, Part 3: Spider-Gwen!”, [W] Jason Latour, [A] Robbi Rodriguez. Gwen passes up yet another good chance to kill Matt Murdock. I still think she ought to have killed him the first chance she got. Also, Jean DeWolff arrests Gwen. And the girl who wears a cat for a scarf makes another appearance, along with said cat. This series is getting repetitive, and I’m glad it’s over soon.

KILL OR BE KILLED #19 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Dylan finally meets Lily Sharpe, just as the Russians invade the insane asylum. After a long action sequence, Dylan and Lily seem to have made it out okay… until another Russian appears out of nowhere and shoots Dylan. And he dies. And it turns out he’s been narrating the whole series from beyond the grave. I certainly wasn’t expecting that. The next issue is the last.

LOCKJAW #4 (Marvel, 2018) – “Chasing Rabbits,” [W] Daniel Kibblesmith, [A] Carlos Villa. Lockjaw and D-Man encounter Sleepwalker and his pet Dogwalker (heh), then they rescue Lockjaw’s final littermate from Annihilus. Franklin and Val appear on one page. The end of the issue depicts Black Bolt and Medusa sleeping together, which seems like a continuity error. This was a somewhat inconsequential but very fun miniseries.

TALES OF THE BEANWORLD #2 (Eclipse, 1985) – “Too Much Chow!”, [W/A] Larry Marder. The Beans have a giant mound of Chow, which proves to be a bad thing, because without having to work to get more Chow, they get bored. And the Hoi Polloi get bored too without needing to defend their Chow from the Beans. The problem solves itself when some ants come from the area below the Hoi Polloi Ring-Herd, steal the extra Chow, and lay eggs. This whole issue is an example of what happens when a delicate ecology is disrupted.

CONAN/RED SONJA #3 (Dynamite, 2015) – “The Age of War,” [W] Gail Simone & Jim Zub, [A] Randy Green. Conan and Red Sonja almost have sex, then Thoth-Amon forces them to fight each other to the death. This was an unimpressive issue. I guess it’s no longer the case that Sonja can only have sex with a man who defeats her in battle.

SHAFT #4 (Dynamite, 2015) – untitled, [W] David Walker, [A] Bilquis Evely. This comic is a well-researched depiction of New York in the ’70s, but the plot is just a lot of typical crime drama, and the characters aren’t all that interesting.

VALIANT HIGH #1 (Valiant, 2018) – untitled, [W] Daniel Kibblesmith, [A] Derek Charm. As the title indicates, this comic takes place in a high school where all the Valiant characters are students. It would be funnier if I was more familiar with the characters, but Derek Charm’s art is very appealing, and the writing is funny. I got issue 2 yesterday but haven’t read it yet.

SUPER SONS/DYNOMUTT SPECIAL #1 (DC, 2018) – “The Dog Knight,” [W] Peter J. Tomasi, [A] Fernando Pasarin. This comic begins by doing something annoying: it asks us to accept that Blue Falcon and Dynomutt have always existed in the DC Universe, and we just never heard of them before. In my opinion, this is an ineffective means of introducing a crossover story because it insults the reader’s intelligence. Readers are well aware that Blue Falcon was never part of the DC Universe until this issue. Otherwise, this is a highly effective Super Sons story, whose primary theme is Jon’s initial discomfort with, and growing acceptance of, the fact that people die. The funeral scenes at the beginning and end of the issue are very well done. Blue Falcon and Dynomutt are mostly overshadowed by Jon and Damian, although the comic also provides a touching depiction of a human-dog relationship.

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #6 (Marvel, 2018) – “Our Doom,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Jim Cheung. Not a great conclusion to the Galactus-Doom story. I had trouble following this issue’s plot, and I can’t remember why there are two different versions of Dr. Doom. I am glad it ends with Galactus repopulating the universe, because the idea of a universe with only one planet in it was rather depressing.

THE LAST SIEGE #1 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Landry Q. Walker, [A] Justin Greenwood. In an epic fantasy world perhaps based on Eastern Europe, a drifter visits a town ruled by a tyrannical noble, and reveals that he’s been sent to replace that noble and become the new ruler. So far, this seems like a trite and boring piece of medieval fantasy, and the coloring is too dark. I’m going to give this comic one more issue before I drop it.

DOOM PATROL #20 (DC, 1988) – “Cautionary Tales” (Crawling from the Wreckage, part 2), [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Richard Case. This issue begins with a scene where a priest sees a partially obscured sign reading “HAVE FAITH IN COD,” then fish start falling out of the sky – but not any cod – and then a refrigerator falls on the priest and crushes him. I read a summary of this scene in Wizard many years ago (well, it must have been many years ago if I read about it in Wizard), but somehow it wasn’t until last week that I read the issue where this scene occurs. Also in this issue, Negative Man/Woman takes the new name Rebis, whch is derived from alchemy. I should reread the “Aenigma Regis” issue and see if it makes any more sense to me now. And the Scissor-Men inflict lots of damage on reality.

GEN13/MONKEYMAN & O’BRIEN #2 (Image, 1998) – untitled, [W/A] Art Adams. Rather disappointing compared to other Adams comics. There are a lot of sexy (underage) women, but not enough giant monsters, and too much of the issue is devoted to talking. The plot, which is based on the mirror universe from Star Trek, is incomprehensible if you haven’t read issue 1 recently.

Q2: THE RETURN OF QUANTUM & WOODY #5 (Valiant, 2015) – “Hats” etc., [W] Christopher Priest, [A] M.D. Bright. This comic is also hard to follow, but that’s mostly because it’s a Priest comic, and the most important scenes make sense. The new Woody (who, it turns out, identifies as female) is revealed to be a synthetic human who’s permanently stuck at age 14. She sacrifices herself to save the older Quantum and Woody, who become bound together again by their bands, and are forced to resume their partnership even though they hate each other more than ever. The younger Woody’s death scene is touching and shocking.

STUMPTOWN #5 (Oni, 2015) – “The Case of the King of Clubs, Part 5,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Justin Greenwood. I don’t remember what happened in parts one through four, but in this issue, Dex breaks up a ticket-scalping ring which is also a racketeering ring. Much of the issue takes place at the Moda Center, which I’ve walked past because the 2017 CCCC was held right near there, but at the time I didn’t realize it was a sports arena. One thing I like about Stumptown is its strong sense of local specificity.

LEGENDS OF THE DC UNIVERSE #14 (DC, 1999) – “Evolution,” [W] Mark Evanier, [A] Steve Rude. A brilliant tribute to Kirby’s Fourth World, written by Kirby’s former assistant and biographer, and drawn by one of Kirby’s greatest successors. The main plot is that Mokkari and Simyan plot to de-evolve the people of Metropolis, and Jimmy Olsen and the Guardian have to save the day. There’s a subplot about a doorman who refuses to ever take any risks, and this character’s timidity is contrasted with Jimmy’s heroism. The whole issue is an amazing epic and an intelligent reworking of Kirby’s Jimmy Olsen stories, and I think Kirby would have been proud of it. One flashback panel contains a clever tribute to Whistler’s Mother (https://www.instagram.com/p/Bjq2JRaF-IT/?taken-by=aaronkashtan). (After writing this review, I discovered I had already read this comic before.)

KLAUS AND THE WITCH OF WINTER #1 (Boom!, 2016) – “Klaus and the Witch of Winter,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Dan Mora. Klaus has just escaped from imprisonment on the moon – I don’t think the story of his imprisonment has been told yet. On returning to Earth in the present day, he has to rescue two children who have been kidnapped by a Snow Queen/White Witch type. This story is heavily based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” but I’m not familiar enough with that story to comment on Morrison’s use of it. Overall this is a strong one-shot, and the art is even better than in the Klaus miniseries. Oddly, in this issue Grant Morrison either steals or independently invents the idea of Gepetto turning evil and creating an army of wooden soldiers. This idea, of course, was previously used in Fables.

SURGE #2 (Image, 1984) – “The Science of Getting Even!!”, [W] Mark Evanier, [A] Rick Hoberg. It’s unfortunate that Surge is the only DNAgent who got his own miniseries (not counting Crossfire & Rainbow) because he’s easily the worst DNAgent. He’s an angry jerk who’s obsessed with getting revenge for a dead woman he never really knew. And he has no positive qualities that I can see. In this issue he hijacks a plane and treats his new girlfriend Kathy quite rudely. It’s not clear why the reader should root for him. Luckily this issue also includes a backup story starring Amber, my favorite DNAgent, in which she helps an Olympian reach the stadium in time to win a medal. Evanier’s column at the end of the issue includes some stories about ’60s fandom.

TALES OF THE BEANWORLD #11 (Eclipse, 1988) – “Notworm Madness!”, [W/A] Larry Marder. The Goofy Service Jerks return and steal Mr. Spook’s fork. Meanwhile, Beanish leaves his universe to participate in the Total Eclipse crossover (see next review). In the letter column, Larry Marder provides a lengthy explanation of why he agreed to let his characters appear in Total Eclipse.

TOTAL ECLIPSE #2 (Eclipse, 1988) – “Nightmares,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Bo Hampton. This is a weird idea: it’s a crossover between all the Eclipse comics, even though most of them took place in separate universes. The main participants in this issue are the New Wave, the Liberty Project, and the Airboy characters. I’ve only read a few issues of any of those titles, so I couldn’t quite tell what was going on in this issue or why I should care. Miracleman also appears in this issue, but only on one page. Marv did write the ultimate intra-company crossover story, Crisis on Infinite Earths, but Total Eclipse is not as good, especially since it lacks George Pérez art. I do want to get the issues of this series in which Beanish appeared.

GODZILLA: THE HALF-CENTURY WAR #5 (IDW, 2013) – “2002: The End of the World,” [W/A] James Stokoe. The protagonist, Ota Murakami, puts on a Mechagodzilla suit and battles Gigan and King Ghidorah. At the end of the issue he sacrifices himself to suck the kaiju into a black hole. I don’t much care about the plot of this comic, but James Stokoe’s art is phenomenal, although often so dense and beautiful that it slows down the flow of the story.

THE SPIRIT: THE NEW ADVENTURES #7 (Kitchen Sink, 1998) – “Golf Anyone?”, [W] Dennis Eichhorn, [A] Gene Fama. Three stories, one about golf, one about Russian roulette, and one about trick or treating. This comic has very high production values and includes art by Eddie Campbell and Paul Pope – as well as Gene Fama, who I’ve never heard of, but he does a good job of imitating Eisner. However, I was very low on energy when I read it, and it didn’t make much of an impact on me.

STAR*REACH #12 (Star*Reach, 1978) – various stories, [E] Mike Friedrich. A disappointing issue. It begins with an adaptation of Zelazny’s “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth,” illustrated by Gray Morrow. However, this comic is not an adaptation, but rather consists of the entire text of the story, together with illustrations. The illustrations actually detract from the story by preventing the reader from imagining the complicated concepts Zelazny describes. Next is a three-pager by Michael T. Gilbert in which a single three-panel sequence is repeated six times, filling two pages. Then there’s an eight-pager by Mike Nasser which, again, is hardly a comic at all: there’s no dialogue, and each page is just one panel. The issue ends with a chapter of Dean Motter and Ken Steacy’s “The Sacred and the Profane,” a recurring feature that suffered from unappealing art, way too much text, and no plot to speak of.

QUANTUM & WOODY #16 (Acclaim, 1998) – “Magnum Force, Round 5: Fear,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] M.D. Bright. This is much less dense than most of Priest’s comics. Most of the issue consists of Quantum and Woody trying to escape a death trap, and there are only a couple flashbacks or flashforwards. At the end of the issue, their bands are deactivated, and they go their separate ways.

THE SPECTRE #41 (DC, 1996) – “Merchants of Vengeance,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tom Mandrake. Jim Corrigan loses his Spectre powers and has to accompany Captain Fear in a battle between ghost pirates, who ride through Manhattan in flying ships. It’s a potentially fantastic premise, but Ostrander doesn’t do enough with it, although one of the pirates has the awesome name of Rupert Murder. I was very pleased when I realized who he was based on. As I may have pointed out before, the main problem with this and other Spectre comics is that the protagonist is omnipotent, so once Jim Corrigan turns into the Spectre, the story is over. That’s also a problem with Superman comics, but unlike Superman, the Spectre usually seems to battle common criminals, rather than other superpowered enemies.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARTHA WASHINGTON #nn (Dark Horse, 1995) – “Insubordination” and other stories, [W/A] Frank Miller. This one-shot consists of three stories, two of them reprints. “Collateral Damage,” from the Dark Horse Presents Fifth Anniversary TPB, is a crossover with Hard Boiled, though I only knew this from looking it up. “State of the Art” is a four-pager reprinted from San Diego Comic Con Comics #2, a giveaway comic which is now extremely expensive because it’s also the first appearance of Hellboy. The new story in this issue, “Insubordination,” is the best of the three. Martha Washington is sent to help out Captain Kurtz, an obvious Captain America knockoff, though named after Kurtz from Apocalypse Now and/or Heart of Darkness. Her real mission is to harvest his blood, which contains the last supply of his super-soldier serum. But he gets killed, and she abandons his blood out of respect. All three stories in this issue suffer from excessive computer coloring, which is not appropriate to the flat clear-line style of Gibbons’s art.

THE CHAMPIONS #2 (Marvel, 1975) – “Whom the Gods Would Join…”, [W] Tony Isabella, [A] Don Perlin. In Los Angeles, Hercules, Black Widow, Angel, Iceman, Ghost Rider and Venus team up to fight Pluto. This comic has an exciting premise and some awesome characters, but its boring creative team manages to suck the life out of it.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #90 (Marvel, 1980) – “Death in the Air,” [W] Steven Grant, [A] Mike Vosburg. This, by contrast, was much better than it should have been. Spider-Man and the Beast team up to battle Killer Shrike and Modular Man, two villains who previously appeared only in Rampaging Hulk. This comic’s plot is forgettable, but Spidey and the Beast’s interactions are hilarious. I especially like how Hank is irresistible to women because of his blue fur, and Spidey is jealous of him for it.

L.E.G.I.O.N. ’91 #23 (DC, 1991) – “I, Durlan,” [W] Alan Grant, [A] Jim Fern & Richard Piers Raynor. This oversized issue is the origin story of the L.E.G.I.O.N. co-founder known only as the Durlan. We learn that the Durlan escaped from his xenophobic home planet and crashlanded on Durla, where he became the companion of the young Vril Dox II. As Dox grows, the Durlan essentially becomes his mother, protecting him from his father’s abuse, while also suffering Dox’s abuse in turn. This comic doesn’t make the reader feel sympathetic for Dox, but it does help us understand why he’s so screwed up, and why he’s not even worse than he is: the Durlan’s influence helped counteract his cold and cruel upbringing. At the end of the issue, we learn that the Durlan will later found another famous superhero team under a new name, R.J. Brande.

LOVE FIGHTS #1 FCBD EDITION (Oni, 2004) – untitled, [W/A] Andi Watson. I haven’t read a lot of Andi Watson comics, but his art impresses me. While seemingly very simple, it displays an amazing command of anatomy and composition. This series is a romantic comedy that takes place in a city of superheroes. The story is a bit trite, but cute. On the flip side of this issue is a preview of Greg Rucka and Scott Morse’s Everest: Facing the Goddess, a series that was never published. The preview is reproduced directly from pencils, making it hard to read.

AZTEC ACE #11 (Eclipse, 1985) – “Reflections in a Demon’s Eye,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Dan Day. This series has perhaps the most confusing plot of any comic ever published, and also suffers from major overwriting. But this issue is rather exciting, and not that difficult to understand. The protagonist, Caza, and his new girlfriend Bridget get involved in a fight between the main villain, Nine Crocodile, and his wife Shakreen, who is also Caza’s ex-lover. Although Caza thinks he may have fathered Shakreen’s child, he ultimately chooses Bridget over Shakreen.

WHAT IF? #11 (Marvel, 1990) – “What If the Fantastic Four All Had the Same Power?”, [W/A] Jim Valentino. This issue has four stories, corresponding to the Fantastic Four’s four powers. In the first story, the FF all get the Human Torch’s power. During the events of Fantastic Four #3, they accidentally burn down a building and kill a little girl, and Sue is so guilty about this that she becomes a nun. This could have been a touching story, like FF #285, but it’s told in a such a perfunctory, summary fashion that it’s hilarious instead. The stories where the FF all get Reed, Ben and Sue’s powers are stupid in less funny ways.

GRIMJACK: THE MANX CAT #5 (IDW, 2009) – untitled, [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tim Truman. Truman’s art in this issue is a serious downgrade from the original Grimjack series. It’s much cleaner and it lacks his usual gritty, Kubert-esque quality, and the coloring is also worse. The first half of this issue’s story is just a big fight scene in an alternate dimension, though the second half, where Grimjack returns to Cynosure, is better.

THE SPECTRE #33 (DC, 1995) – “Fatal Tissue,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Hugh Haynes. Kind of a Frankenstein knockoff, in which a mad scientist creates an artificial woman who murders people and steals their souls. As in the original Frankenstein novel, the woman criticizes her creator for not fulfilling her obligations to his creation. This issue is okay but not great.

GHOST RIDER #39 (Marvel, 1979) – “Into the Abyss!”, [W] Michael Fleisher, [A] Don Perlin. Ghost Rider battles a cult of death-worshipping motorcyclists, which now that I type that out, I realize how stupid it is. They begin every meeting by having two of their members play chicken, which makes me wonder how they haven’t run out of members. This comic is kind of exciting and funny in a bugfuck way, but it could have been better.

FANTASTIC FOUR #120 (Marvel, 1972) – “The Horror That Walks on Air!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] John Buscema. This issue introduces Air-Walker, who arrives on Earth and proclaims himself as the archangel Gabriel, come to herald the end of the world. This issue has some snappy dialogue, including a very funny confrontation between the FF and their landlord, and Big John’s art is excellent. However, the absence of Kirby is sorely missed, and much of this issue feels like a retread of old Kirby cliches without the advantage of Kirby’s art.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #155 (DC, 1979) – “Fugitive from Two Worlds!”, [W] Bob Haney, [A] Jim Aparo. This issue tries to do way too many things and doesn’t accomplish any of them. Batman and Green Lantern are both pursuing the same criminal, and they get into a jurisdictional dispute over which of them has should capture him. Also, he steals a meteorite that’s preventing Gotham from being destroyed in an earthquake. And he’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde type with both a good and an evil personality. All of this in just two pages. If this story had just been about the custody battle over the criminal, it could have been interesting, but Haney insisted on throwing in a bunch of other pointless nonsense.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #32 (Marvel, 1975) – “All the Fires in Hell…!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Sal Buscema. In one of the few MTU issues that doesn’t star Spider-Man, the Human Torch teams up with Son of Satan to free Wyatt Wingfoot from demonic possession. Conway sadly fails to do anything interesting with this idea.

WHAT IF? #2 (Marvel, 1989) – “What If Daredevil Had Killed the Kingpin?”, [W] Danny Fingeroth, [A] Greg Capullo. An alternate version of Daredevil: Born Again in which Matt shoots the Kingpin dead after the Kingpin ruins his life. This is an interesting premise, but Danny Fingeroth fails to stick with it. About halfway through, this comic turns into a variation on the “Name of the Rose” storyline from Web of Spider-Man, with the Rose (Richard Fisk) and the Hobgoblin battling for control of the Kingpin’s mob. In the end, Matt, who has gone insane in the meantime, dies saving Richard from the Hobgoblin’s bomb, and Richard becomes the new Daredevil. But by that point, the story has lost all connection with “Born Again.”

DETECTIVE COMICS #844 (DC, 2008) – “Curtains,” [W] Paul Dini, [A] Dustin Nguyen. A breath of fresh air after all the bad comics I’d been reading. This issue reveals the origin of the new female Ventriloquist, Peyton Riley. A scion of a mob dynasty, she was forced to marry a fellow mobster who abused her. Peyton’s husband killed her father and then tried to kill her too, but instead she discovered Scarface, who inspired her to survive and take revenge. This flashback sequence is sordid and blackly humorous, and reminds me of The Spirit or Greyshirt. In the present, Peyton succeeds in killing her husband, but also gets drowned herself. She only made one subsequent appearance, which is sad because she was a fascinating character, and in this issue the reader feels much more sympathy for her than for Batman or Zatanna. The issue ends with Bruce and Zatanna deciding not to pursue a romance. By the way, I just learned that ventriloquists can’t make the “b” sound because they have to talk without their lips moving, and that this is why Scarface pronounces B as G.

New comics received yesterday, May 11:

PAPER GIRLS #21 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Cliff Chiang. This issue’s opening sequence, where an eleven-year-old Mac visits the library, is adorable. It reminds me of my own visits to the library as a kid. The kids wake up in far-future Cleveland, which has become a creepy police state, and go to a library, where they find a literal tree of knowledge. One thing that impresses me about this issue is Cliff Chiang’s artwork. I haven’t said enough about his brilliant worldbuilding and storytelling.

ISOLA #3 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Brenden Fletcher, [W/A] Karl Kerschl, [A] Msassyk. My enthusiasm for this series is waning a little. Karl Kerschl’s art is gorgeous, but I wish the story would move a bit quicker. Some bandits force Rook to join them and look for Olwyn, who has been traveling with an old man from the Moro tribe. At the end, Rook is reunited with Olwyn, who’s been turned back into a human except that she still has a tiger’s head. Also it becomes obvious that Rook and Olwyn are lovers. This comic reminds me a bit of Bone because of its high fantasy setting and specifically its use of aboriginal mythology.

GIANT DAYS #39 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Julia Madrigal. The three girls go to a career fair, where Daisy gets so many job offers that she has to fend recruiters off, while Esther proves to be utterly unprepared for professional life. Also, Susan and McGraw seem to be a couple now. I don’t remember when that happened. Julia Madrigal’s artwork is a step down in quality from Max Sarin’s. She doesn’t seem to have his effortless command of the characters and setting, though I expect she’ll improve with more experience.

VAGRANT QUEEN #1 (Vault, 2018) – “The Bezoar of Kings,” [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Jason Smith. A new series about an exiled queen turned adventurer. In this debut issue, she learns about her kidnapped mother’s whereabouts and goes off to rescue her. I’ve been looking forward to this series, and it’s pretty good so far. Jason Smith’s worldbuilding is pretty good, but his storytelling could be clearer.

MOONSTRUCK #6 (Image, 2018) – “Don’t Go Drinking with Faeries,” [W] Grace Ellis, [A] Shae Beagle. I made up that title. This issue, the two protagonists go to a frat party at a faerie fraternity. Quite prudently, they refuse to eat or drink anything, but lots of hijinks happen anyway. This issue was an improvement over the last few issues, though I still think this comic should have a stronger central premise; it’s not clear just what Moonstruck is supposed to be about. Also, Shae Beagle’s art has gotten better. An interview at the end of the issue reveals that Shae Beagle is non-binary, which helps explain her affinity for the character Chet.

SCALES & SCOUNDRELS #10 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Sebastian Girner, [A] Galaad. Luvander attends a meeting of other dragons, including her own father. In the course of the meeting, we learn Luvander’s origin. She let a human have some of her treasure, thereby making herself look weak and hurting the reputation of dragonkind, and as punishment she was trapped in human form. This origin story is rather poignant, and gives us a much better understanding of Lu and her people.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #31 (Marvel, 2018) – “Bad Buzz,” [W] Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder, [A] Ray-Anthony Height. Anti-drug and anti-smoking comics are usually preachy pieces of crap, but this comic is awesome, because it has an actual story and it doesn’t talk down to the reader. The issue begins with a scene where Lunella and her mom are gardening. This scene is just perfect; it’s a completely realistic depiction of a child interacting with a parent. This scene also introduces the plot, which is that Lunella’s mother and everyone else on the Lower East Side are suddenly addicted to cigarettes. It turns out this is because of a plot by the Swarm, a villain made of bees, which actually makes sense because nicotine does make bees faster. (Though it also appears to harm them.) Lunella and Devil defeat the plot, and all the people who were addicted to smoking give it up. This issue does end with Lunella lecturing the reader about the dangers of smoking. But the reader is more willing to accept this message because Reeder and Montclare have conveyed their anti-smoking message in a subtle way, as part of a story which is interesting in its own right. Most other similar comics have no story to speak of, and they clobber the reader over the head with the lesson that smoking (or drugs, etc.) is wrong.

DAZZLER: X-SONG #1 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Laura Braga. This one-shot is one of Mags’s best comics yet. Dazzler resumes her musical career and cultivates an audience of young mutants and Inhumans, who are hungry for a safe space where they can be themselves. But Dazzler’s concerts are disrupted by bullies who want to exclude Inhumans from mutant-friendly spaces. The mutant purists in this issue are clearly analogous to TERFs, who think that female-friendly spaces should be exclusive to cis women, and that female solidarity should exclude trans women. This analogy is especially relevant since the writer of this issue is herself a trans woman. However, Mags never makes this comparison explicitly, and the issue can be read as an an analogy for any situation where members of a minority group try to act as gatekeepers and decide who gets to be in that group. This issue is an example of how the mutant metaphor – the analogy between mutants and actual minority groups – is powerful because of its versatility. Mutants don’t directly correspond to any actual group of humans. Therefore, they can be used as analogies for any group of humans who are perceived as different from the norm.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP #1 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Javier Garrón. Thanks to a teleport gone wrong, Nadia Pym and Scott Lang get stuck on a microworld. This is a pretty fun and lighthearted comic, though not as much so as The Unstoppable Wasp (which is getting a sequel, yay!). Nadia’s speech pattern in this issue is different than in Unstoppable Wasp, and I don’t remember Scott Lang being quite this irresponsible.

ARCHIE #31 (Archie, 2018) – “The Gang’s All Here,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Audrey Mok. At the dance, Cheryl and Jason’s dad, Eddie Sheets, locks the doors to the gym and then threatens to shoot everyone. The issue ends on a cliffhanger. This is an exciting comic, which I coincidentally read on the same day as I finished Ian McEwan’s Saturday, a novel about a similar hostage situation. I don’t understand how Eddie got into the gym after he locked the doors, but I expect that will be a plot point next issue.

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