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One week of reviews

At the beginning of August I went to the inaugural Comics Studies Society conference in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. It was one of the best academic conferences I’ve ever attended. I felt rather guilty about the quality of my own paper, but I met a lot of old friends, made a lot of new ones, and got some great ideas. After the conference a bunch of us went to G-Mart, a comic store in downtown Champaign, where I bought a few comics. The only one I read before I got back home was:

MR. AND MRS. X #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “Love & Marriage,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Oscar Bazaldua. I couldn’t have ordered this because I didn’t know what it was. This is an adorable comic, a heartwarming piece of nostalgia for ‘90s X-Men fans, and an effective sequel to Kelly’s Rogue & Gambit miniseries. The plot is that during their honeymoon, Rogue and Gambit have to intervene in an intergalactic conflict involving the Shi’ar, Cerise and Deadpool.

New comics that arrived while I was out of town:

FANTASTIC FOUR #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “Signal in the Sky,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Sara Pichelli, plus backups. I’ve been looking forward to the FF revival, but this first issue is mostly just setup and flashback scenes. Reed and Sue only appear on a couple pages, and the kids don’t appear at all. Until I wrote this review, I didn’t notice the Impossible Man story on the last page.

MECH CADET YU #11 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa. This issue continues to ratchet up the tension, without resolving the dilemma of Buddy having to sacrifice itself. I’m glad this storyline is ending after one more issue, because the suspense is getting ridiculous.

LUMBERJANES: A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S SCHEME #1 (Boom!, 2018) – “A Midsummer Night’s Scheme,” [W] Nicole Andelfinger, [A] Maddi Gonzalez. The girls are decorating their cabin for a masquerade, but some fairies steal all their decorations. This was an average Lumberjanes story. At one point while reading it I started to feel bored, which hardly ever happens when I read Lumberjanes. There’s a backup story by Brittney Williams. I’m glad to see her working in comics again.

EXILES #6 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Rod Reis. The Exiles visit a Wild West version of the Marvel Universe, where they meet a sheriff/cowboy version of T’Challa. This is a good start to the second story arc, but Rod Reis is a less exciting artist than Javier Rodriguez.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #35 (Marvel, 2018) – “Last Hunt for Kraven!”, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. This was a fun issue, but this Kraven story arc hasn’t really connected me. Whatever Doreen may think of him, Kraven is a murderer and a villain, and it’s hard to sympathize with him as much as Doreen does. Also, I’ve pinpointed why Ryan North’s writing annoys me sometimes: it feels like he’s talking down to the reader. His bottom-of-page captions, in particular, often feel condescending, or they give the impression that Ryan is trying to show how cool he is. But this may just be a personal pet peeve on my part. I don’t think Ryan is deliberately trying to give this impression.

SHE COULD FLY #2 (Dark Horse, 2018) – “Beware the Bandersnatch,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] Martín Morazzo. Another very strong issue, although it made less of an impact on me than #1, because I was more tired when I read it. The strength of this series is its powerful and realistic depiction of Luna’s mental illness. Luna’s parents are another strong point: the writer shows us that while they truly care for Luna, they aren’t equipped to deal with her problems.

CATWOMAN #2 (DC, 2018) – “Copycats Part 2,” [W/A] Joelle Jones. Selina discovers that the women impersonating her are hired actors, not actual villains, and goes on a quest to find out who hired them. Other than Ed Brubaker’s Catwoman, this is the only Catwoman series I’ve been really excited about. This issue has fewer cats than last issue, but it does include some scenes with Selina’s cats, and I love how Selina sleeps in a curled-up position.

NANCY DREW #3 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Jenn St-Onge. The investigation continues. This was another really good issue, with lots of great character interactions, but nothing about it stands out to me in particular.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #69 (IDW, 2018) – untitled, [W] Paul Allor, [A] Toni Kuusisto. Pinkie Pie gains the power to grant wishes. Horrible consequences ensue. This is a pretty average issue, and it offers little that we haven’t seen before in other Pinkie Pie stories. I don’t remember Paul Allor having written for this series before.

SANDMAN UNIVERSE #1 (DC, 2018) – untitled, [W] Neil Gaiman et al, [A] various. A series of previews of the upcoming Sandman spinoff titles. None of these segments are satisfying in their own right, but they effectively create excitement for the series they’re previewing. I’m especially excited for the voodoo-inspired comic written by Nalo Hopkinson, a brilliant SF writer who has not written for comics before, as far as I know. The last time Neil Gaiman returned to Sandman, I thought it was a cynical cash grab, and that might be true of this new Sandman revival as well. But at least they’re giving other writers a chance to work with Gaiman’s concepts, rather than having Neil retread his old familiar territory yet again.

ARCHIE #153 (Archie, 1965) – “Language Barrier” and other stories, [W] Frank Doyle, [A] Harry Lucey. A bunch of typical and mostly forgettable stories. In the first story, Archie and friends are cavemen (or cave boys and girls), and they all come up with different words for the same things. This was one of a few stories from this period in which the Archie characters were cavepeople.

SAVAGE DRAGON #237 (Image, 2018) – “Beware the Scourge!”, [W/A] Erik Larsen. I stopped reading this series because of the tasteless and exploitative sex scenes. I decided to give it another chance, but on page four of this issue, there’s a panel where Maxine is eating Angel out while being serviced by Malcolm. Looks like I’ll be dropping this series again for the same reason.

STAR TREK #8 (Marvel, 1980) – “The Expansionist Syndrome,” [W] Martin Pasko, [A] Dave Cockrum. In my Mind the Gaps paper I negatively compared Star Trek comics to My Little Pony comics, but oddly, that made me want to read some Star Trek comics. However, this issue is an example of an ineffective comics adaptation of a TV show. It doesn’t feel like a Star Trek story, it has a trite plot with an overly convenient ending, and Dave Cockrum’s art is lifeless.

PLASTIC MAN #3 (DC, 2018) – “Under Cover of Darkness,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] Adriana Melo. Another fun issue, but I have nothing new to say about it that I didn’t say about the previous two issues. The highlight is the panel where Plastic Man becomes a My Little Pony doll.

FARMHAND #2 (Image, 2018) – “The Haunted Man,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. The protagonist investigates whatever bizarre mystery is going on, while his kids have some trouble in school. The highlight of the issue is the opening scene where the woman is provided with a new nose. I expect that as with Chew, this series is going to consist mostly of variations on the central joke.

QUICKSILVER: NO SURRENDER #4 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [A] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Erik Nguyen. In the climactic moment of the series, Pietro reads every book in the library and learns to slow down. Geoff Johns already used this idea with Bart Allen in an early issue of his Teen Titans, but Saladin executes the idea better.

DEN #1 (Fantagor, 1988) – “Dreams and Alarums,” [W] Simon Revelstroke, [A] Richard Corben. Simon Revelstroke’s real name is John Pocsik. This series is in fact the fourth chapter of an ongoing saga which started in Heavy Metal in 1977, and its protagonist was created in 1968 for a short film. Therefore, this comic’s plot is somewhat inaccessible, but as usual with Corben, the plot is less important than the beautiful airbrushing, muscular heroes, busty women, awful monsters, etc. This comic has a backup story which is a blatant ripoff of Vaughn Bodé’s works.

HOT LUNCH SPECIAL #1 (AfterShock, 2018) – “Habibi,” [W] Eliot Rahal, [A] Jorge Fornes. I bought this comic because it takes place in the Iron Range of Minnesota, my home state. The writer clearly has Minnesota credentials: on page seven, one character offers another character a “bar,” a Minnesota term for a bar-shaped cookie or cake. The other wrinkle in this comic is that the characters are of Lebanese descent. I like how the daughter works at a fast food restaurant that sells “Mediterranean tuna salad,” which is only Mediterranean because it has olives in it, but she eats dolma at home. It’s an interesting example of the difference between the food people make for themselves and for others. Otherwise this is a pretty standard crime comic, but it’s intriguing enough that I plan to stick with it.

DOORWAY TO NIGHTMARE #4 (DC, 1978) – “Six Claws of the Dragon!”, [W] Catherine B. Andrews & Stuart Hopen, [A] Johnny Craig. A pretty dumb comic. The plot revolves around a Chinese ghost, but the writers know nothing about China. For example, the ghost is a mummified princess from Manchuria named “Shieko Morea.” That’s not a plausible Chinese or Manchu name, and mummification was never practiced in China.

THE SPECTRE #46 (DC, 1996) – “Gather the Ghosts,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tom Mandrake. The Spectre encounters an Apache shaman who’s trying to revive the Ghost Dance religion. Meanwhile, some villains are looking for the Spear of Destiny. This story runs the risk of reproducing old cliches about Native Americans, but Ostrander mostly avoids that risk and shows sensitivity to Native American culture. For example, he has a character mention that the Mescalero Apaches never did the Ghost Dance to begin with.

NEW STATESMEN #2 (Fleetway/Quality, 1989) – multiple chapters, [W] John Smith, [A] Jim Baikie. This has been described as a political superhero comic. Not having read the first issue, I’m not sure what’s going on in this issue, but I find it intriguing. John Smith’s prose style is very reminiscent of Alan Moore’s, in a good way, and there are moments in this comic that remind me of Watchmen. This comic feels like it belongs to the same corpus of texts as Watchmen, Miracleman, Brat Pack, etc., and I want to read more of it.

THE KILLER: MODUS VIVENDI #2 (Archaia, 2010) – untitled, [W] Matz, [A] Luc Jacamon. This series is a good example of Kim Thompson’s principle that “more crap is what we need” (http://www.tcj.com/a-modest-proposal-more-crap-is-what-we-need/). It’s not a major artistic masterpiece, but it’s a well-executed piece of genre fiction. It effectively confronts the protagonist, a professional assassin, with a moral dilemma: some unknown clients manipulate him into killing a saintly nun in order to cause political unrest. (This plot resembles that of the “Gateless Barrier” chapter of Lone Wolf and Cub.) The most impressive thing about this comic, though, is the gorgeous coloring.

THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #84 (DC, 1969) – “The Angel, the Rock and the Cowl!”, [W] Bob Haney, [A] Neal Adams. This story is a blatant continuity violation on multiple levels. First, it states that Batman fought in World War II, and second, it indicates that Sgt. Rock survived World War II, when Robert Kanigher claimed that Rock died on the last day of the war. Apparently DC later established that this story took place on Earth-B, along with other Bob Haney stories that were impossible to reconcile with Earth-1 or Earth-2 continuity. If you can ignore all that, this is an exciting and well-drawn comic, though it’s not as well-written as other Haney-Adams collaborations.

AQUAMAN #17 (DC, 1964) – “The Man Who Vanquished Aquaman,” [W] Jack Miller, [A] Nick Cardy. Aquaman and Mera had a whirlwind (whirlpool?) romance: this is only her sixth appearance and they’re already talking about marriage. In this issue, Mera is kidnapped by Poseidon, who bears little resemblance to how he’s usually depicted in mythology. At one point the writer describes him as Zeus’s son, though he is later correctly identified as Zeus’s brother. The best things about this comic are Nick Cardy’s exciting action sequences and his beautiful renderings of Mera.

BLACK BADGE #1 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Tyler Jenkins. This series continues Matt Kindt’s usual theme of spies and espionage, while also adding a new wrinkle: the main characters are kids who pose as Boy Scouts. Or rather, they’re Boy Scouts who earn badges by infiltrating foreign countries and assassinating people. I still haven’t finished reading Grass Kings, but Black Badge has a more interesting premise, and I’m more excited about it than I was about Grass Kings.

MISTER X #13 (Vortex, 1988) – “Nightclubs/Daydreams,” [W] Dean Motter, [A] Seth. The best thing about this comic is the beautiful cover by Mike Kaluta (incidentally, the same is true of Doorway to Nightmare #4). The interior story is confusing and incomprehensible. Seth’s artwork is recognizable as his, and there’s one background character who appears to be a self-portrait, but Seth is not well suited to drawing an action comic. Indeed, in most of his comics, barely anything happens at all.

SAVAGE DRAGON #48 (Image, 1998) – untitled, [W/A] Erik Larsen. Dragon fights Powerhouse, and Barbaric and Ricochet’s baby is born. Reading old Savage Dragon comics is a bit weird because it’s hard to keep track of the plot, and so much of the plot has been retconned into nonexistence anyway. I’m not even sure how many different worlds there are in this series, or which world the current issues are taking place in.

FLASH GORDON #2 (Dynamite, 2014) – “Flash in the Forest,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Doc Shaner. Flash and his companions visit Arboria and meet Prince Barin. Flash Gordon has perhaps the most distinguished artistic heritage of any American comic – its past artists include Alex Raymond, Al Williamson and Mac Raboy. A high compliment that can be given to Doc Shaner is that he does honor to his predecessors on this series.

TRIDENT #8 (Trident, 1990) – various stories, [E] Martin Skidmore. A British black-and-white independent comic, published in the American format. Artists in this issue include Paul Grist, D’Israeli, Eddie Campbell, and others I haven’t heard of. Most of the artwork in the issue  is drawn in a style similar to that of Grist and Phil Elliott. I don’t know what this style is called or where it originated from, but it appears to be the dominant style of British indie comics. The Bacchus story by Campbell is easily the highlight of the issue.

KINGDOM OF THE WICKED #1 (Caliber, 1996) – “Chapter One,” [W] Ian Edginton, [A] D’Israeli. Caliber is a terrible publisher, but this comic is fascinating. The protagonist is a children’s book author who finds himself back in the fantasy realm he created as a child, except that world has taken a very dark turn and has become embroiled in an endless war. The idea of a child’s fantasy world turned real is quite familiar – other examples include Joe the Barbarian or, outside comics, Jonathan Carroll’s The Land of Laughs. But Edginton and D’Israeli approach this idea from a British perspective, creating allusions to World War I, and their writing and artwork are very solid. I want to read more of their work.

CRIMINAL #2 (Marvel, 2008) – “A Wolf Among Wolves,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. An excellent comic. In 1972, Teeg Lawless returns from Vietnam with a massive case of PTSD that renders him unable to relate to his family. He becomes easy prey for criminals, who encourage him to use his military training for evil purposes. Brubaker and Phillips effectively  depict Teeg’s trauma and his inability to cope with civilian life. A visual device they use repeatedly is to interrupt the story with black panels, representing Teeg’s blackouts.

SWAMP THING #7 (DC, 1973) – “Night of the Bat,” [W] Len Wein, [A] Bernie Wrightson. This  Batman-Swampy team-up is probably Wein and Wrightson’s best Swamp Thing story. Wein writes an exciting story that provides a plausible reason for Swampy and Batman to meet. Wrightson’s anatomy, action sequences, and moodiness are amazing, and the Swamp Thing-Batman fight scene is a highlight of his career. It’s too bad he didn’t get to draw Batman again until he was past his artistic prime. Wrightson draws Swampy as a hulking naked guy with a weird-shaped head. I believe it was Steve Bissette who started the trend of drawing Swamp Thing as a man-shaped heap of plant matter, composed of leaves and vines and constantly dripping.

UNDERWATER #4 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1995) – three stories, [W/A] Chester Brown. The main feature in this series is told from the viewpoint of a pre-verbal baby. The baby can’t understand most of the words s/he hears, so much of the dialogue in the series is gibberish, and s/he is unable to distinguish between waking and dream states. This all results in a sense of extreme weirdness. The second story, “My Mother is a Schizophrenic,” presents Chester’s theory that schizophrenia doesn’t exist. As the son of a psychiatrist, I am inclined to be very unsympathetic to this theory, although Chester makes a superficially convincing case for it. There’s also a chapter of Chester’s ongoing adaptation of the New Testament.

THE LAST AMERICAN #2 (Marvel, 1991) – “Apocalypse: The Musical,” [W] John Wagner & Alan Grant, [A] Mike McMahon. This is one of the most depressing comics ever, which is why I took a while to get around to reading it. The protagonist spends most of the issue driving around a barren, sunless post-nuclear wasteland, and finally decides to kill himself. But on the last page he picks up a radio transmission from another survivor, which is lucky, because I was wondering how this series could possibly go on for two more issues.

DEE VEE #2 (Dee Vee, 1997) – various stories, [E] Marcus Moore. Like Trident #8, this anthology comic includes an Eddie Campbell story which is vastly better than anything else in it. The Campbell story in this issue appears to be a chapter of “How to Be an Artist.” The other artists featured in Dee Vee #2 include Bruce Mutard, Pete Mullins, and lots of people I’ve never heard of, and to put it politely, the material in this issue is of variable quality.

UMBRELLA ACADEMY: DALLAS #4 (Dark Horse, 2009) – untitled, [W] Gerard Way, [A] Gabriel Bá. This comic’s story makes no sense, and the recap on the inside front cover doesn’t help at all, although Gabriel Ba’s artwork is as brilliant as usual.

THE TERRIFICS #2 (DC, 2018) – “Meet the Terrifics, Part 2,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Ivan Reis. We learn Linnya’s origin, which is sort of a mix of Superman and Mon-El’s origins, and then there are a bunch of action sequences. This issue would have been more impressive if I’d read it when it came out – I bought it at G-Mart in Champaign.

ZOOT! #4 (Fantagraphics, 1993) – “Mister Piggy Fibs,” [W] Andrew Langridge, [A] Roger Langridge. Not at all what I expected. Roger Langridge is one of the most skilled storytellers in English-language comics, but this issue consists of a series of absurdist surrealist comics, with no apparent plot and with unfunny jokes. Roger draws with great precision and slickness and shows a great diversity of style, but I don’t think I care for Andrew’s writing.

METROPOL #1 (Marvel, 1991) – “Secrets and Revelations,” [W/A] Ted McKeever. I think this is my first McKeever comic. It’s a rather surrealistic and Kafkaesque story, taking place in a grim totalitarian city. It’s well done, but it didn’t make a huge impact on me.

MR. MONSTER #1 (Dark Horse, 1988) – “Origins,” [W/A] Michael T. Gilbert. In the past I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about this series, but I’m starting to really get into it now. Its histrionic, over-the-top style of writing and art is deliberate, and quite funny. This issue begins Mr. Monster’s origin story long before his conception, as Kelly’s mother explains how she broke up with the previous Mr. Monster because he cared more about fighting monsters than about her. The issue also incorporates a reprint of one of the original Mr. Monster stories from the Canadian Whites.

SWEET TOOTH #6 (DC, 2010) – “In Captivity Part 1,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. One of this issue’s plotlines focuses on Tommy Jepperd, a former hockey player, as he carries his wife across a postapocalyptic Canada to bury her. The other plotline is about an antler-headed kid, presumably Tommy’s son, who is trapped in a scientific facility along with other hybrid human-animal children. This issue is hard to understand out of context, but it’s pretty good, and it features a lot of Lemire’s stock themes – hockey, Canada, family, etc.

UNNATURAL #2 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Mirka Andolfo. Leslie goes to the reproduction center to find a fellow pig to breed with. This comic is still very interesting, and   Mirka Andolfo draws some beautiful animal people, but her use of animals as a metaphor for LGBTQ identity is kind of crude and unsubtle.

BLOODSTRIKE BRUTALISTS #24 (Image, 2018) – “Life in Hell,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. In this final issue, Cabbot goes on a mission to recover (what he thinks are) the dead bodies of his teammates so they can be revived again. On the letters page, Michel Fiffe explains that this series was created to fill in the gap between Bloodstrike #22 and #25, since those issues were published, but #23 and #24 were not – it’s complicated. This was a well-done series with some brilliant art.

WIMMEN’S COMIX #8 (Last Gasp, 1983) – various stories, [E] Kathryn LeMieux & Lee Binswanger. This issue has an amazing lineup of talent: Trina Robbins, Lee Marrs, Lynda Barry, Dori Seda, Carol Lay, Phoebe Gloeckner, Mary Wilshire and Sharon Rudahl, among others. Highlights include: 1) A science fiction story by Marrs. 2) Caryn Leschen’s “Holding the Torch,” a story with obsessively dense artwork, in which some New Yorkrs visit San Francisco and suffer a culture shock. 3) Dori Seda’s story about self-defense against rape. 4) Carol Lay’s “The Misogynist,” which reads like a prototype for Irene Van De Kamp. 5) Sharon Rudahl’s “Mein Rue Platz,” which I believe was discussed in one of Margaret Galvan’s conference papers.

MOCKINGBIRD #7 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, [W] Chelsea Cain, [A] Kate Niemczyk. Bobbi Morse and Lance Hunter investigate a murder aboard a cruise ship. It turns out that Bobbi’s dead rapist, the Phantom Rider, is responsible. This is an excellent comic with lots of great jokes, and I’m glad that this creative team has a new series forthcoming from Image.

U.S.AVENGERS #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “$kullocracy Part One,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Paco Medina. A new team of Avengers fights a new Secret Empire. This was okay, but not nearly as good as the later story with the Archie characters.

OMAC #5 (DC, 1975) – “New Bodies for Old!!”, [W/A] Jack Kirby. Omac battles some criminals who are stealing young people’s bodies in order to transplant old people’s minds into them. This is a pretty good Kirby comic, but it suffers from D. Bruce Berry’s poor inking and ugly lettering.

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