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Another week of reviews

On August 18, I went to yet another Charlotte Comicon. For the first time, this con was held on two days. In hindsight, I should have gone either on both days, or just on Sunday. On Saturday most of the comics seemed overly expensive, and also there were too many booths selling things other than comics. It would have been my most disappointing Charlotte Comicon yet, except that I eventually found a box with about ten old Little Lulus for a dollar each. I also made some other good finds, but overall it was a lackluster show. The major theme of my purchases at this show was Gold Key and Dell comics. I’m slowly discovering the diversity and quality of this company’s output.

Comics I read that week, including new comics received on August 18:

SCOOBY-DOO MYSTERY COMICS #27 (Gold Key, 1974) – “The Star-Spangled Spectre” and “Nightmare First-Class,” [W] Mark Evanier, [A] Dan Spiegle. I found this in a dollar box, which makes it my second best find of the convention. This issue’s first story is a well-written but unspectacular bicentennial story. The backup story is much better. Its first page includes the caption “These are the heroes whohad the hound that hunted the hoodoo that haunted the house that Hal had,” and it goes on to tell an exciting and complex story about a fake heir. Evanier and Spiegle’s Scooby-Doo is just as much of an underrated classic as their later Crossfire and Hollywood Superstars, and it deserves to be reprinted.

FLAVOR #4 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Joe Keatinge, [A] Wook-Jin Clark. Anant surprisingly passes his cooking exam. Geof steals Xoo’s stash of money and uses it to enter her in a cooking tournament. This was a fun issue, but as with last issue, it didn’t include enough worldbuilding.

LITTLE LULU #65 (Dell, 1953) – “Little Lulu Pays a Sick Call” and other stories, [W] John Stanley, [A] Irving Tripp. As mentioned above, I bought about ten old Little Lulus at the convention. They’re all from the early to mid ‘50s, and are therefore among the oldest comics in my collection. They’re all beat up, but completely readable. (For example, my copy of #65 has a giant rip near the top that goes through every page and is badly fixed with tape.) I’m still kind of shocked that I had these comics; I have a ton of ‘60s comics, but I assumed that anything older than that would be beyond my price range. In terms of their content, these comics are just as amazing now as they were 60 years ago. Stanley uses a fairly small cast of characters and an unvarying 2×4 panel grid. But like Herriman or Prohias or Bushmiller, he develops an endless range of variations out of a limited set of premises, and he constantly surprises the reader. As mentioned in earlier reviews, Stanley’s comic timing is brilliant, and he’s a master at getting his characters into bizarre but believeable situations. The highlight of this issue is probably the story where Lulu and Tubby have to make a delivery to a house that turns out to be a grave.

THIRTEEN #17 (Dell, 1966) – “One of These Days” etc., [W/A] John Stanley. This is my favorite John Stanley comic besides Little Lulu. What separates it from Archie and other teen humor comics is, again, Stanley’s masterful storytelling. As I read this issue, I noticed that Stanley sometimes has important things happen between panels or offscreen, which forces the reader to put in a bit more work to get the joke. For instance, in the story “A Knockout” in this issue, Robert sticks his whole body through Judy’s window while Judy is sitting on a couch reading. The scene then shifts to Val, and Robert doesn’t appear again until two pages later, when we discover him lying unconscious in a bush outside the window. In the last panel of the story, we finally learn that Val hit Robert with a dictionary. ”Hiccups” in Little Lulu #65 has a similar off-panel scene, in which Tubby tries to set a trap for Lulu but knocks himself over instead; however, in that story we never learn what exactly happened off-panel. These unseen moments create a sense of mystery and, as noted, force readers to use their imagination.

USAGI YOJIMBO #36 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – “Gen, Chapter 3: Lady Asano’s Revenge,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. I don’t remember the previous two parts of this story, but in this final chapter, Gen’s old friend Lady Asano and his enemy Oda kill each other. This story is notable because it gives us insight into Gen’s past, and because it shows him acting serious for once, whereas he’s usually a comic relief character.

SUPERMAN/BATMAN #52 (DC, 2008) – “Li’l Leaguers Part 2 of 2,” [W] Michael Green & Mike Johnson, [A] Rafael Albuquerque. This isn’t quite as good as the previous issue, but it’s still an excellent story that blends cuteness with heartbreak. The little Superman sacrifices his life at the end of the issue, which is kind of a horrible moment. The little Joker remains in the adult DC Universe at the end, but I doubt if he ever appeared again. It’s too bad this storyline only lasted two issues, although as noted previously, Wolvie in Exiles is the same type of character as the Li’l Leaguers.

BY NIGHT #3 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Christine Larsen. The one protagonist’s dad and her friend go looking for her, and encounter a bunch of punks. The protagonists only appear at the end, and we don’t get to see any of the alternate dimension. This issue was okay, but not great.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #38 (Image, 2018) – “Ambition Makes You Pretty. Also, Ugly,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Jamie McKelvie. There are a lot more plot developments in this issue, but I’ve forgotten most of them. The most notable thing about this issue is the opening scene,  in which Robert Graves uses Ananke and Minerva as evidence for his White Goddess theory.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #64 (Marvel, 1980) – “The Last Gamble,” [W] Jo Duffy, [A] Kerry Gammill. Luke and Danny try to track down two villains named Luck and Death, a.k.a. Suerte and Muerte. All the local criminals are terrified of Luck and Death, and Luke and Danny (I just noticed the similarity of names) have to go to extreme measures to find them. This issue is most notable for its witty dialogue.

STAR TREK #49 (DC, 1988) – “Aspiring to Be Angels,” [W] Peter David, [A] Tom Sutton. In my Mind the Gaps paper, I pointed out that even the best Star Trek comics aren’t that good as comics; they never do much to exploit the unique properties of comics. With that caveat, Peter David’s Star Trek comics are probably the best ever written. This issue focuses on three characters who only appeared in DC’s first Star Trek series: Bryce, Konom and Bearclaw. Bryce and Konom, a human woman and a Klingon man, have just gotten married, but when they encounter a half-Klingon child, they realize the difficulties they might encounter in becoming parents. Meanwhile, in this issue’s most memorable scene, Kirk fires Bearclaw from the Enterprise crew. This Star Trek series has nostalgic associations for me because I saw The Undiscovered Country, the last movie with the original crew, in the theater, so to me the TOS movies seem very modern and recent, even though they’re not. I also have some nostalgia for DC’s Star Trek comics because when I was a little kid, I read a lot of them (though not this one) by checking them out of the public library.

FENCE #9 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] C.S. Pacat, [A] Johanna the Mad. Nick beats Kally 15-14. Then Nick and Seiji are caught in a compromising position in the (literal) closet. This series is going to become TPB-only after issue 12. Fence is at least the third title I’ve been reading that has gone this route (along with Astro City and Goldie Vance), and as a dedicated fan of the comic book form, I’m disturbed by this trend toward abandoning single issues. However, if any title would benefit from being published in TPB format, it’s Fence. As I have observed repeatedly, this series has a glacially slow pace, and is more like a manga than a comic book in its pacing.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #594 (Gladstone, 1994) – Donald in “The Better Life,” [W/A] William Van Horn, and Mickey in “The Monarch of Medioka, Part 2,” [W/A] Floyd Gottfredson et al. This issue’s Van Horn story is okay, but it seems like Van Horn was only good at imitating Barks’s shorter comedic stories. He doesn’t seem to have done many of the longer adventure stories that Rosa was so good at. “The Monarch of Medioka” is a classic Gottfredson story, a Mickey Mouse version of The Prisoner of Zenda. Whenever I read Gladstone’s Gottfredson reprints, I find myself constantly counting panels in order to figure out where each daily installment begins and ends.

LUCIFER #21 (DC, 2002) – “Paradiso Part 1 of 3,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. This issue has one plotline taking place in heaven, and another plotline focusing on the half-angel child Elaine Belloc. I’ve been wanting to read more of this series, but there was nothing especially memorable about this issue.

KICK-ASS #7 (Marvel, 2009) – untitled, [W] Mark Millar, [A] John Romita Jr. I have a very negative impression of Mark Millar’s writing, although I haven’t read many of his comics. This issue did nothing to change my mind about him. It’s just a lot of mindless violence and torture. Millar’s comics claim to be parodies of ultraviolent superhero comics, but they’re actually among the worst examples of what they’re parodying.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #223 (Dell, 1959) – untitled Donald Duck story, [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. This issue begins with a hilarious Barks ten-pager in which Donald tries to go fishing, while the nephews try to fly their kites, and they keep getting in each other’s way. Barks was really good at slapstick comedy stories like this, though unlike Van Horn, he was also really good at epic adventure stories. Unfortunately, in my copy there’s a giant hole torn out of the last page of this story. The only other good story in this issue is Fallberg and Murry’s Mickey story “Alaskan Adventure.”

INCREDIBLE HULK #160 (Marvel, 1972) – “Nightmare in Niagara Falls!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Herb Trimpe. Betty and Glenn Talbot go to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. The Hulk follows them there and gets in a fight with Tiger Shark. This was a fairly good issue. Seeing Glenn and Betty on their honeymoon is kind of painful for the reader as well as for Bruce. They were perhaps the least romantic couple in the history of the Marvel Universe, besides Quicksilver and Crystal.

USAGI YOJIMBO #170 (Dark Horse, 2018) – “The Hidden Part Five,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. At the end of the issue, we learn that the mysterious box contained a Japanese translation of the Bible. No wonder so many people were so obsessed with recovering the box’s contents. However, I think “The Hidden” is a bit too long. It could have included at least one fewer chapter.

LITTLE LULU #45 (Dell, 1952) – “The Case of the Exploding Cigar” etc., [W] John Stanley, [A] Irving Tripp. I believe I paid $4 or $5 for this, shortly before discovering a bunch of other old Little Lulus for a dollar each. But $4 or $5 is still a good price for such a great old comic. I’ve already read the stories in this issue, because they’re reprinted in the one Dark Horse Little Lulu volume that I have. But that book is in black and white, and Stanley and Tripp’s art was meant to be seen in color.

LITTLE LULU #88 (Dell, 1955) – “Picnic in the Cellar” etc., [W] John Stanley, [A] Irving Tripp. Another collection of brilliant short stories, of which the best may be the one where Lulu tricks Tubby and the fellers into digging a well. At this point I was starting to see some patterns in these comics. In particular, each issue of Little Lulu includes a story in which Lulu tells Willie a fairy tale about Witch Hazel and the poor little girl. One of John Stanley’s many amazing achievements is that he told five or six stories every month about the same very limited cast of characters, and each story was different and unique – they never started to feel stale. Few if any other American comic book creators have ever pulled off this feat.

RUINWORLD #2 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Laufman. This issue introduces a new female coprotagonist, Kale (unless she already appeared last issue), and otherwise it’s mostly the same thing as last issue. Derek Laufman’s style takes some getting used to, especially his dialogue, but he’s a pretty effective storyteller.

MANIFEST DESTINY #36 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. In a flashback, we learn what happened outside the fort during the events of the previous couple issues. As I predicted, Charbonneau’s appearance with the Mandan was part of Lewis and Clark’s plan. The scene at the end, where York resists his impulse to beat Jensen to death, is impressive. It may be this series’ best statement about race.

VAGRANT QUEEN #3 (Vault, 2018) – “The Bezoar of Kings,” [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Jason Smith. This issue mostly examines Elida’s relationship with Stelling. I like this series, but it deserves a better artist. Jason Smith’s storytelling and draftsmanship are average at best.

CODA #4 (Boom!, 2018) – untitled, [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Matías Bergara. Like Godshaper, Coda is so dense and complicated that I hesitate to actually read it. This is not an uncommon problem with Si Spurrier’s comics, although Angelic and The Spire have mostly avoided it. This issue we learn Serka’s backstory, and the protagonist steals the dead elf dude’s head.

THOR #4 (Marvel, 2018) – “War is Hel,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mike Del Mundo. After a lot of wacky complications, Hela ends up marrying Karnilla. This was a fun storyline with excellent art. Some comic relief was badly needed after the relentless grimness of the last few Jane Foster story arcs, and I think that shifting the tone of the series was a wise decision on Jason’s part.

LITTLE LULU #87 (Dell, 1955) – “Bubble Bath” and other stories, [W] John Stanley, [A] Irving Tripp. The best story in this issue is “The Lookout,” in which the fellers offer to let Lulu join their club if she protects their clubhouse from the West Side Boys. She does that successfully, but they refuse to let her join their club, and she wrecks the clubhouse in frustration. Lulu’s unfair exclusion from the boys’ club, despite (or because of) the fact that she’s smarter than them, is one of the most poignant symbols in this comic. This motif is why Lulu was chosen as the mascot of the Friends of Lulu. There’s another story where Tubby changes his name to Lancelot so that Gloria and Wilbur won’t name a hippo after him. This reminds me a bit of the Max Power episode of the Simpsons.

CROWDED #1 (Image, 2018) – “Welcome to the Working Week,” [W] Chris Sebela, [A] Ro Stein. This new series is a very funny and clever satire of the sharing economy or crowdsourcing or whatever it’s called. The protagonist, Charlotte, works about ten different gig economy jobs – Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, babysitting, etc. Then one day someone starts a campaign on Reapr, the crowdfunding site for assassinations, to have her killed. So she recruits the other protagonist from Dfend, the corresponding site for bodyguards. This premise – that there are versions of Uber for assassins and bodyguards – is ridiculous, yet close enough to real life that it’s almost plausible. The result is a very funny comic that also doubles as a serious critique of the gig economy. I’m looking forward to issue 2.

CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN #33 (DC, 1963) – “The Challengers Meet Their Master,” [W] Arnold Drake, [A] Bob Brown. The Challengers fight a villain called Jacquard who’s better than each of them at their respective specialties. It turns out the whole thing is a setup by Ace to teach them not to be overconfident. There’s also a backup story that I don’t remember at all. The Challengers have some notable similarities to the Fantastic Four, but there are good reasons why the FF are still published today and the Challs are not.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #194 (DC, 1970) – “Inside the Mafia Gang!”, [W] Bob Haney, [A] Ross Andru. This story refers to the Mafia by name, which was rare in comic books at the time, perhaps because the Mafia controlled the distribution network for comic books. The plot is that Batman and Superman team up to infiltrate the Mafia. This issue is fairly exciting and has some good art, but it’s not a classic.

BATMAN #26 (DC, 2014) – “Zero Year: Dark City,” [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Greg Capullo. Like most of the Snyder Batman comics I’ve read, this issue is tough to understand. It takes place before Bruce becomes Batman, and includes a flashback to Bruce’s first encounter with Gordon, when Gordon got his trenchcoat as a kickback. And this meeting happened on the day of Bruce’s parents’ murder. Given the number of events that have been stated as happening on that day, it must have lasted far longer than 24 hours (for example, see Batman #430 and Detective Comics #457).

QUACK! #2 (Star*Reach, 1977) – “Newton the Rabbit Wondr!”, [W] Sergio Aragonés, [A] Steve Leialoha, plus other stories. This issue’s lead story resembles Howard the Duck, but with less social satire and more implied interspecies sex. The next story is by Michael T. Gilbert, and it’s kind of funny, but the lettering is hideous. No wonder he teamed up with Ken Bruzenak later on. Other creators in this issue include Steve Skeates (drawing, rather crudely, as well as writing), Alan Kupperberg and Scott Shaw!. Overall this issue is rather mediocre.

SPACE FAMILY ROBINSON #9 (Gold Key, 1964) – “The Creeping Greens,” [W] Gaylord Du Bois, [A] Dan Spiegle. I haven’t read this series before. I’d assumed it was an adaptation of Lost in Space, but in fact the reverse is true. Lost in Space was an unauthorized ripoff of Space Family Robinson, and Western Publishing later reached a settlement allowing them to add the title Lost in Space to the cover of Space Family Robinson. As for this actual comic book, “The Creeping Greens” is a well-crafted story by two excellent craftsmen. It’s not Magnus or Scooby-Doo, but it’s a fun comic, and I’d like to read more of this series.

SEA HUNT #11 (Dell, 1961) – “Canyon Danger” and “Davey Jones’s Ledger,” [W] Eric Freiwald & Robert Schaefer, [A] Russ Manning. At Mind the Gaps, I was sitting next to Andy Kunka as he was reading this comic, and I was like, is that a Russ Manning comic I don’t know about? I need to collect it! And he was kind enough to give it to me – it turns out it was a duplicate, and he took it to the conference to give it away. Sea Hunt is an adaptation of a 1958-1961 TV show about two adventurous divers. In general, it’s not the best showcase for Manning’s talents; there’s too much talk and too little action. However, the diving sequences are excellent. They allow Manning to depict the human body in action, which was one of the things he did best. Also, the second story includes a vivacious and proactive female character, who hires the two divers to find evidence to convict her employee of embezzlement.

PROXIMA CENTAURI #3 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Farel Dalrymple. As usual with this artist, this comic is beautifully drawn and includes some evocative storytelling about childhood, but its plot makes no sense.

LOCKE & KEY: CROWN OF SHADOWS #3 (IDW, 2010) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Gabriel Rodríguez. Tyler and Bode find a giant key – this will be important in a comic I’ll be reviewing later. Dodge finds another key that lets him turn shadows into monsters. Gabriel’s depictions of the shadows are just beautiful; they all look terrifying in different ways. This is a really awesome series, and I need to complete my run of it. The only problem is that it’s hard to remember the order of all the different miniseries.

SUPERB #12 (Lion Forge, 2018) – “We Could Be Heroes,” [W] David Walker, [A] Alitha Martinez. More of the same plot as last issue. It turns out that Kayla’s dad might not be as dead as he looks.

 

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