Reviews for late February and early March

Other comics I read after I wrote the previous reviews:

ATOMIC ROBO: THE FLYING SHE-DEVILS OF THE PACIFIC #5 (Red 5, 2012) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. Robo and the Flying She-Devils defeat some Imperial Japanese soldiers, but at the cost of many of the She-Devils’ lives. This is a fun issue, and the She-Devils are really cool characters, but this isn’t my favorite Atomic Robo story.

INVADERS #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “War Ghosts Part II,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Carlos Magno. The art in this issue is pretty good, especially the Atlantean architecture and clothing. But the story doesn’t tell us anything new or interesting about the characters. It’s just another “Namor invades the surface world” story. I’ve already quit ordering this series.

LEGION OF SUPER–HEROES VOL. 4 #125 (DC, 2000) – “Extinction Event,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Angel Unzueta. In the final issue of this volume, the Legion save the galaxy from the rift that’s destroying the stargates, but half the team is lost. This leads directly into Legion Lost. I have very mixed feelings about DnA’s Legion. It was skillfully written, but it didn’t feel like the Legion, primarily because they focused on a few characters (the three founders, Brainy and Jazmin) to the exclusion of all others. But at least their Legion was better than nothing, unlike the Legion/Bugs Bunny special. This issue may be the final appearance of Lori Morning; if so, good riddance.

DAREDEVIL #3 (Marvel, 2011) – “Sound and Fury,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Paolo Rivera. Matt battles Klaw, or rather a bunch of echoes of Klaw. That’s a really cool idea, and you can tell Mark has actually considered the implications of a man being made of solid sound. The artwork and the fight scenes in this issue are excellent. The depiction of legal procedure is not as good. Foggy Nelson is told his client, Jobrani, is hearing voices, which turn out to be Klaw. This makes Jobrani an “unreliable witness,” so Foggy drops him as a client and refuses to refer him to another lawyer. Then Jobrani can’t find another lawyer, so he has to represent himself in court, but Matt gets to coach him on how to do it. So this all seems rather contrived and inaccurate. And if Jobrani’s case is as much of a slam dunk as we’re told it is, then it’s not clear why the case even went to trial, rather than settling out of court.

TONGUES #1 (No Miracles, 2017) – “The Prisoner’s Dream” and other stories, [W/A] Anders Nilsen. An amazing comic. I haven’t read anything by Nilsen before, and I thought he was a minimalist, but his artwork and coloring in this issue are brilliant and highly detailed. The story is difficult but compelling. The issue begins with a conversation between a giant and a bird, who we soon realize are Prometheus and the vulture that eats his liver. The next segment is called ”Hercules” and depicts a boy walking through a desert. The last segment, “The Murderer,” depicts a Swahili-speaking girl who emerges out of a crashed vehicle in that same desert. It’s obvious that all these stories are connected, but I can’t tell how, or which comes first in chronological order. Apparently there’s a second issue of this. I need to look for it.

TWISTED SISTERS #1 (Kitchen Sink, 1994) – four stories, [E] Diane Noomin. The best of this issue’s four stories is Carol Tyler’s “Migrant Mother,” about a disastrous plane trip with a toddler. This story is affectionate and heartfelt, like all of Tyler’s work, but it’s also a sobering depiction of American society’s unfriendliness to parents and young children. Carol is exhausted and ill and can’t access her money or her diaper bag, and no one shows any willingness to help her. It’s funny, but it’s also not. The second best story is Mary Fleener’s survey of her experiences with surfing. It’s drawn in a mostly realistic style, with her trademark cubist style making only a few appearances. The other two stories, by Carel Moiseiwitsch and Fiona Smythe, are beautifully drawn but light on narrative.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #64 (Marvel, 1976) – “The Secret of Skull River!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Jim Starlin. This reprints the same story as True Believers: Conan – The Secret of Skull River. Amusingly, most of Conan and Nala’s sex scene is cut, probably because Conan #64 was Code-approved, and Savage Tales #5, in which the story originally appeared, is not. Also, Conan #64 is in color while Savage Tales #5 was black and white. However, the coloring is muddy and it makes the text hard to read.

NEW TALES OF OLD PALOMAR #1 (Fantagraphics, 2006) – “The Children of Palomar,” [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. I’m ashamed to say that I probably bought this when it came out, but I never read it until now. I have trouble motivating myself to read comics that are in larger-than-normal format. This week I tried to make a small dent in my stack of magazine-sized comics. New Tales of Old Palomar #1 includes two separate stories, both set before or just after the original “Heartbreak Soup.” The first of these is the origin of Tonantzín and Diana Villaseñor. In the second, Pipo saves Tonantzín and Diana from being blown up. These stories are in much the same style as the earliest Heartbreak Soup stories, and they include a lot of characters who hadn’t been seen in years, like Carmen, Heraclio and Chelo. So this issue is a nice piece of nostalgia.

NEW TALES OF OLD PALOMAR #2 (Fantagraphics, 2007) – “The Children of Palomar,” [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. This issue’s takes place long before “Heartbreak Soup,” when Gato, Manuel and their friends are still kids. The Palomar stories included magical realist elements from the beginning, but this issue is a departure from the other Palomar stories because it’s science fictional. While exploring outside town, Gato, Manuel and Pintor are kidnapped by weird blond-haired people in spacesuits, and they have visions of their future deaths. Chelo risks her own life to rescue them. We’re never told who the spacesuited people are, and the story leaves the reader feeling mystified. Notably, at the end of the issue, Pintor says, “At least Manuel and I die in Palomar and we get to become ghosts. Gato dies in the U.S.A. and that’s it.” That implies that people can only become ghosts if they die in Palomar. But I think Tonantzín is a counterexample to that; she appears as a ghost at the end of “Human Diastrophism,” and she didn’t die in Palomar.

INVINCIBLE #144 (Image, 2019) – “The End of All Things Part Twelve,” [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Ryan Ottley & Cory Walker. The final issue of Invincible reminds me why I liked it in the first place. The issue begins with Mark’s first meeting with Marky, the son conceived when Anissa raped him, and then we flash forward to a series of scenes from Mark’s future. Mark becomes a benevolent Viltrumite emperor, turning the empire into a force for good. Meanwhile, Marky becomes the new Invincible, but grows to resent his father’s absence. This issue is full of touching scenes that remind us of the series’ long history; a particular highlight is when Art Rosenbaum makes Marky’s costume. It also suggests a lot of intriguing stories that could have been told if Kirkman hadn’t decided to end the series. If Invincible had had more cute, entertaining issues like this, and less of the blood and gore and violence that dominated the series from the Viltrumite War onward, then I wouldn’t have quit reading it.

EX MACHINA #20 (DC, 2006) – “March of War Conclusion,” [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Tony Harris. I’m not sure what the plot of this issue is, but it seems quite well-written and well-drawn. However, this series has not aged nearly as well as Y: The Last Man, because it’s so tied to the Bush era and the aftermath of 9/11. This issue draws upon the then-current fear of Islamic terrorism, which now seems like far less of a threat than domestic terrorism. At one point in the issue, Mitchell tells a terrorist, “I’m not giving you the satisfaction of… of seventy-two virgins.” I don’t think BKV would write a line like that today.

GORILLA-MAN #3 (Marvel, 2010) – “The Serpent and the Hawk, Part 3,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Giancarlo Caracuzzo. I’ve had this comic for years without reading it, and I should have read it sooner, because it’s really fun. It’s an exciting adventure comic with a talking gorilla for a hero. The highlight of the issue is when Ken Hale refers to some female gorillas as “naked hotties.”

RAW #3 (Raw, 1981) – various stories, [E] Françoise Mouly & Art Spiegelman. Besides chapter two of Maus, the highlight of this issue is Muñoz and Sampayo’s “Mister Wilcox and Mister Conrad,” about an assassin who befriends his victim and then kills him for unexplained reasons. This story’s ending is predictable, but that only makes the killer’s actions more disturbing, and Muñoz’s art is brilliant. This is one of the “Joe’s Bar” stories, which, to my knowledge, were never published in English in collected form. Other artists in this issue are Charles Burns, Ever Meulen and Javier Mariscal. Mariscal’s silent story “Crash” is especially notable for how it exploits the giant tabloid size of the pages. It includes one of the physically largest two-page splashes I’ve ever seen.

U.S.AVENGERS #5 (Marvel, 2017) – “Meet the New Boss,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Paco Diaz. Unfortunately this issue is a Secret Empire crossover. In his interview with Roberto da Costa, Captain America acts really creepy and arrogant and overbearing, and it’s almost a relief to realize that this is the Hydra Cap and not the real thing. Also in this issue, Squirrel Girl fights Arthur Nagan, and there’s a scene with Cannonball and his wife Smasher and their son. I know Cannonball was created more than thirty years ago, but he still seems like a kid to me, and it’s strange to see him as a father.

STRANGE EMBRACE #4 (Image, 2007) – untitled, [W/A] David Hine. Anthony’s marriage to Sarah collapses, and Sarah starts getting suspiciously close to Anthony’s father. It’s strongly implied that Sarah becomes pregnant by her own father-in-law. Then Anthony’s father dies, after revealing that Anthony’s mother is still alive. There’s a backup story about a man who lives on rooftops.

STRANGE EMBRACE #5 – as above. The flashback to Anthony Corbeau’s youth ends with Sarah’s violent death, and then we return to Alex’s conversation with Sukumar. In another sequence of nested flashbacks, Alex finds Sarah’s diary and reads about how her marriage to Anthony was a cruel bait-and-switch; it was never consummated, because Anthony only cared about his African figurines. We’re getting closer to the heart of this creepy horror masterpiece, but this was the last issue I had. I need to get the other three as soon as I can.

MOTHER PANIC #3 (DC, 2017) – “A Work in Progress, Part 3,” [W] Jody Houser, [A] Tommy Lee Edwards. I wish I’d stopped ordering this series. This issue is just a thoroughly average superhero comic with nothing especially new about it. I think Jody Houser’s main strength is in writing optimistic, inspiring comics like Faith and Spider-Girls. A grim, gritty superhero comic set in Gotham City is not the best use of her talents.

SWEET TOOTH #18 (Vertigo, 2011) – “The Adventures of the Boy and the Big Man,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. This issue has a sideways format, and includes some pages of text written from Gus’s perspective. Jeff Lemire effectively depicts the perspective of a child with a bizarre upbringing. It’s clear that Gus’s understanding of the world is limited, but that he has strong feelings and values, and is not okay with some of Jepperd’s actions. The emotional high point of the issue is when Jepperd is about to kill a man, and Gus intervenes and shames Jepperd into letting the man go. Oh, and the issue ends with an adorable scene of Gus and his companions playing in the snow.

18 DAYS #5 (Graphic India, 2015) – “Vimana Wars,” [W] Gotham Chopra & Ashwin Pande, [A] Jeevan J. Kang. This issue covers the first day of the Kurukshetra war. The main event is a battle between Shalya and Krishna’s teenage son Abhimanyu. Shalya looks very creepy, and Abhimanyu is a cute kid. Other than that, this is a pretty boring comic.

ATOMIC ROBO: KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE #3 (Red 5, 2014) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. This is my least favorite Atomic Robo miniseries. I just don’t much like the Wild West setting. This issue, Robo, Doc Holliday and Bass Reeves fight some outlaws on a train.

ATOMIC ROBO: KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE #5 – as above. Robo and his companions fight some battlesuited Germans inside a flying zeppelin. The issue ends with Robo dying in battle, but he arranges to have his head preserved and sent to Tesladyne in 2014. And that brings us up to the beginning of Ring of Fire, which was when I started reading Atomic Robo consistently.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #189 (Marvel, 1979) – “Mayhem by Moonlight!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] John Byrne. This issue is most notable for a scene where Peter and Betty Brant are implied to have had sex off-panel. As far as I know, that had never happened before and would never happen again. Besides that, this is an unimpressive issue. The plot is that JJJ thinks John Jameson is dead, and is frantically searching for his killer, but it turns out John is alive and has been turned into a “mummified marauder.” Marv was a very poor Spider-Man writer, and although John Byrne was at the peak of his career in 1979, his artwork in this issue is ruined by Jim Mooney’s half-assed inking.

New comics received on March 8:

PAPER GIRLS #26 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Cliff Chiang. I think this is the last story arc. At the end of #25, the girls were all sent to different time periods. Erin finds herself in the present (i.e. 2019) or the near future. The other girls are sent to the ‘50s, the final days of Earth, and the slightly less far future. I have no idea how BKV can resolve all this series’s plot threads in just a few more issues, but I look forward to finding out.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #75 (IDW, 2019) – “Cosmos, Part 1: It Isn’t Me Doing This,” [W] Katie Cook, [A] Andy Price. With the recent announcement that the upcoming MLP:FIM season will be the final one, it seems likely that this will be the final milestone issue of the MLP:FIM comic. Therefore, it’s appropriate that this issue features the return of the best MLP writer and artist. And “Cosmos” is just as funny and as ambitious as their previous epic storylines. This issue introduces Cosmos, Discord’s even more powerful stalker/ex-girlfriend. Many years ago, Discord got rid of her by turning her into six jewels. But when Twilight finds one of the jewels, it possesses her and turns her into Cosmos, and she manipulates her friends into collecting the other five. It’s an impressive setup. Besides that, this issue is full of Katie and Andy’s trademark crowd scenes and Easter eggs and metatextual moments.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “The King in the Cage,” [W Jason Aaron, [A] Gerardo Zaffino. This artist is the son of the late Jorge Zaffino, who was a notable cartoonist in both Argentina and the U.S. This issue takes place just after Conan became king of Aquilonia, before his marriage to Zenobia. (Incidentally, I’ve never read the story of how Conan killed Numedides and seized his throne. That happened in de Camp and Carter’s Conan the Liberator, which was adapted in the #50s of Savage Sword of Conan.) Conan finds that kingship is tedious and oppressive, so he spends his nights hunting down and killing criminals, accompanied by a lion. While doing this, he disguises himself with a mask that looks suspiciously similar to the Punisher’s logo. This is my least favorite issue of this series so far, but it’s not bad.

GIANT DAYS #48 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] John Allison. Max Sarin’s artwork has become so central to this series that it looks weird when John Allison draws his own characters. This issue, the girls go to McGraw’s brother’s wedding, and a lot of drama ensues. The best part about this issue is how Esther and Daisy stay in a frog-themed hotel whose owner mistakes them for a lesbian couple.

THE GREEN LANTERN #5 (DC, 2019) – “Blackstar at Zenith,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. Hal goes through a bizarre ordeal to become a Blackstar. At the end of the issue, there’s a flashback where we learn that Hal is joining the Blackstars to hunt down a double agent, and then Hal, newly initiated into the Blackstars, is ordered to kill Adam Strange. This issue is a reasonably effective horror story, but it’s not as fun or interesting as the last few issues. At one point in the issue, Hal claims that Countess Belzebeth’s father was killed by Green Arrow. I don’t think anyone knows yet who her father was.

FEMALE FURIES #2 (DC, 2019) – “Nasty Woman,” [W] Cecil Castellucci, [A] Adriana Melo. Before I got Female Furies #2, I read a Facebook post by Corrina Lawson in which she harshly criticized this issue, pointing out that it’s potentially triggering to sexual assault survivors. I don’t know what I would have thought of the issue if I hadn’t read Corrina’s comments first, but now that I have read her take on it, I can’t read it any other way. This issue is one of the most disturbing comics DC has ever published. Aurelie is repeatedly raped by Willik, and there’s nothing she can do about it. She tells everyone that he’s raping her, but they don’t believe her; rather, they shame her for being weak, and act like the situation is her fault. As I type those sentences, I feel disgusted and angry all over again. And that’s aproblem. The thing is, I know that horrible situations like this happen in real life. Every day, women get raped and don’t report it, or they report it and aren’t believed. It’s important to document these things, so that people know they happen. However, I don’t believe that a superhero comic is the right place for such a brutal depiction of rape – especially not a superhero comic with bright coloring and Jack Kirby characters. Depicting rape in this context trivializes it, and also runs the risk of further traumatizing readers who have suffered similar things themselves. I think DC really should not have published this comic, at least not without alerting readers to its content. I certainly won’t be reading any more of this series, except issue 3, which I already ordered. I’m also surprised that Cecil Castellucci wrote this comic, because none of her other work includes any of this sort of content.

BLACK HAMMER ’45 #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ray Fawkes w/ Jeff Lemire, [A] Matt Kindt. I was disappointed to see that this was written by Ray Fawkes and not Jeff himself, because the last time I read a Ray Fawkes comic, I couldn’t make head or tail of it. But this issue is very clearly written and interesting. It’s more or less the Black Hammer version of Blackhawk, except the Blackhawk characters have some kind of bizarre, disturbing secret. It’s weird seeing Matt Kindt’s artwork on a comic he didn’t write, but he seems like an appropriate artist for this story.

RONIN ISLAND #1 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. This new miniseries takes place on an island populated by refugees from all over East Asia, who fled there after some kind of apocalypse. The protagonists are a teenage boy and girl who have a fierce rivalry. Just after their coming of age ceremony, the island is invaded by the shogun of Japan, and then by some kind of zombies. This is a really fun debut issue, and this series looks like it’ll be a strong follow-up to Mech Cadet Yu. The protagonists of this series remind me of Team Avatar, and I think Greg Pak would be a good writer of Avatar comics.

MORNING IN AMERICA #1 (Oni, 2019) – “The Sick Sisters: One Week Before the End of the World,” [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Claudia Aguirre. Mags Visaggio’s latest creator-owned series stars a group of juvenile delinquent girls, and is set in Ohio’s Rust Belt in 1983. There’s a mysterious new factory in town, and kids keep disappearing, and no one knows why. It’s up to the Sick Sisters to investigate. I just realized that this series’s title is a reference to Reagan’s “New Morning in America.” This is a promising first issue, and it certainly has much better art than Vagrant Queen did.

DIE #4 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Stephanie Hans. The party members arrive at Glass Town (a name derived from the Brontës’ juvenile writings), where they hang out in a bar. This is an entertaining issue, but much less substantial than #3.

ADVENTURES OF THE SUPER SONS #8 (DC, 2019) – “Jailhouse Rocked,” [W] Peter J. Tomasi, [A] Carlo Barberi. Damian and Jon escape Takron-Galtos with the aid of Kid Joker and a cadet Green Lantern, Al-X. As usual, this is a really fun issue. The best part is that Al-X is 104 years old and has 67 siblings, but doesn’t know how long ten seconds is.

DOMINO: HOTSHOTS #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Cold War Part 1,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] David Baldeón. Two scientists find an artifact that gives them the power of a Celestial. To deal with the threat, Domino forms a team consisting of her old teammates from the previous series, plus Black Widow and White Fox. (I don’t know if the latter is a new character or not.) I was on the fence about whether to order this series, but this issue is reasonably good.

SAUCER COUNTRY #12 (Vertigo, 2013) – “President’s Day,” [W] Paul Cornell, [A] Ryan Kelly. The Democratic presidential candidate discovers that her advisor, Professor Kidd, has been seeing visions of the Pioneer plaque aliens. The professor kills himself. Also, lots of other stuff happens that I didn’t quite understand. This series is just okay; as a science-fictional political drama, it’s inferior to Letter 44. The opening scene of this issue seems to take place in Minneapolis, because you can see the Foshay Tower and the AT&T Tower in Professor Kidd’s window.

THE DREAMING #7 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Love, Part 1,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Abigail Larson. My favorite issue yet. This issue focuses on Rose Walker, who has been cursed with a series of unfulfilling relationships, and her daughter Ivy, who she was pregnant with at the end of The Sandman. While visiting her dying mother, Rose meets another patient who I’m guessing is Lucien, and she tells him the story of Ivy’s romance with a young man who is obviously Daniel. This comic makes good use of a number of plot threads from The Sandman, and it’s also an interesting meditation on desire. It also includes an appearance from capital-D Desire. In this issue Daniel goes by a name that sounds like Olly Luckyjay. I had no idea what this name meant, so I asked Simon Spurrier on Twitter, and he was kind enough to reply and tell me to Google “Ole Lukøje.” It turns out that this was the name of Hans Christian Andersen’s version of the Sandman – and appropriately, that character also had a sibling named Death.

RED SONJA #2 (Dynamite, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Russell, [A] Mirko Colak. This comic still shows a total lack of knowledge of REH’s world, and its versions of Red Sonja and Shadizar are unrecognizable. In order to enjoy this comic, you have to pretend that it’s just a generic barbarian comic and that it’s not called Red Sonja. If you do that, then it becomes a clever and entertaining story about imperialism. I do think it’s odd that this comic is so unfaithful to its source material. One of the reasons Mark Russell’s earlier works have been so successful is that they show a deep knowledge of their sources (the Flintstones, the Lone Ranger, etc.), while also turning those sources into political allegories.

THE GIRL IN THE BAY #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Time’s Malice,” [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Corin Howell. Katherine Sartori confronts her older self, but then the older self is murdered by Hugh Lansky. Meanwhile, the younger Katherine meets the ghost of a rock star named Winston Burton. As noted before, I have mixed feelings about J.M. DeMatteis’s creator-owned work, but so far this miniseries is very interesting.

UNNATURAL #8 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Mirka Andolfo. This issue includes some more plot twists, but I’ve realized that I’m just not interested in this series anymore, and I don’t care what happens to the characters. I’m not willing to stay with this comic for four more issues. I’ve cancelled my order of issue 9.

SUPERMAN/BATMAN “BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE DAY” SPECIAL EDITION 1 (DC, 2016) – “The World’s Finest,” [W] Jeph Loeb, [A] Ed McGuinness. This reprints Superman/Batman #1. Given my low regard for Jeph Loeb, I expected to dislike this comic, but it was surprisingly good. It’s a very simple but effective superhero story. It begins by establishing the central contrasts between Superman and Batman, and then throws them into a battle with Metallo. This issue is very fun and well-executed, and would be a good introduction to these characters for new readers.

IMAGE FIRSTS: BIRTHRIGHT #1 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Another comic that was much better than I expected. A little boy disappears in a forest, and his father is blamed for his murder, even though there’s no evidence. Then the boy reappears, except now he’s an adult, bearded, tattooed barbarian warrior. In a flashback, we see how he was transported to the fantasy world of Terrenos, where he became a hero. Except it turns out he’s not a hero, but an agent of a demon lord. I don’t think this is as good as Skyward or Die or early Rat Queens, but it seems like a well-done epic fantasy story, and I’d be interested in reading more of it.

COPPERHEAD #7 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Jay Faerber, [A] Scott Godlewski. Sheriff Clara goes on a date with a local schoolteacher, then takes him home to bed, but they’re interrupted by a home invasion. Meanwhile, Budroxifinicus is kidnapped by criminals. This is a fairly entertaining issue. See also the review of #6 below.

SOUTHERN CROSS #3 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Becky Cloonan, [A] Andy Belanger. Another painfully dull issue. I think I do understand this comic’s plot now, I just don’t care about it. Becky Cloonan’s dialogue is trite and wooden, and her characters are flat. Andy Belanger’s art is excellent, but it’s wasted on Cloonan’s story.

GIRL CRAZY #1 (Dark Horse, 1996) – “What’s Knittin’, Kitten?” and other chapters, [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. This issue introduces us to three protagonists, each approaching her 16th birthday. Kitten is an IRS agent in a gorilla suit, Maribel is a barbarian, and Gaby is a lawyer in the 1950s. They decide to team up to rescue their fourth teammate, Una, from prison. Like much of Gilbert’s later work, this comic is completely absurdist. It takes place in a world where time travel and giant monsters are taken for granted, and where the IRS resorts to supernatural means to collect taxes. But unlike Blubber, for example, this comic has an identifiable plot, and while its narrative premises are absurd, it applies those premises consistently. I want to read the other two issues of this miniseries.

MS. TREE #8 (Eclipse, 1984) – “The Cold Dish” chapters 9 and 10, [W] Max Allan Collins, [A] Terry Beatty. Ms. Tree rescues her kidnapped stepson Mike Jr, but the boy’s grandfather is killed in the process – which is not surprising, because that character doesn’t appear in later issues. This comic has a brutal, unpolished sensibility that really appeals to me, and Terry Beatty’s somewhat crude art is more appropriate than a slicker style of art would have been. This issue also includes some unpublished daily strips by Max Collins and veteran comic strip artist Ray Gotto.

SENSATION COMICS #13 (DC, 2015) – “Besties,” [W] Barbara Randall Kesel, [A] Irene Koh, Emma Vieceli & Laura Braga. This is really not good. The entire issue is devoted to a battle between Wonder Woman and Superwoman from Earth-3, with three young women for an audience. Each of its three chapters is by a different artist. Throughout the issue, Diana acts uncharacteristically arrogant, rude and prideful. She claims that she’s the best, and that she’s beaten everyone. She also says that she’d fight crime naked if it didn’t detract from her message. I have no idea what message the writer was trying to send by portraying Diana in this way. As a minor note, the writer also seems to think that “docced” is a word.

ELFQUEST: THE FINAL QUEST #12 (Dark Horse, 2015) – untitled, [W/A] Wendy Pini, [W] Richard Pini. This isn’t the worst issue of this series, but it’s not particularly good either, and its story is difficult or impossible to follow. This series is strictly for hardcore fans, which I am not.

GEORGE PEREZ’S SIRENS #3 (Boom!, 2015) – untitled, [W/A] George Pérez. Another issue full of spectacular art by the greatest living superhero artist. Unfortunately, it also has an incoherent and confusing story, although as noted in my review of #2, the story is just an excuse. This issue does have an interesting metatextual sequence that’s framed as a comic book drawn by a character in the story. This sequence includes some pages reproduced from Gentleman George’s pencils.

THE NEW AVENGERS #3 (Marvel, 2015) – “The Dark Is Rising,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Gerardo Sandoval. This issue has the same irreverent sense of humor as USAvengers, and includes two characters, Sunspot and Squirrel Girl, who would later appear in that series. The reason I ordered this issue was because of Squirrel Girl, although she plays a fairly minor role in this issue. However, New Avengers is inferior to USAvengers because Gerardo Sandoval’s artwork is ugly and makes ineffective use of its obvious manga influences. This issue’s plot is that some Skrulls kidnap Hulkling so he can be their new emperor. There’s also a brief discussion of how Wiccan’s code name is offensive.

THE WEATHER MAN #4 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jody LeHeup, [A] Nathan Fox. I should have bailed on this series after issue 3. This issue is confusing, excessively violent, and pointless. The only thing this series has going for it is Nathan Fox’s art.

THE WEATHER MAN #5 – as above. Nathan Bright/Ian Black has been kidnapped by a talk show host, who subjects him to horrible tortures. The orange-haired woman in the white costume tries to rescue him, but she has to beat some villains first. The issue ends with the talk show host being sliced in half.

THE WEATHER MAN #6 – as above. More pointless violence and gore. The storyline ends on a cliffhanger, but I have no intention of reading the next story arc.

COPPERHEAD #6 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Jay Faerber, [A] Scott Godlewski. A low-key day-in-the-life issue that sets up the plotlines from #7 and #8. (I have unfortunately been reading this series in reverse order.) We also see that Clara’s son has been delivering food to a mysterious vagabond. This series feels like an attempt to capitalize on the success of Saga, but it’s an entertaining comic in its own right. I also ordered #9 and #10, and I will need to read those and then track down issues 11 through 16.

THE SANDMAN #16 (DC, 1990) – “Lost Hearts,” [W] Neil Gaiman, [A] Mike Dringenberg. This issue leads directly into some of the plot threads from The Dreaming #7. I already read it a long time ago, but it was fun to revisit it in that context. In this issue, Unity sacrifices herself so Morpheus doesn’t have to kill Rose. Morpheus then figures out that Desire was Rose’s grandfather, and was trying to trick Morpheus into killing his own relative. This issue also includes Fiddler’s Green, one of the series’ best minor characters (or settings). Mike Dringenberg was perhaps the least successful of all the major artists on this series, but his art is somehow perfect for this storyline.

Two more weeks of reviews

New comics received on February 22:

LUMBERJANES #59 (Boom!, 2019) – “The Life of the Party,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] AnneMarie Rogers. The boating party finds Seafarin’ Karen, but her ship is in the clutches of a sea serpent, and when they try to get the ship free, the serpent eats them all. (Though of course they don’t die.) Meanwhile, preparations for the play are not going well. This was another fun issue, but other than the sea serpent, there was little in it that was new or surprising.

MONSTRESS #20 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. The Warlord and Tuya are unhappily married. Lots of other stuff happens that’s hard to understand, and at the end, Maika meets a man claiming to be her father. This issue was exciting, but confusing. I didn’t realize until just now that the “Baroness” who Corwin accuses of betraying Maika is none other than Tuya.

UNSTOPPABLE WASP #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] GuriHiru. Nadia’s friends try to snap her out of her manic episode, but it doesn’t work; she beats them up and retreats into her microworld. Understandably exasperated with Nadia and afraid for their own safety, most of the GIRL agents decide to leave Nadia alone for now and go take care of themselves. But Priya puts on a Wasp suit and goes to find Nadia, who is now in the depressive part of her cycle. She sees herself as the villain of her own story, and thinks that things are never going to get better. Priya talks Nadia out of a suicide attempt, and the issue ends with a cathartic group hug. Unstoppable Wasp #4 and #5 are probably the high point of Jeremy’s career so far. These two issues are a powerful and sympathetic portrayal of mental illness. I think the most powerful part of the story is Priya and Nadia’s heart-to-heart talk, but this entire story sets a benchmark for the representation of mental illness in superhero comics.

SHURI #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “The End of the Earth,” [W] Nnedi Okorafor, [A] Leonardo Romero. This story’s title is a traditional epithet for Timbuktu, whose name used to be a byword for a remote and inaccessible place. I think I read that on Nnedi’s social media. This issue, Shuri and Iron Man have to deal with both the space bug and Moses Magnum. (I was surprised to learn that Moses Magnum is Ethiopian, but it seems that’s been true since his first appearance.) This is a really fun issue, and I’m starting to enjoy Shuri as much as LaGuardia. I especially like the scene in the library; it reminds the reader that far from being the middle of nowhere, Timbuktu used to be the “academic hub of the world.” A couple miscellaneous notes: I initially thought the headline in Wakandan script was in a real African script. For research purposes, I forced myself to watch R*****d M***r’s video about this issue, and it made me so mad I couldn’t see straight.

EXORSISTERS #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ian Boothby, [A] Gisèle Lagacé. Cate and Kate confront the encroaching First Shadow, and at the end of the issue they find themselves in heaven. This is a fun issue, but it’s nothing especially new.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garrón. It’s weird to be reading this comic at the same time I’m playing the PS4 Spider-Man game, in which Rhino is a villain. This issue, Miles and Rhino rescue the kidnapped kids with the aid of Captain America, who Saladin writes perfectly. The kidnapper, Snatcher, turns out to be a typical “strong borders” dudebro. Also, there’s an appearance by Cap’s congressman, Marisol Hurtado-Montes, whose name sounds oddly similar to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

RAINBOW BRITE #4 (Dynamite, 2019) – untitled,  [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Xenia Pamfil. Wisp befriends Red Flare and gets a new costume that makes her look like a roller derby star. Also, Starlite the horse turns out to be a huge prima donna. Willow still doesn’t appear in this issue, though she at least gets mentioned. I continue to think that the color symbolism in this comic is unfortunate.

MIDDLEWEST #4 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. At the carnival, Abel and the fox don’t find Mystical Magdalena. But they do meet the series’ first major female character, as well as her robot companion. I don’t think her name has been mentioned yet. This was a fun issue.

CATWOMAN #8 (DC, 2019) – “Something Smells Fishy Part 2 of 2,” [W] Joëlle Jones, [A] Elena Casagrande. Selina beats up some woman and steals the reliquary she was guarding. It’s weird that this issue is labeled as 2 of 2, because it doesn’t feel like a conclusion to anything.

CODA #9 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Matías Bergara. I guess this comic’s protagonist is named Hum, though I don’t recall that ever being mentioned in the actual comic. This issue, Hum has been robbed of his purpose in life, so he goes back to the bathtub mermaid lady to find something else to do. But it turns out that she’s in league with the giant that’s been pillaging all the towns, and she kidnaps him. I’m a little fuzzy on the specific details of the plot, but this has been a really enjoyable series, with fantastic art.

GRUMBLE #4 (Albatross, 2019) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. I’m starting to really enjoy this comic. It’s just so fun, and the comic interplay between Tala and Eddie is hilarious. This issue, they have a giant car chase with the Imp’s goons, and three green-skinned alien dudes are also hunting them. The best part of the issue is how Eddie’s car’s license plate keeps commenting on what’s going on. For example, when the car crashes through an outdoor market, the license plate says SORRY!

BLACK BADGE #7 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Tyler Jenkins. The Black Badges discover that the White Badges are traitors. Then they win the field day competition, but their “reward” is a vacation, which prevents them from carrying out operations against the White Badges. This is a reasonably exciting issue. The line “Kenny – oh my god! You monsters!” is hilarious. The first page includes an erroneous reference to “fifteen Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientists.”

HOT LUNCH SPECIAL #5 (AfterShock, 2019) – “The Family Business,” [W] Eliot Rahal, [A] Jorge Fornés. The rivalry between the two crime families comes to a bloody conclusion, and the patriarch of the Khoury family sacrifices his life to save his children. This is an okay ending to the series, but it was just an average crime comic. It never did anything exciting with its rural Minnesota setting or its characters’ Lebanese background.

BITTER ROOT #4 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] David F. Walker, [A] Sanford Greene. This issue is mostly a bunch of fight scenes, but it also introduces a new type of monster called inzondo, which are to black people what jinoo are to white people. This issue includes an essay by my friend and fellow comics scholar Qiana Whitted.

SUPERB #17 (Lion Forge, 2019) – “Undisputed Truths,” [W] David F. Walker, [A] Alitha Martinez. The flashback scenes that begin every issue of this current storyline are better than the actual main story. This issue, Jonah’s Little League coach refuses to let him play, and his teammates also refuse to play in solidarity. In the main story, Jonah fights Cipher, and one of his teammates gets killed. I hope it’s the one who was being mean to him. The Cosmosis backup story is, as usual, a waste of space.

AQUAMAN #45 (DC, 2019) – “Unspoken Water Part 3 of 5,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha. I was thinking of dropping this comic. It was starting to remind me of Pretty Deadly, which I never much liked. But this issue is an improvement. The mythological account of Namma and Caille’s origins is quite effective; it feels like an actual myth. And Robson Rocha’s art is quite good. I’m going to give this a few more issues at least.

LUCIFER #5 (Vertigo, 2019) – “The Man Who Bested the Devil Not Once But Twice,” [W] Dan Watters, [A] Max Fiumara & Sebastian Fiumara. This issue introduces the folklore character of Stingy Jack, who tricked the devil into exempting him from hell, but couldn’t go to heaven either. As usual with this series, the individual pieces of its story are fascinating, but it’s impossible to tell how these pieces fit together. I’m only reading this series because DCBS’s package deal allows me to get it essentially for free.

THE LONE RANGER #5 (Dynamite, 2019) – “Trail of Blood,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Bob Q. The Lone Ranger and Tonto save the day by paying off all the evil ranchers’ gunmen, none of whom liked their employers much anyway. At the end, Tonto describes America as “a land forever busy building gateways and fences. And I can’t always tell which is which.” The reference to contemporary politics is obvious. This was another pretty good series, though perhaps not as good as Snagglepuss or Flintstones.

MARS ATTACKS #5 (Dynamite, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kyle Starks, [A] Chris Schweizer. Young Carbutt successfully reaches the military base with his Martian prisoner, and gets picked to lead a combat mission to Mars. So he’s following his father’s wishes, though only after his father is dead. This was a fun series. The opening sequence, where Carbutt is leading the Martian at gunpoint while battles rage in the background, includes some of Chris’s best art in this series.

HIGH LEVEL #1 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Chapter One: Onida,” [W] Rob Sheridan, [A] Barnaby Bagenda. A series set in a postapocalyptic world where a small population of privileged people enjoy a carefree life in High Level, while everyone else struggles to survive. The protagonist, Thirteen, has to take a refugee child back to High Level. This issue did not impress me. Its setup is not especially original, and Rob Sheridan’s dialogue is boring and trite. If this series doesn’t get better in a hurry, I’m going to stop ordering both it and Lucifer, and I’ll get the other Vertigo titles on an a la carte basis.

AMERICAN CARNAGE #4 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Animals,” [W] Bryan Hill, [A] Leandro Fernandez. Another difficult but brilliant issue. Jennifer finally gets fed up with Richard and throws him out of their car, and then the Obama mask dude apparently kills him. The next issue blurb makes it obvious that Richard isn’t dead, but I look forward to seeing how he survives. Meanwhile, Jennifer’s dad has trouble with one of his fellow white terrorists. Also, Richard tells Angel a touching fairy tale. This series reminds me of Southern Bastards because its plot is driven by the internal rivalries between two horrible criminals.

BLACK PANTHER #5 (Marvel, 1999) – “Lord of the Damned,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] Vince Evans. This series is hard to follow, but I’m finally starting to understand it. This issue, T’Challa and Everett Ross battle Mephisto in hell, and T’Challa defeats Mephisto by calling on his ancestor’s souls. We also get some flashbacks to Klaw’s invasion of Wakanda and T’Chaka’s death.

ETHER: THE COPPER GOLEMS #3 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. Boone and his pals defeat a copper golem inside a volcano, then they head to a realm based on Egypt. I really enjoyed this issue, unlike the previous two. It just felt more fun somehow, and David Rubín’s art in this issue is spectacular. The highlight is a page where Boone and friends are riding a giant fish labeled “Sea Cab,” while Boone is commenting, “Wonderful, isn’t it? What the human imagination can come up with?” Rubín is a superstar in his native Spain, and he should be a superstar here too.

A-FORCE #10 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Paulo Siqueira & Joe Bennett. This series began very promisingly, but it soon petered out, and the only really memorable thing about it was Singularity. She plays a part in this final issue, but the plot is mostly about a town where the people have been turned into giant bug monsters. To save the town, Elsa Bloodstone lets herself be turned into a monster too – just like the woman in the first West Coast Avengers storyline who doesn’t want her transformation into a monster to be reversed. I don’t know if tis is a coincidence or not.

CAPTAIN KID #4 (AfterShock, 2017) – “He’ll Live,” [W] Mark Waid & Tom Peyer, [A] Brent Peeples. The main event this issue is that Captain Kid has to save his elderly father, who doesn’t know his secret identity. This scene is touching, but Captain Kid suffered from a lack of a clear direction or theme. It was sort of a dry run for the current Ahoy titles, which are much more coherent and focused.

LOVE ROMANCES #1 (Marvel, 2019) – four stories, [E] Mark Paniccia. A weird and perplexing comic. I guess this was intended as an homage to old Marvel romance comics, but it seems to lack a coherent focus. The first story, written by Gail, is a steampunk romance story that doesn’t make much logical sense. Next is a silent ghost story by two artists, including French cartoonist Margaux Motin, whose graphic memoir Plate Tectonics is forthcoming from Archaia. I didn’t quite understand this story either. Next is a Romeo-and-Juliet romance story with a gruesome twist ending, written by Dennis Hopeless (although it’s not totally clear which credits correspond to which story). The highlight of the issue is the last story, by Jon Adams, about two lovers who have themselves turned into robots. I haven’t heard of this creator before, but I liked this story enough that I’d be interested in reading more of his work.

SUKEBAN TURBO #4 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sylvain Runberg, [A] Victor Santos. Sam publicly beats up the girl he slept with in an earlier issue, tanking his career. Meanwhile, Shelby becomes a big-time mob enforcer. This wasn’t the best comic ever, but it was well-crafted and entertaining.

ETHER: THE COPPER GOLEMS #4 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. Boone and Grandor defeat a giant Copper Golem by climbing inside it. Then, looking for the last portal, they meet the “Master Storyteller,” who sends each of them into a dream sequence. Each sequence is drawn in a different style. I love it when artists use multiple styles in the same story, and David Rubín does it very well here. I espsecially like Glum’s sequence, which uses a cartoony style.

ETHER: THE COPPER GOLEMS #5 (Dark Horse, 2018) – as above. Boone and friends close the last portal, but it turns out their enemy Lord Ubel has become the new Golden Blaze, and he exiles Boone from the Ether. Back on Earth, Boone discovers that one of his daughters has died and the other wants nothing to do with him, but she gives him some food he can eat in the Ether. So Boone doesn’t belong anywhere now. There’s going to be a third miniseries, The Disappearance of Violet Bell, but it hasn’t been solicited yet.

GO-BOTS #4 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Tom Scioli. This issue finally makes sense of the previous issue: it turns out this story is taking place far in the future, and humans have devolved into animals. There’s a sequence where some Go-Bots are trying to make humans transform or combine. When I read this comic, it didn’t stand out to me, but when it was shared out of context on Facebook, I realized how bizarre it was. But I’ve gotten used to the sheer insanity of Tom Scioli’s work. This issue also introduces the Rock Lords to the storyline.

THE CHRONICLES OF CORUM: THE KNIGHT OF THE SWORDS #1 (First, 1987) – untitled, [W] Mike Baron, [A] Mike Mignola. It’s been a long time since I read the book this is based on. To go off on a tangent, I bought that book at the old DreamHaven location in uptown Minneapolis. I used to love uptown Minneapolis because there were so many bookstores and comic book stores there, all in close proximity: the Comic Book College, the Nostalgia Zone, BookSmart, Magers & Quinn, the Calhoun Square Borders, and a bit further away, DreamHaven. Now all those stores except Magers & Quinn have either closed or moved elsewhere. It makes me sad to think how much harder it is today to find quality bookstores. Anyway, this is a fairly effective adaptation, though Mignola hadn’t yet developed his mature style. The Knight of the Swords is not one of Moorcock’s better works, and I never felt motivated to read the other five Corum novels.

SCALPED #27 (Vertigo, 2009) – “The Ballad of Baylis Earl Nitz: High Lonesome Part 3 of 5,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Francesco Francavilla. I just read a book that discusses Scalped, so I was able to understand this issue’s story, even though I’ve only read one other issue of the series. This issue focuses on the main antagonist, the FBI agent who is investigating the long-ago murders of his two colleagues (based on the real murders for which Leonard Peltier was convicted). Throughout the issue we see that Nitz is devoted to his colleagues’ memories above everything else, even his own family. At first it seems like he’s a noble and dedicated man, who cares about his fallen comrades to the point of obsession. But then we learn why Nitz worships Bayer and Berntson so much: because they corrupted him. When a criminal stabbed Nitz, Bayer and Berntson kidnapped the criminal so that Nitz could murder him. It’s a brutal shock ending to a powerful story, whose only fault is the artwork. Francesco Francavilla is a brilliant artist, but he’s not suited to a realistic crime story. I can clearly see how Scalped prefigures Southern Bastards, and I want to read more of Scalped.

U.S.AVENGERS #4 (Marvel, 2017) – “Here Be Monsters…”, [W] Al Ewing, [A] Paco Medina. The USAvengers battle American Kaiju. This issue is divided into several vignettes, each of which amusingly begins with a fake cover. The covers look exactly like actual Marvel covers, together with UPC codes and the Bonus Digital Content label. So this is an entire crossover within a single issue. The rest of the comic is fun too; it includes some cute examples of Deadpool’s fourth-wall breaking, and I love the concept of American Kaiju.

KINGS WATCH #5 (Dynamite, 2014) – untitled, [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Marc Laming. The King heroes defeat Ming’s invasion of Earth, at the cost of the Phantom’s life, and Lothar becomes the next Phantom. Turning Lothar into the Phantom is a clever way to counteract the racist, colonialist implications of both the Phantom and Mandrake. In general, this is an exciting adventure story. Jeff Parker may be the single most underrated writer in recent comics history. All of his stuff is excellent, and he never gets much credit for it.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2017: ALL AGES (Dark Horse, 2017) – Buffy in “No Need to Fear, the Slayer’s Here,” [W] Kel McDonald, [A] Yishan Li; and Plants vs. Zombies in “Unrest in the Old West,” [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Rachel Downing. This issue’s Buffy in High School story is mediocre. The Plants vs. Zombies story is painful to read. I suppose it would be appealing to kids who like silly humor. But I don’t see the point of writing a comic about a game with no storyline – and Paul Tobin has done this twice, since he also wrote the Angry Birds comic.

ASTONISHER #8 (Lion Forge, 2018) – “Nowhere Else to Go,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Pop Mhan & Al Barrionuevo. The protagonist takes over a satellite in order to defeat a villain’s plot. This issue’s writing is fairly clever, but I’ve never quite understood the premise of Astonisher. I think it’s about a superhero with dream-related powers and an overbearing stage mom.

NOBLE #3 (Lion Forge, 2017) – “Matter Over Mind,” [W] Brandon Thomas, [A] Roger Robinson. This issue reminds me of Weapon X, in that it’s about a superhero who’s being experimented on. Other than that, I wasn’t sure what this comic was about, and the artist wastes a lot of space on unimpressive drawings of explosions.

ICE: CRITICAL MASS #1 (12 Gauge, 2014) – untitled, [W] Doug Wagner, [A] Daniel Hillyard. I bought this at Heroes Con because of its weird title, which I will explain momentarily. On its own, this comic is just an average cop story; nothing about it particularly stands out. What makes this comic noteworthy is that its title stands for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Back in 2014, ICE was not as controversial as it is now. That explains why it was possible for 12 Gauge to publish a comic about ICE without triggering a media frenzy. But even before the family separation controversy, ICE was notorious for deporting and detaining and generally mistreating people. Even in 2014, depicting ICE agents in a sympathetic and uncritical way, as this comic does, was rather offensive. The villains in this comic are human traffickers, not undocumented immigrants, so this comic isn’t as offensive as it could have been, but it’s still fundamentally flawed.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2016) – “Rise of the Alpha Flight Part Five,” [W] Michele Fazekas, [A] Tara Butters, [A] Kris Anka & Felipe Smith. I just now realized this issue was drawn by Kris Anka. Other than that, it’s a boring and forgettable comic. The main thing that killed Captain Marvel’s momentum (at least until the movie and the Kelly Thompson comic) was Civil War II, but this series certainly didn’t help reverse the character’s decline.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #6 (Marvel, 2016) – “Lonely at the Top: Part 1,” [W] Ruth Fletcher Gage & Christos Gage, [A] Kris Anka. I did realize that this issue was drawn by Kris Anka, and I perceived its art as being better than last issue’s. That shows the extent to which my aesthetic judgments are affected by my prior beliefs. This issue is better than #5, but only marginally, and it’s a Civil War II crossover.

My next comics shipment arrived on March 1. I was also grading that day, so I had limited energy for reading comics.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #42 (Image, 2019) – “The Truth Will Set You Free and/or Kill You,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Jamie McKelvie. I’m sorry to hear that Jamie is having back problems. Lots of stuff happens this issue. Minerva finally explains her connection with Ananke: they’re the same entity, but every time a new generation of gods arises, Minerva splits off as a separate being. We also learn that the Great Darkness is being generated by a Frankenstein monster created by the 1831 Woden, so WicDiv: 1831 is actually an integral part of the plot. Also, Ananke kills Woden. Good riddance to bad rubbish. And Nergal/Baphomet sacrifices himself to revive Dionysus. This series is getting really exciting.

FANTASTIC FOUR #7 (Marvel, 2019) – “Four-Man Invasion,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Aaron Kuder. Doom manipulates the FF into helping them turn Galactus into an energy source. Then he sentences them to death. This issue’s plot is very clever; I especially like Reed turning his hand into a fake Ultimate Nullifier. And Victorious is an interesting new character. But the highlight of the issue is Franklin and Val getting out of bed and building a teleporter so they can help their parents.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #40 (Marvel, 2019) – “Bad Dream Part 3: All That We See or Seem,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Natacha Bustos. Lunella, Dr. Strange and Sleepwalker investigate the Dream Dimension, and back in the waking world, Devil battles a giant multi-eyed dream monster. The highlight of the issue is when Doc puts Lunella to sleep by telling her his origin story, although I saw a preview of this scene before I read the issue.

AVANT-GUARDS #2 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carly Usdin, [A] Noah Hayes. This issue focuses on Olivia, who executes an ultimately successful campaign to get Charlie to join the basketball team. This is a really fun series. Olivia’s energy and passion are infectious, and the other characters are cute too.

BLACK HAMMER: AGE OF DOOM #8 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Stories to Astonish,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dean Ormston. Lucy finds herself in Spiral City, where nothing ever happens. So it’s the same as the previous Black Hammer series, except now the characters are stuck in Spral City rather than Black Hammer Farm. But the issue ends with Lucy finding Mr. Talky-Walky again. Meanwhile, Barbalien is stuck on Mars and is trying to get himself to Earth.

WONDER WOMAN #65 (DC, 2019) – “The Grudge, Part 2,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Jesús Merino. Dinah discovers that Nemesis is manipulating Veronica Cale instead of vice versa. Diana convinces Veronica of this by hugging her, a surprising but very in-character act. Aphrodite summons a giant flying swan so that she, Steve and Diana can find Veronica’s daughter, as well as Aphrodite’s own child, Hermaphroditus. I really like Willow’s portrayal of Diana, but her plots are too close to Greg Rucka’s, as I have noted before.

PRINCELESS: FIND YOURSELF #5 (Action Lab, 2019) – “Into the Woods of the Wolves,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Emily Martin. This issue is a landmark moment in the series, because Adrienne finally meets her mother and learns her mother’s origin story. It turns out that Adrienne’s mom was a werewolf, not a princess, and that she was always the Black Knight. And she’s been following Adrienne for the entire series. But just as Adrienne is finally getting over her resentment of her mother for abandoning her adventurer life, Adrienne realizes that her dad’s kingdom is at war with the elves. The timeline of this issue confused me because it seemed like Aveline/Danielle’s entire career as the Black Knight, plus the births of all her children, must have happened within 27 years. But on rereading, it looks like 27 years is the time she spent as a queen. That would be enough time to have eight children, the youngest of whom is a teenager.

PETER CANNON: THUNDERBOLT #2 (Dynamite, 2019) – “Watch, Part Two,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Caspar Wijngaard. The Watchmen influence in this issue is less obvious. But I LOLed at the panel where the Rorschach character vomits up a bunch of raspberries onto a yellow table, resulting in an image that looks just like the bloodstained smiley face from Watchmen. (Oh, and later this character says “never compromise, even in the face of….” before getting killed.) Next, Thunderbolt and his friends transport themselves into the alternate Thunderbolt world by inscribing themselves into a nine-panel grid. I’m not quite sure how this works, but it’s an amazing piece of metatext, and I love the line “This level of formalism is dangerous.” This is a fascinating series.

MAN-EATERS #6 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Chelsea Cain, [A] Kate Niemczyk. There’s a little bit of plot in this issue, and that’s an improvement, since previous issues had no plot at all. And the issue begins with a reference to “males with female sex organs.” However, this reference is more insulting than helpful. For the entire run of this series, Chelsea has ignored the perspectives of transgender fans, and she owes them an actual apology, not a token acknowledgement of their existence. This is the last issue of Man-Eaters that I’ll be reading. Véronique Emma Houxbois’s review effectively sums up the problems with this series, and offers the intriguing suggestion that these problems are the result of a lack of editing. http://www.comicosity.com/transmyscira-the-cat-eats-its-own-tail-in-man-eaters/

WEST COAST AVENGERS #8 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Gang Hyuk Lim. The Avengers infiltrate the Church of Sci… um, the Temple of the Shifting Sun, which turns out to be a hive of vampires. I think the best moment in this issue is the panel with the land shark drinking coffee. This is a fun issue, but I’m saddened to realize that this series is getting cancelled after two more issues.

ATOMIC ROBO: DAWN OF A NEW ERA #3 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. Jenkins, who was presumed dead, shows up alive, and Bernie encounters his subterranean lover Princess Nequa. This issue is a fairly straightforward continuation from last issue.

BLACK PANTHER #9 (Marvel, 2019) – “Book 2: The Gathering of My Name,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Kev Walker. T’Challa and Nakia invade an underground kingdom to rescue something called the Jengu. But the local ruler, Agwe, tells them that their boss, Jafari, is a traitor, and that the Jengu is actually a giant whale goddess that Jafari wants for himself. Kev Walker’s art in this issue is really good.

THE TERRIFICS #13 (DC, 2019) – “The Terrifics No More! Part Three,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Joe Bennett. Mr. Terrific meets an alternate-dimensional version of his wife, and the Terrifics reunite to save Michael and Paula from Java and the Dreadfuls. Besides Michael and Paula’s reunion, the highlight of this issue is Linnya’s first meeting with Plas’s son Luke. I LOLed at Luke’s embarrassed expression on seeing Tinya. I guess that’s why this series has no Ultra Boy character – because Luke is going to be Linnya’s love interest.

CAPTAIN MARVEL: BRAVER & MIGHTIER #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Braver & Mightier,” [W] Jody Houser, [A] Simone Buonfantino. While Carol fights some aliens in space, two high school students try to think of a single question to ask her. The question they come up with – “What would you ask your younger self?” – is a bit anticlimactic, but besides that, this is a very well-written one-shot that effectively sums up Carol’s character. Also, as previously demonstrated in Faith Dreamside, Jody Houser is really good at writing teenagers.

SMOOTH CRIMINALS #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kurt Lustgarten & Kiwi Smith, [A] Leisha Riddel. More of the same plotlines from last issue: Brenda and Mia are plotting to steal the Net of Indra. Meanwhile, Mia’s mother is questioned as to why her daughter is still the same age she was in 1969. The main appeal of this series is the interplay between Brenda and Mia, who are the same age, but were born 30 years apart. I especially like the discussion of homophobia, which Mia doesn’t understand because she grew up in the era of free love. Oh, and also Brenda has a huge crush on Mia, to which Mia is oblivious.

THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN #1 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tini Howard, [A] Amilcar Pinna. This new series is about an immortal villainess. In flashbacks, we see her history with Cain and Abel and with Genghis Khan, and in the present day, another woman tries to revive her. This is a pretty good debut issue with some nice art, and the creators seem to have done some research on the Mongol Empire. (Except that at one point Genghis is called “khal,” not “khan.” This isn’t Game of Thrones.)

THE BOOKS OF MAGIC #5 (Vertigo, 2019) – “A Twist in the Narrative,” [W] Kat Howard, [A] Tom Fowler. Tim visits the Dreaming, meets Lucien and the new artificial-intelligence Dream, and comes back with a book. This was an entertaining issue, but this series continues to be very slow-paced.

HEX WIVES #5 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Cleaning House,” [W] Ben Blacker, [A] Mirka Andolfo. The best issue yet. The wives finally get a chance to talk and discuss their powers, despite the husbands’ best efforts at distraction. Finally the husbands drop the pretense of niceness and become violent, but it’s too late; the wives have succeeded in summoning the ancient crone who gave them their powers. The husbands in this series are just awful, with their domineering sexism which ultimately turns into aggressive violence. It’s going to be cathartic when they finally get their comeuppance. Also, there’s a scene with some talking cats, and Ben Blacker writes some really good cat dialogue. “Just tell her, then pick me up. No, pick me up first.” “I gotta get this water. Get it! Agh! Get, get, get!”

WIMMEN’S COMIX #7 (Last Gasp, 1976) – “Outlaws,” [E] Melinda Gebbie & Dot Butcher. This issue’s stories are about female outlaws, including but not limited to pirates and sex workers. One notable thing about Wimmen’s Comix, and perhaps about underground comics in general, was its non-hierarchical nature. This issue includes work by five major artists (Roberta Gregory, Melinda Gebbie, Joyce Farmer, Lee Marrs and Sharon Rudahl) and a lot of other artists I’ve never heard of. But the editors don’t draw any distinction between the stars and the unknown artists. There wasn’t an attempt to promote the star artists at the expense of the others, and I like that. As usual, the stories in this issue are of widely varying quality. The best is Lee Marrs’s “Moonshine Mama,” about an Appalachian grandmother who, in her younger days, was a moonshiner and then a union crusader. The other highlights are Roberta Gregory’s story about an encounter with homophobic police, and Joyce Farmer’s story about a sex worker, although the latter is hard to follow.

TRUE BELIEVERS: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP – ON THE TRAIL OF SPIDER-MAN #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Dick Ayers, and “A Voice in the Dark,” [W/A] Larry Lieber. Both these stories are from Tales to Astonish #57. The first one is a straightforward “superheroes fight then team up” story, in which Egghead manipulates Spidey into fighting Hank and Jan. The highlight of this story is how Spidey and Jan don’t like each other because spiders and wasps are natural enemies. “A Voice in the Dark” is mostly a Wasp solo story. It’s better than the first story, but unfortunately Jan doesn’t get to do much. She’s too weak to physically affect the villain in any way, so she defeats him by pretending to be the Invisible Girl. Adding insult to injury, Hank refuses to believe Jan when she says it was her and not Sue Storm who defeated the villain.

PUNKS NOT DEAD: LONDON CALLING #1 (IDW, 2019) – “…To the Zombies of Death,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Martin Simmonds. Sid and Fergie arrive in London and start tracking down Sid’s dad. I’m glad Punks Not Dead got a sequel, but Martin Simmonds’s art in this issue is a step down from his art in the first miniseries. There are some excellent individual pages, like the page where the woman attacks Sid and Fergie with her tentacles, but this issue’s art looks line-drawn rather than painted.

DAREDEVIL #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “Know Fear Part 2,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Marco Checchetto. Matt tries to deal with the fallout from his apparent killing of a criminal. This issue is okay, but it feels too much like a retread of Miller or Bendis’s Daredevil. I’m going to stop ordering this series.

Reviews for most of February

2/22/19

A few comics I read after finishing the previous reviews:

THOR, GOD OF THUNDER #4 (Marvel, 2013) – “The God Butcher, Part Four: The Last God in Asgard,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Esad Ribic. Another chapter of Thor’s battle with Gorr the God Butcher. Gorr is kind of a boring villain, and the best part of this story is Shadrak, the God of wine and waterfalls, songs and somersaults, and probably other alliterative things. I didn’t get interested in Jason’s Thor until his Jane Foster saga, but I should go back and collect the rest of this run.

ENCOUNTER #2 (Lion Forge, 2018) – “Too Hot to Handle! Too Cold to Hold!”, [W] Art Baltazar & Franco, [W/A] Chris Giarrusso. Encounter, Kayla and Barko fight a flying shark that‘s half fire and half ice. A pretty average issue.

COPPERHEAD #8 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Jay Faerber, [A] Scott Godlewski. The alien partner dude is held hostage by some rebels. I didn’t quite understand the plot of this comic, but it’s reasonably fun. However, this series was never all that exciting, compared to some of the other stuff Image has been publishing.

SOUTHERN CROSS #2 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Becky Cloonan, [A] Andy Belanger. Andy Belanger’s art is excellent, but it’s wasted on a thoroughly boring story. I didn’t understand what was going on in this issue, and even if I had understood, I wouldn’t have cared.

GEORGE PÉREZ’S SIRENS #2 (Boom!, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] George Pérez. This comic has way too many characters and its plot makes no sense. But the plot is mostly just an excuse to allow Gentleman George to draw a lot of sexy action girls. On that level, this comic succeeds, and it’s full of brilliant page layouts and action sequences and technology. Unfortunately this series will probably be George’s last significant work.

PUNKS NOT DEAD #5 (IDW, 2018) – “Teenage Kicks Part Five,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Martin Simmonds. I forgot to read this when it came out. This is perhaps the most visually impressive issue of the series. This issue consists primarily of a flashback set in the Swinging London of the ‘60s, and the flashback scenes are drawn in several different styles. Most of the issue is in a line-drawn style rather than the painted style of the rest of the series. This issue suggests that Martin Simmonds is a major talent who isn’t getting enough attention.

On January 26, I went to Charlotte Mini Con. This was a pretty good convention, but not as exciting as the last two Charlotte Mini Cons. My main problem was that I ran out of time and energy before I ran out of money. By around 2 PM, I had to leave and go to lunch, but I felt like I could have stayed and bought more stuff. Here are some of the comics I bought:

TRILLIUM #1 (Vertigo, 2013) – “3797 – The Scientist” and “1921 – The Soldier,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. This issue has two stories that introduce our two protagonists: an archaeologist who was almost killed in World War I, and a future scientist who is one of the last survivors of a sentient plague. After you read one story, you flip the comic over to read the other story, which is upside down. The centerfold of the issue represents the point where the two characters meet, thanks to time travel. I now have the entire run of this title, and I just need to find the time to read it in order. Trillium represents a brilliant use of the comic book format, and it’s too bad I didn’t know about it when I wrote the book, although the book is long enough already.

USAGI YOJIMBO #4 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – “Samurai!” parts 7 and 8, [W/A] Stan Sakai. I was just telling someone that Usagi Yojimbo tends to be very light on continuity, and that when you do need to know about past events, Stan explains them. For example, the most important event in Usagi’s life is when Lord Mifune is betrayed and killed by Lord Hikiji, causing Usagi to become a ronin. The primary depiction of that event is in Usagi vol. 1 #4. Until now I had never read that issue, but I didn’t need to have read it in order to understand all the other stories that refer to it. Still, the actual scene of Lord Mifune’s death is quite powerful. Stan’s artwork in this issue is much more polished than in the earliest Usagi stories, and his depiction of the battle of Adachigahara is gorgeous, although Usagi’s head still has a funny shape.

FRANK #2 (Fantagraphics, 1997) – “Pushpaw” and other stories, [W/A] Jim Woodring. Frank meets Pushpaw, not to be confused with Pupshaw. At first Pupshaw pushes Pushpaw away. But then Frank and Pupshaw encounter a mysterious creature that gets bigger and bigger until it absorbs them into its skin. When all seems lost, Pushpaw bites the creature open and saves Frank and Pupshaw, and Frank, Pushpaw and Pupshaw become friends. There’s also a colorized story where Frank goes on a date, and a black-and-white story in which several identical Franks are playing cards. Just as I was reading this comic, I heard about B—l M—r’s ignorant, insulting rant about comics and Stan Lee. Frank #3 is all the proof I need that comics are a legitimate art form. It does things that would be impossible in any other medium. In particular, the scene where the creature devours Frank and Pupshaw is amazing. At first you think the designs on the creature’s skin are just drawings, and then they turn into a three-dimensional world. That shift from drawing to reality is an effect that only works in comics.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #127 (Marvel, 1973) – “The Dark Wings of Death!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Ross Andru. I’ve been playing the PS4 Spider-Man game, and playing that game feels just like reading a classic Spider-Man comic. It has web-slinging action, relationship drama, witty quips, and complex politics. So I wanted to read some classic Spider-Man comics, and ASM #127 qualifies. In this issue, Spidey is trying to find out why the Vulture is killing and abducting people. Meanwhile, Peter’s relationships with MJ and Harry are suffering, and Professor Warren wants to know why he’s been missing class.

LITTLE LULU #77 (Dell, 1954) – “Boomerang” and other stories, [W] John Stanley, [A] Irving Tripp. I had this issue already, but my copy was in worse condition. Someone removed the upper right corner of the cover and replaced it with a drawing of their own. This issue’s best story is the first one, in which Tubby tries to trick Lulu into checking on an explosive scientific experiment. Other stories in this issue feature McNabbem and the West Side Guys, and there’s also a Witch Hazel story, as usual.

SUPERMAN #236 (DC, 1971) – “Planet of the Angels,” [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Curt Swan. This issue is an interruption in the Sand Superman saga. It’s a rather weird story where Superman gets enlisted in a war between literal angels and devils, except the devils turn out to be the good guys, and the angels are criminals. There is an obvious and heavy-handed political message here. Swan and Anderson are my favorite Superman art team; I love their artwork from this period. This issue also includes a backup story which is, again, an obvious and heavy-handed parable about environmentalism – its message is that hippies should try to save the environment instead of listening to music all the time.

OMAC #2 (DC, 1974) – “Blood-Brother Eye” (or “In the Era of the Super-Rich”), [W/A] Jack Kirby. A billionaire rents an entire city for a party, but the party is in fact a trap to destroy Project OMAC. Because of its depiction of super-rich people who can do whatever they want with no consequences, this comic has obvious relevance to our current political moment, although it doesn’t engage in a direct critique of capitalism.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #66 (Marvel, 1980) – “The Jade Tiger!”, [W] Mary Jo Duffy, [A] Kerry Gammill. Misty and Colleen fight Sabretooth and Constrictor, who were partners at the time, and Luke and Danny have to rescue them. Of course there are also various other subplots going on. This comic is very entertaining, but not as good as #71, to be reviewed below.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #6 (Marvel, 2016) – “The Dark Kingdom Part 1: Turnabout,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Matteo Buffagni. I want to try to collect Dan Slott’s entire run on Spider-Man. I probably should have been buying it when it came out, because I like Dan Slott’s other comics, and I’m a big Spider-Man fan. Also, one of the primary villains of the PS4 Spider-Man game is Mister Negative, who Slott co-created. In this issue, Peter visits Shanghai, and Mister Negative corrupts Cloak and Dagger, which results in the striking visual image of a white Cloak and a black Dagger.

LETTER 44 #4 (Oni, 2014) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule, [A] Alberto Jiménez Albuquerque. I’ve been passively collecting this series, meaning that I buy issues of it whenever I see them for a dollar or less. I want to start collecting it more actively. This issue, the astronauts investigate the alien artifact, and the President discovers that his chief of staff is a traitor.

New comics received on 1/26, along with additional comics purchased at the con:

MONSTRESS #19 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. This is one of the best current ongoing titles, yet also one of the most difficult. It’s hard to know what to say about it. This issue begins with a flashback to Kippa’s birth, then Kippa is rescued from her kidnappers by a mysterious blue-skinned horned boy. Meanwhile, Maika and Corvin are searching for Kippa, and we see that Corvin is missing an eye.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #39 (Marvel, 2019) – “Bad Dream, Part Two: The Stranger,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Natacha Bustos. After a bunch of fights and dream sequences, Lunella encounters Sleepwalker, a dumb character who some people unaccountably feel nostalgic for. He takes her to see Dr. Strange. This has been a fun storyline so far, and I’m looking forward to the next issue.

THE AVANT-GUARDS #1 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carly Usdin, [A] Noah Hayes. A new series by the writer of Hi-Fi Fight Club/Heavy Vinyl. The main thing I remember about that comic is its use of ‘90s nostalgia, and that theme is not present in The Avant-Guards. Instead, the main appeal of this new series is its strong characterization. It’s about a new student at an art school who gets recruited to join the women’s basketball team. This is a promising debut issue that arouses curiosity about the characters and makes me want to keep reading. Boom! Box has published at least three other sports comics already, including two that I loved (Fence and Slam!) and one that I disliked (Dodge City).

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #16 (Marvel, 2016) – “Before Dead No More Part One: Whatever the Cost,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Jay Jameson is seriously ill, and a company called New U has a treatment that may cure him. But there’s something suspicious about the company, and meanwhile, the Jackal, the Lizard and Electro are involved in some kind of plot. This is a reasonably good comic, but it’s not at the same level as Roger Stern’s Spider-Man, though that’s an unfair standard.

HIGH HEAVEN #5 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Chapter Five,” [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Greg Scott. David finally gets to the real heaven, but is forced to work as a janitor, and he’s still missing his you-know-what. Meanwhile, Heather uncovers the mystery of L-Meat, though I still don’t quite understand what L-Meat actually does. That’s the end of the first story arc. I hope this series isn’t on hiatus for too long.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC 20/20 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Toni Kuusisto. This issue is part of a series of one-shots depicting IDW characters 20 years in the present or future. In this issue, the Mane Six go back in time meet their younger selves just after the latter have gotten their cutie marks. The interactions between the older and younger ponies are cute, but it would have been much more interesting to meet the Mane Six’s future selves than their past selves. Also, I don’t believe it’s already been 20 years since the ponies got their cutie marks.

SHURI #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Timbuktu,” [W] Nnedi Okorafor, [A] Leonardo Romero. We are introduced to the Egungun, a “pan-African alliance” created by T’Challa. Meanwhile, the space bug visits Timbuktu in Mali, and Moses Magnum, an old X-Men villain, happens to be there already. This is a fun series, and it’s definitely Nnedi’s best comic yet, other than LaGuardia. More than most other Black Panther stories, Shuri #4 connects Wakanda to the larger context of Africa. It also reminds the reader that Africa is a full of diverse and vibrant cultures.

MOTHER PANIC #1 (DC, 2017) – “A Work in Progress Part 1,” [W] Jody Houser, [A] Tommy Lee Edwards. I think I now have this entire series, but I’ve only read one issue of it. This is because I was ordering all the Young Animal titles. Even after reading this comic, I can’t remember much about it, except that it’s a superhero comic which is set in Gotham, and the protagonist’s mother is insane. I haven’t yet felt motivated to read any more of this series.

HAWKEYE #4 (Marvel, 2013) – “The Tape Part 1,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Javier Pulido. I think this was the only issue of this series that I didn’t have. I didn’t know I was missing it, because its cover looks identical to the cover of #5. This issue, Hawkeye goes looking for a tape that seems to show him committing an assassination. It’s a good issue, but not the best issue of this series.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #74 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Kate Sherron. This is a sequel to “Flutter Brutter,” which introduced Fluttershy’s ne’er-do-well brother Zephyr Breeze. That episode ended with Zephyr Breeze becoming a hairdresser, and in MLP:FIM #74, he goes to his first professional conference. This is at least the third MLP story that includes a fan convention, and it’s an old joke by now. Besides that, this is a pretty good issue, with some funny hair jokes.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS 20/20 #1 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. This issue depicts the Holograms and Misfits twenty years in the future. Sadly it’s not written by Kelly Thompson but by Sina Grace, whose work I have never liked, and he doesn’t write these characters nearly as well as Kelly did. At least the artist deserves credit for being able to draw middle-aged women.

SEA HUNT #6 (Dell, 1960) – “Treasure of the Mayas” and other stories, [W] Eric Freiwald & Robert Schaefer, [A] Russ Manning. In this issue’s main story, Mike Nelson is hired to help recover an underwater Mayan treasure, but one of the other members of the expedition is trying to kill him and take the treasure for himself. This story is exciting and professionally written, and Manning’s artwork is spectacular. I also like the ending where the expedition leader thanks Mike on behalf of his country, Guatemala. This is a subtle reminder that the Mayan people didn’t go extinct or something; they’re the ancestors of the modern people of Guatemala and neighboring countries. There’s a backup story where Mike saves a town from a flood. Sea Hunt is a fascinating series that I didn’t know about until recently. Dark Horse or some other company ought to publish an archive of it.

EIGHTBALL #6 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron Part 6” and “The Doctor Infinity Story,” [W/A] Daniel Clowes. The main story in this issue is more surrealistic than Clowes’s later work, but it has the same mean-spirited, threatening, sordid atmosphere. It’s been a long time since I read anything by Clowes. I have a copy of Wilson, and I ought to get to it sooner or later. In the backup story, a character apparently based on Stan Lee gives a speech honoring a veteran comics creator, while in a series of flashbacks, we see how the Stan Lee character brutally exploited his employees. This story is an incisive piece of satire, but it’s lost some of its relevance now, when there’s been so much more discussion of the exploitative practices of the comics industry.

EXORSISTERS #4 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ian Boothby, [A] Gisèle Lagacé. This is an entertaining issue as usual, but I don’t remember much about it. Cate and Kate meet the archangel Gabriel, and we learn about something called the First Shadow.

GRUMBLE #3 (Albatross, 2019) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. Tala and Eddie try to steal Eddie’s car from a villain called the Imp, but it’s guarded by a dude with a giant cat head, who sort of resembles Blacksad. This issue is also fun, but it didn’t impress me as much as #4, to be reviewed below.

SUPERMAN #167 (DC, 1964) – “The Team of Luthor and Brainiac!”, [W] Edmond Hamilton, [A] Curt Swan. This is a landmark issue for several reasons. First, it’s Luthor’s first team-up with Brainiac. Second, it reveals that Brainiac is a computer and not a human. According to the letter column, this is because slightly before Brainiac was created in 1956, a scientist named Edmund Berkeley created a toy called Brainiac. To avoid a lawsuit, DC changed their Brainiac to be more like the toy, as well as giving Berkeley some free advertising. See https://www.cbr.com/comic-book-urban-legends-revealed-79/ for more information. Third, this story introduces Luthor’s future wife Ardora, though she’s called Tharla instead. Besides all that, this is an exciting story and a classic example of the Silver Age Superman.

SMOOTH CRIMINALS #3 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kurt Lusttgarten & Kiwi Smith, [A] Leisha Riddel. Mia and Brenda try to steal the Net of Indra. This is an okay issue, but I don’t remember much about it.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #17 (Marvel, 2016) – “Before Dead No More Part Two: Spark of Life,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] R.B. Silva. Peter hires Hobie Brown, the Prowler, to find out what’s going on with New U. Turns out New U and the Jackal’s mysterious plot are one and the same. Also, the Jackal creates a new Electro, who has a clever origin. She’s the clone of a woman who died when Electro kissed her, because his electric powers were going haywire, and she had metal lip piercings.

AQUAMAN #44 (DC, 2019) – “Unspoken Water Part 2 of 5,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha. In Atlantis, Mera is being pressured into choosing a new husband. Meanwhile, in order to find out what’s up with Caille, Aquaman consults a bunch of sea gods from different cultures. I have mixed feelings about this series. See the review of #45 below.

LUCIFER #2 (Trident, 1990) – “Lucifer the New King of Hell,” [W] Eddie Campbell, [A] Paul Grist. The new Lucifer heads to Earth. This series is full of fun mayhem, witty dialogue and excellent art, but this series is mostly just a footnote to the careers of its two creators.

YUMMY FUR #9 (Vortex, 1988) – “Returning to the Way Things Are,” [W/A] Chester Brown. Ed the Happy Clown is similar to Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron because it’s far more surreal and illogical than its creator’s later work. It’s also just disturbing. I find it hard to enjoy. This issue also includes a chapter of Chester’s New Testament adaptation. I don’t know if he ever finished that project, but if not, he ought to finish it and collect it as a single book. His version of Jesus is bizarre and strangely compelling.

MARS ATTACKS #4 (Dynamite, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kyle Starks, [A] Chris Schweizer. Spencer’s dad tragically sacrifices his life to save his son, but his sacrifice is not in vain, as Spencer discovers the one thing that can kill Martians. This has been a really fun series, and Chris’s art is amazing. I especially like the irony of the guy alerting the Martians by shouting “THEY’LL HEAR YOU!”

TRUE BELIEVERS: CONAN – THE SECRET OF SKULL RIVER #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Secret of Skull River!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Jim Starlin. This issue reprints the main story of Savage Tales #5. I have at least two other reprints of the story – Conan the Barbarian #64, and the first Savage Sword of Conan volume from Dark Horse – but I don’t think I’ve read either of those yet, so this story was new to me. It’s Jim Starlin’s only Conan story, and it’s from his most creative period. In this story, Conan finds himself in a village whose water has been poisoned by a sorcerer. After sleeping with the most attractive of the villagers, Naia, Conan kills the sorcerer. The punchline is that when the villagers offer him anything in the village he wants, Conan chooses a horse instead of Naia, saying that it’s “well worth riding twice.”

AMERICAN CARNAGE #3 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Fury,” [W] Bryan Hill, [A] Leandro Fernandez. Richard tries to avoid killing the black guy, but kills him anyway by accident. A man in an Obama mask arrives to clean up the mess, and ends up beating Richard senseless. Richard wakes up in Jennifer’s house to find a burning cross on her lawn. This series is just brutal. It’s full of characters who have no compassion for anyone, least of all themselves (Sheila, the FBI agent, insists on continuing to work despite being gravely ill). It’s a painful but important read.

LETTER 44 #5 (Oni, 2014) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule, [A] Alberto Jiménez Albuquerque. I just realized that the title of this series refers to the letter the new President receives from his predecessor. This issue, the new President has his predecessor arrested, while also getting his corrupt chief of staff out of the way. Meanwhile, the astronauts encounter some weird crystalline aliens.

New comics received on January 31:

MS. MARVEL #37 (Marvel, 2019) – “After the Flood,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Nico Leon. As a result of Willow’s unfortunate health problems, this is the first issue in several months, and it’s also her next to last issue. I’m sorry this series is ending, of course, but at least Willow got to end it on her own terms, and Marvel has demonstrated that they’ll still be committed to Kamala after her creator leaves. This issue is a lighthearted romp, in which Kamala and her friends have all sorts of mishaps while babysitting Kamala’s baby nephew. Also, Sheikh Abdullah has a mild heart attack, and Aamir is hired to fill in for him.

THE QUANTUM AGE #6 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Wilfredo Torres. I was enthusiastic about this series at first, but this ending is really disappointing. The Quantum Leaguers can’t figure out how to beat Gravitus, so they decide to just give up and rebuild their civilization at the end of time. This violates the principle that Legionnaires never give up, no matter how hopeless the odds. Sadly, this is not in fact a Legion comic; it’s a Black Hammer title first and a Legion homage second. At least this series reminds me how much I love and miss the Legion.

THE UNSTOPPABLE WASP #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Fix Everything,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] GuriHiru. In the aftermath of the AIM battle, Nadia has a manic episode. She stays up all night doing science, and when her friends come looking for her, she refuses their help and attacks them instead. I’ll have much more to say about this storyline when I get to issue 5, but this is a really important issue. It’s one of the most realistic depictions of mental illness in any superhero comic. It’s also a new step forward in maturity for this series. Until this issue, Jeremy had been writing Nadia as a happy, well-adjusted person who suffered from a terrible upbringing. This issue reveals that Nadia is far more complicated than that. Oh, also, there’s one panel where Priya and her visitors in the hospital are eating Indian food, and the food looks very accurate.

EXILES #12 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Rodriguez. The Exiles beat the rogue Watchers, then go on vacation. This issue has some of Javier’s best visual storytelling yet. There’s a sequence where each of the Exiles experiences their worst nightmare, and for each Exile, there’s a page where the panels are framed within that character’s body. Also, Wolvie’s worst nightmare is being trapped in the ‘90s X-Men cartoon. I am, of course, sad that this series is ending so soon. It was a brilliant, creative and funny comic, and apparently it was too good for the current market. But both of the creators are going to go on to do other great work.

WONDER WOMAN #63 (DC, 2019) – “The New World,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Emanuela Lupacchino. A pegasus, a minotaur and a satyr are causing havoc, and Diana has to help them adjust to the modern world. This is easily Willow’s best issue yet, because it’s the first issue that’s felt like a G. Willow Wilson comic. It’s funny and compassionate, and it shows sensitivity to cultural difference. Earlier issues of this run were more like retreads of Greg Rucka’s Wonder Woman. Ironically, this issue also reintroduces Ferdinand, a character created by Rucka, yet it still gives me the sense that Willow is emerging out of her predecessor’s shadow.

THE TERRIFICS #12 (DC, 2019) – “The Terrifics No More! Part 2,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Victor Bogdanovic. In this series the artists always have their names listed first. That is the standard in French comics but is unusual in American comics, and it’s classy of Jeff to give his collaborators top billing. This issue, Plas finally manages to bond with his son, Rex voluntarily transforms back into Metamorpho, and Linnya buys passage back to Earth. The Linnya segment of this story is very similar to Tinya Wazzo’s origin story from Secret Origins #42. I’m just sorry that Linnya hasn’t yet encountered a scruffy but handsome teenage felon from Rimbor.

MAN-EATERS #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Chelsea Cain, [A] Kate Niemczyk. I’m done with this series. In January, Chelsea Cain tweeted that “we won’t have gender equity until we all use the same pronouns,” and then when people pointed out that this was transphobic, she declined to apologize. She also tweeted that her spirit animal was a goat, and when told her this phrase is offensive to Native Americans, she did not reply . Actions like these are classic examples of white feminism in the pejorative sense. Chelsea presents herself as a radical feminist, but shows a notable lack of interest in the experiences of women who are different from her. I don’t want to keep supporting her work, not when there are other comics out there that are both feminist and intersectional. Even if Chelsea Cain hadn’t made those tweets, I’d be on the verge of dropping Man-Eaters anyway, because this is yet another issue in which nothing important happens.

SPARROWHAWK #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Delilah S. Dawson, [A] Matias Basla. Artemisia kills a bunch more things, and becomes more and more evil. This is a really creepy comic, almost closer to horror than fantasy. It’s a total stylistic departure from Delilah Dawson’s previous series, Ladycastle.

VAGRANT QUEEN #6 (Vault, 2018) – “The Bezoar of Kings,” [W] Magdalena Visaggio, [A] Jason Smith. Vault somehow forgot to solicit this issue through Diamond, but I was able to get it anyway. This issue, Eldaya kills Lazaro dead, but she can’t go back to her planet, because her people no longer want a queen. This was an entertaining series, but unfortunately it was nearly ruined by subpar art. I hope there’s a sequel, but I hope it’s drawn by someone else.

POWERS IN ACTION #1 (Action Lab, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Art Baltazar. There are no detailed credits on this comic, so I assume that Art did everything, and that Franco was not involved. This new kids’ comic introduces an original team of superheroes. It’s charming and well-intentioned, and has some clever jokes. Standout characters include Lynx, Ocelot and Enormus. So far I like this series better than some of Art’s earlier work, and I’m going to keep reading it.

WEST COAST AVENGERS #7 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Daniele Di Nicuolo. I forgot to order issue 6, and that must be why I had trouble connecting with this issue. The significant plot developments are that Madame Masque creates the West Coast Masters of Evil, and that Gwenpool gets a new pet shark-dog. Also, Derek Bishop appears on the last page.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #21 (Marvel, 2017) – “Live Another Day,” [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. This was the last of the ASM issues I bought at Charlotte Mini Con. I wish I’d bought even more. This issue is part of a crossover called Clone Conspiracy, and it doesn’t include Peter Parker. Instead it focuses on Kaine, who is trying to find a cure to the clone disease that’s killing him. Dan Slott is to be commended for doing something interesting with a character from the worst Spider-Man storyline ever (i.e. the clone saga).

SECTION ZERO #1 (Gorilla, 2000) – “There Is No Section Zero,” [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Tom Grummett. As Karl Kesel confirmed on Facebook, this issue includes the same story as the new Section Zero #1 that was just solicited in Previews, so I don’t need to order that issue. Section Zero is about a team of scientific explorers who investigate bizarre phenomena, and who officially don’t exist. It’s obviously inspired by Challengers of the Unknown, and as one would expect from this creative team, it’s very Kirbyesque. It’s a fun comic, and I’m glad that this series is being revived.

STRANGE EMBRACE #2 (Image, 2007) – untitled, [W/A] David Hine. The creepy albino kid, Alex, tells Sukumar his story. It turns out that as a child, Alex used his telepathic powers to torment his boarding school classmates by revealing their secrets. One of his classmates had such a shameful secret that he committed suicide rather than let it be revealed. We’re not told what this secret is, but it’s implied to involve sex. And from there, Alex gets even creepier; he kills his parents, and it’s suggested that that’s just the start of his crimes. Strange Embrace is a truly creepy and disturbing horror comic, with an impressively complex narrative, and I love David Hine’s art style.

THE BOOKS OF MAGIC #4 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Library Fines,” [W] Kat Howard, [A] Tom Fowler. Not much happens in this issue. Tim accidentally lets himself be seen using magic at school, then he decides to visit the Dreaming. I like this series, but its pacing is rather slow.

BATMAN #372 (DC, 1984) – “What Price, the Prize?”, [W] Doug Moench, [A] Don Newton. Unfortunately this issue is inked by Alfredo Alcala, so Don Newton’s distinctive style of linework is completely lost. In this issue, a villain named Dr. Fang tries to fix a championship boxing match, and when the champion refuses to throw the match, Dr. Fang has him killed. The champion happens to be a successful black man who is portrayed sympathetically, so his death is rather annoying. Probably the best thing about this issue is its realistic depiction of the boxing industry.

HEX WIVES #4 (DC, 2019) – “Butterfly Effects,” [W] Ben Blacker, [A] Mirka Andolfo. The husbands get even creepier and even more sexist, and the wives start to discover their powers. This is a weird and mildly disturbing series, but I like it.

STRANGE EMBRACE #3 (Image, 2007) – as above. Alex moves into Anthony Corbeau’s house and starts using his telepathy to retell Corbeau’s story. Here we enter a third level of embedded narrative, as we see how Corbeau became a collector of African art. The use of African art in this story is problematic, because it’s detached from its cultural context, and it’s depicted as frightening and primitive. But we’re also told that the statues and masks came frm the Belgian Congo, so they also create a connection to a historical genocide.

I bought the next two comics on a visit to the local 2nd & Charles:

THESE SAVAGE SHORES #2 (Vault, 2018) – untitled, [W] Ram V, [A] Sumit Kumar. This is such a fascinating series, because it convincingly brings to life a place and a historical period that are so unfamiliar to American readers. Along with Grumble, it may be the most underrated current comic book. In terms of plot, this issue mostly advances the plotlines from last issue, including the political drama between Mysore and Calicut, the European vampires, and the love affair between the vampire and the dancer. Readers unfamiliar with this history should know that: 1) Calicut (Kozhikode) is not the same as Calcutta (Kolkata), which is in a completely different part of India. 2) The history in this comic seems to be completely accurate. Hyder Ali was a real person, as was his more famous son Tipu Sultan, who appears in this issue as a child.

WIZARD BEACH #1 (Boom!, 2019) – “How Hexley Daggert Ragbottom Came to the Beach,” [W] Shaun Simon, [A] Conor Nolan. When this was first solicited, I decided not to buy it, but later I changed my mind. This series stars an uptight young wizard boy, Hexley, who goes to learn magic from his uncle Salazar. But it turns out Salazar is a lazy old beach bum. This is a pretty impressive debut issue. It has some effective worldbuilding and a lot of visual humor, and Hexley and Salazar are effective foils for each other. Oddly, the issue is divided into a series of short chapters.

INVINCIBLE #130 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Cory Walker. Robot takes over the entire world and creates a utopia, and there’s nothing Mark can do to stop him. Mark has no choice but to leave Earth again. If I hadn’t already quit ordering this series, I would have given up on it after this issue. I don’t read superhero comics because I like to see the bad guys win. Robot is a smug, heartless, loathsome monster, and when he gets rewarded for his evilness by taking over the Earth, it feels like an insult to the reader. If anyone is reading my reviews consistently, they may wonder why I continue buying back issues of Invincible, even though I think the series jumped the shark after issue 100. It’s mostly out of completionism, and because I feel a continuing sense of attachment to the characters.

THE WALKING DEAD #174 (Image, 2017) – “A Solitary Life,” [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Charlie Adlard. This issue focuses on Negan as he recovers his bat, which appears to be his personal talisman. This story would have had much more of an impact on me if I’d known anything about Negan. So far I’ve only read about the first twelve issues of The Walking Dead.

PETER CANNON: THUNDERBOLT #1 (Dynamite, 2019) – “Watch,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Caspar Wijngaard. A revival of a character created by the late Pete Morisi. At first I had no idea what was going on with this comic. It starts out as just a generic superhero comic in which Thunderbolt and his allies team up to fight an alien invasion. I finally got it when Thunderbolt realized that the invasion was a hoax, intended as “an external threat to bind a divided world together,” and that an other-dimensional Peter Cannon is responsible for it. To spell it out explicitly, this comic is an unauthorized sequel to Watchmen. It asks what would really have happened after Adrian Veidt’s alien invasion hoax. And the joke here is that Peter Cannon, of course, is the inspiration for Ozymandias. The Watchmen connection should have been obvious at once, because the first line of the comic is “It’s 35 minutes into the future.” But I didn’t see the significance of that line, and I was delighted when I understood this comic’s hidden purpose.

LONE RANGER #4 (Dynamite, 2019) – “Paid in Full,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Bob Q. The foot-eating Bat Lash-esque villain retells his origin, then apparently kills the Lone Ranger and Tonto. This is a fun issue, but it doesn’t offer anything new that wasn’t in the previous issues.

VICTOR LAVALLE’S DESTROYER #2 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] Victor LaValle, [A] Dietrich Smith. I just read Victor LaValle’s novel The Changeling, and I loved it. This comic has a similar theme of African-American parenthood, and I like it too. Most of the issue follows two federal agents as they look for a missing scientist. In the scientist’s lair they find a bunch of photos of her young son, and then we encounter the scientist herself and her son, an adorable kid wearing some kind of super-suit. I want to read the rest of this miniseries.

GO-BOTS #3 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Tom Scioli. This issue has no obvious connection to the last two issues. Instead, it follows some humans who are riding the Go-Bot space shuttle, Spay-C. (A bunch of Go-Bots had punny names like this; there were also Royal-T, Rest-Q, Cy-Kill, etc.) Its plot isn’t very logical or coherent, but this comic is mostly a showcase for Tom Scioli’s bizarre art. A Sorry! device plays a role in the story, and the Rock Lords show up at the end.

THE WORLD BELOW #3 (Dark Horse, 1999) – “The Spire!”, [W] Paul Chadwick, [A] Ron Randall. The Team of Six discover a living spire that projects all the way into the surface, and that attracts men by arousing their anger and ambition. This issue has an obvious sexual subtext: the interior of the spire is described as “dim, warm moist. The soft tissues lining it are curved and feminine.” As I’ve noted before, this series has some of Paul Chadwick’s best art, and it’s extremely underrated.

SUKEBAN TURBO #3 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sylvain Runberg, [A] Victor Santos. A straightforward continuation of the previous issues. I think my favorite thing about this series is the way that Victor Santos uses the entire space of the page. Every page has a different layout, and his pages are more vertical than horizontal.

BATGIRL #28 (DC, 2018) – “Art of the Crime Part Three: Façade,” [W] Maighread Scott, [A] Paul Pelletier. My copy of this issue has a chromium cover for some reason. I suppose there’s some good stuff in this issue, but to me it’s just boring and lacking in interest. In the previous two Batgirl runs, there was something fascinating happening in nearly every panel, but Maighread Scott fails to arouse my interest in any way.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #71 (Marvel, 1981) – “The Mountain Comes to Manhattan”, [W] Mary Jo Duffy, [A] Kerry Gammill. An amazing issue. A bunch of villains, including a red-bearded dude called Montenegro, are hunting Luke because they think he has a valuable quarter. The significance of the quarter is not directly explained, but we soon realize that it has the power to disrupt electrical devices. There’s a hilarious sequence where Luke and Danny are wondering what was so special about that quarter, and in the background, a car fails to start, a neon sign short-circuits, and a boom box turns off. (See https://www.instagram.com/p/BtcvO2BHfP8/.) This sequence is an impressive piece of visual storytelling that demands some actual effort from the reader in order to be understood. And the whole premise, with Luke and Danny being harassed over a quarter, is hilarious.

SKYWARD #3 (Action Lab, 2013) – “The Sword and the Stones,” [W/A] Jeremy Dale. Before reading this, all I knew about Jeremy Dale was that he was very well-liked and that he died tragically young. This issue reveals part of the reason why he was well liked. It’s an epic fantasy comic with a number of interlocking plotlines. The main character seems to be a young boy whose parents have just been killed. The subject matter of this comic is rather heavy at times, but Jeremy Dale’s artwork and worldbuilding are charming and endearing. For example, one of the highlights of the comic is  the elf dude who’s accompanied by a giant white fluffy bird that’s bigger than he is. And the comic ends with the appearance of a troop of spear-wielding rabbits.

THE WILDS #5 (Black Mask, 2018) – untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Emily Pearson. Vita Ayala seems to be a rising star. But I’m not sure what this comic is about, except that it’s some kind of postapocalyptic narrative, and Emily Pearson’s art is very dull. At least Ayala’s dialogue is reasonably good.

HEART THROB SEASON TWO #5 (Oni, 2017) – untitled, [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Robert Wilson IV. Callie performs one last caper, then goes into the hospital for treatment, though the reader is led to think she’s turning herself in to the police. The series ends in such a way as to leave the door open for a sequel, but it’s also a satisfying ending on its own. Overall, Heart Throb is a fun series and an effective piece of ‘70s nostalgia.

STRAY BULLETS: SUNSHINE AND ROSES #34 (Image, 2018) – “I Am Your Friend,” [W/A] David Lapham. This issue’s protagonists are named Annie and Vic. They’re supposed to look for a missing child, and Vic thnks he’s saving the child’s mother from her abusive brother, but it turns out he’s actually beaten two junkies to death. I have no idea how this issue fits into the larger narrative of the series, but David Lapham is a brilliant visual storyteller.

SKYWARD #2 (Action Lab, 2013) – “Taking Flight,” [W/A] Jeremy Dale. I should have read this first, obviously. This issue shows how the boy becomes a fugitive. There’s also a weird-looking lizard-esque dragon and an army of equally weird-looking goblins. Jeremy Dale’s visual creativity and storytelling ability were impressive. I need to get the other seven issues of this series. It is of course a pity that there aren’t any more.

DENIZENS OF DEEP CITY #2 (Kitchen Sink, 1989) – untitled, [W/A] Doug Potter. A strange and captivating comic. Its plot has little obvious connection with that of issue 1. It has multiple subplots, one about a homeless drunk whose alcoholism prevents him from seeing his daughter, and another about some homeless kids who hang out on rooftops. I’m not sure what the point of this comic is, but I like it.

SHADOWLAND #1 (Fantagraphics, 1989) – “Young Ledicker” and “The Crafton Curse!”, [W/A] Kim Deitch. A major work by an important artist. Like all of Deitch’s major works, it has a deeply sordid, creepy atmosphere, and it’s full of references to silent animation and pre-WWII American popular culture. It takes place in 1902, and is thus one of the earliest chapters in Deitch’s ongoing saga. The plot is that the young Al Ledicker becomes involved in a bizarre plot to steal some money belonging to a Doc Crafton. There’s also a bomb plot, a botched hanging that results in decapitation, and some mysterious underground men. It feels like all of Deitch’s mature works take place in the same universe, and it would be nice if someone would publish a guide to how they’re all connected. At the convention I saw a copy of Corn-Fed Comics, one of Deitch’s earliest solo works, but it was beyond my price range.

INVINCIBLE #142 (Image, 2017) – “Robot War,” [W] Robert Kirkman, [W] Ryan Ottley. This issue partly makes up for the frustrations of issue 130. Rex/Robot tries to make a preemptive strike on Mark by kidnapping the Viltrumite children, but Mark organizes all the superheroes and adult Viltrumites and defeats Rex’s army. In the end, Mark reduces Rex to a disembodied brain, so that he can give advice but can’t do anything. That seems worse and less humane than just killing him, but oh well. The issue ends with Mark meeting Marky, the son conceived when Anissa raped him. (This of course is another example of the unfortunate Ursula Imada trope.)

SWEET TOOTH #20 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Endangered Species: Part One,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. The women encounter a creepy dude who lives in an underground bunker. Meanwhile, Sweet Tooth gets chased by a bear. I’d probably be enjoying this comic more if I was reading it in order, but I still haven’t found a copy of issue 1.

THE UNEXPECTED #3 (DC, 2018) – “Call of the Unknown: Part Three – The Devil’s Secrets,” [W] Steve Orlando, [A] Cary Nord. This issue also gives top billing to the artist, like The Terrifics was, so maybe that’s just something DC did for all the New Age of Heroes titles. Other than that, there’s nothing of any interest in this comic. Its plot makes no sense, and doesn’t seem worth making sense of.

THE UNEXPECTED #2 (DC, 2018) – as above except the subtitle is “Part Two – Grenade Tour.” This isn’t any better than issue 1.

New comics received on February 9:

LAGUARDIA #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Roots,” [W] Nnedi Okorafor, [A] Tana Ford. Finally we get the backstory of Future and Citizen’s marriage and separation. Future gives birth to the baby, after eating a piece of Letme Live. Citizen unexpectedly appears in the delivery room. This is another fantastic issue. LaGuardia is Nnedi’s best comic yet, and I’m sorry there’s just one issue left.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Cimmerians Don’t Pray,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. Some villagers try to execute Conan by hanging him from a tree branch, but Conan is too heavy, and the branch breaks. Then the local priest tries to behead Conan with an axe, but there’s a raging thunderstorm going on, and you can guess what happens. This issue isn’t as great as #2, but it’s a witty and blackly humorous satire of religion, and the moment when the priest gets struck by lightning is awesome.

GIANT DAYS #47 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. Daisy is about to take her driving test, despite being the worst driver ever. McGraw’s ne’er-do-well brother Frank comes to visit. Dean neglects to take care of his dog, which gets lost, and Esther has to find it. All these plot threads come together in the end. Daisy somehow passes the test, Dean rehomes the dog, and Frank cleans up his act. This was a fun issue.

THE GREEN LANTERN #4 (DC, 2019) – “The Cosmic Vampire’s Beautiful Daughter,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. On Twitter, Liam Sharp objected to the characterization of this comic as “weird” (https://twitter.com/LiamRSharp/status/1093549031253393408), but I think that’s an accurate term. This series has a creepy atmosphere and is full of bizarre and disturbing creatures. And that’s a good thing. For example, in the opening scene of #4, some giant ant people is negotiating with a blue-skinned woman who’s threatening to unleash a Sun-Eater on their planet. Some of the other ideas in this comic are weird in a non-horrific way; for example, we’re introduced to a new Green Lantern who’s a living sun. In terms of the plot, Hal spends most of the issue fighting the Blackstars, who are breeding Sun-Eaters, but then he gets summoned back to Oa to answer for killing the Dhorian last issue. And then Hal apparently decides to switch sides and join the Blackstars.

THE WRONG EARTH #6 (Ahoy, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Jamal Igle. On Earth-Omega, Dragonflyman deals with the corrupt cops by giving them an even bigger bribe. On Earth-Alpha, Dragonfly murders Chief Escargot and sets himself up as the new Number One. The overarching theme of this series is that each Dragonfly(man) is changing himself to suit his new world, and vice versa. You would expect that Dragonflyman would be corrupted by Earth-Omega, and that Dragonfly would be redeemed by Earth-Alpha. But actually the opposite is happening: Dragonflyman is redeeming the evil world, and Dragonfly is corrupting the good one. Overall, this is the best of the Ahoy titles (despite my sentimental attachment to Captain Ginger), and I look forward to the next season.

THESE SAVAGE SHORES #3 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ram V, [A] Sumit Kumar. Hyder Ali and Bishan head off to war against the British Empire and the Nizam of Hyderabad, while Kori stays behind. Again, this war really happened and is known as the First Anglo-Mysore War. Bishan and Kori are a cute couple, though their romance is a bit creepy, since Bishan is thousands of years older than Kori and knew her as a child. The farewell letter he sends to her is written in Malayalam, as confirmed by a Facebook friend who knows Malayalam. Bishan makes an enigmatic reference to having “stood alongside the best of men” against his own brother. This makes me wonder if he’s a character from the Mahabharata.

DIE #3 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Stephanie Hans. This is easily the best issue yet, and one of the best single issues Kieron has written. The first two issues of Die were just reasonably good, but with this issue Die becomes a major work, comparable to Journey into Mystery and WicDiv. This issue’s plot is that the party visits a plane based on World War I, except the English soldiers are also based on the hobbits from LOTR. Kieron makes the point that the hobbits are an “idealised working class” while the elves, who don’t appear in the issue, represent the ruling class. Yet Kieron also shows that this critique of LOTR doesn’t destroy its imaginative power. His portrayal of the hobbits, or Englanders, is heartbreaking, and he depicts Tolkien, who appears in the issue, as a complex and troubled man. Like Peter Cannon #1, this issue is also full of clever allusions, like “In a hole in the ground there died an Englander” and the intervention of the Eagles at the end. Kieron explains in the letter column that this story is his attempt to grapple with his “oedipal rage towards” Tolkien or his “process of forgiving Tolkien.” In other words, this story is an attempt to deal with anxiety of influence. It’s not only a brilliant idea, it’s also very heartfelt and powerful.

RED SONJA #1 (Dynamite, 2019) – “The Coronation,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Mirko Colak. Red Sonja is crowned queen of Hyrkania, just in time for Hyrkania to be invaded by a Trump- or Putin-esque despot. Sadly, this is Mark Russell’s worst comic yet. It shows a notable lack of research: the Shadizar depicted in this story bears no resemblance to the usual depiction of Shadizar as a wicked city of thieves. And Russell’s Red Sonja doesn’t feel like Red Sonja. She could be any female barbarian character. I’m going to give this series just one more issue.

ARCHIE 1941 #5 (Archie, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, [A] Peter Krause. After Archie’s funeral, Veronica leaves her father, and Betty is about to leave town as well, but she meets Archie himself on the train. It turns out he was rescued from death by Tuaregs, and temporarily lost his memory. Archie’s return from death is kind of a contrived happy ending. I think it would have been more in keeping with the spirit of this series if Archie had actually died. Other than that, this was a satisfying miniseries that effectively evoked the World War II era. This comic claims that the Tuaregs hated the Germans as much as the Americans did, but I’m not convinced that’s actually true. Googling has failed to turn up any sources on the role of the Tuaregs in World War II, and I wonder if they may have been on the German side, since the French were their colonial oppressors.

ATOMIC ROBO: THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA #2 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. The indicia says The Dawn of a New Era, but the cover says Dawn of the New Era. This issue has four different plot threads: Vik and Lang’s date, Robo tutoring Alan, the three new apprentices, and Bernie’s underground adventure. It ends with the reappearance of the vampires from the vampire dimension.

ADVENTURES OF THE SUPER SONS #7 (DC, 2019) – “Noir Town,” [W] Peter J. Tomasi, [A] Carlo Barberi. Damian executes a plan to rescue Jon and get off Takron-Galtos. This is a reasonably fun issue, but as mentioned in a previous review, this series feels like a dead end or a lame duck, because DC has already given up on this version of Jon. I notice that DC is using Legion-related concepts (Sun-Eaters, Bgztl, and Takron-Galtos) in three different current series, but they still haven’t announced a new Legion title.

THE DREAMING #6 (DC, 2019) – “Judgment,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. Dora and Merv defeat Judge Gallows by summoning the weird giant heap of cubes. It turns out to be a newborn artificial intelligence, which becomes the new Lord of Dreams. Also, Abel gets to kill Cain for once. There are a lot of fascinating ideas in this issue.

DAREDEVIL #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Know Fear, Part 1,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Marco Checchetto. I’ve been unimpressed with Chip’s writing lately, and I’ve already decided to stop ordering Invaders, because the first issue of that series did nothing for me. But this is not a bad first issue. It explores Matt’s Catholic heritage and his propensity for violence in some interesting ways. It reminds me a bit of Daredevil #191. The main thing I don’t like about this issue is that it seems out of character for Matt to sleep with a woman right after meeting her.

X-23 #9 (Marvel, 2019) – “X-Assassin Part 3,” [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] Diego Olortegui. This is almost an entire issue full of Gabby acting cute. I love Gabby, but this series’s pacing is a bit slow, which is the biggest problem with Mariko’s writing. This issue has one two-page spread that’s brilliant but also kind of unreadable. It consists of a grid of 40 panels, with longer panels on the top and the left side, and, overlaid over all of that, a giant borderless image of Laura fighing robots. It’s a beautiful effect, but the individual panels in the 40-panel grid are mostly obscured.

UNNATURAL #7 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Mirka Andolfo. Johanna Draper Carlson criticized this series because of its exploitative depictions of women, and I’m not sure she’s wrong. But this is supposed to be an erotic cheesecake comic. My bigger problem with Unnatural is that it’s not very well written and its plot is not especially interesting. I’m going to stick with it, but only because I’m already past the halfway mark.

FEMALE FURIES #1 (DC, 2019) – “Anything You Can Do I Can Do Bleeding,” [W] Cecil Castellucci, [A] Andrea Melo. This series is very much in the same vein as King and Gerads’s Mister Miracle, in that it combines Kirby’s cosmic characters with a very mundane situation from everyday life. In particular, this story is about the discrimination that Granny Goodness faces as a woman in the workplace, except her workplace is the slave pits and war rooms of Apokolips. It’s a strong premise, and Castellucci develops it effectively. My main concern is that it seems wrong to depict Granny Goodness sympathetically. I hope that as this series goes on, it will show how Granny ended up internalizing and reproducing the sexist structures she labored under.

BLACK AF: DEVIL’S DYE #2 (Black Mask 2019) – untitled, [W] Vita Ayala w/ Kwanza Osajyefo, [A] Liana Kangas. Like Wilds, this comic has some reasonably good dialogue, but suffers from very ugly artwork. The artist’s linework is constantly fragmented and interrupted for no obvious reason. I feel like I need to be reading Black, but so far none of the Black series have impressed me very much.

THE GIRL IN THE BAY #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Time’s Knife,” [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Corin Howell. In 1969, a young woman is stabbed to death and thrown into Sheepshead Bay. When she wakes up, it’s fifty years later. I have lukewarm feelings about some of J.M. DeMatteis’s work, but this miniseries has an interesting premise, and it effectively contrasts the ‘60s and the 2010s. It’s like Smooth Criminals, but in a much darker vein.

G.I. JOE: SIERRA MUERTE #1 (IDW, 2019) – “Sierra Muerte,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. Not counting Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, this is the first new G.I. Joe comic I’ve bought since 1994. G.I. Joe was one of the first comic books I ever read regularly, but I gave up on it when I was in junior high. Maybe I should go back and collect the rest of Larry Hama’s run, but I’ve never felt sufficiently motivated to do so. Unfortunately, Sierra Muerte is Michel Fiffe’s least impressive comic yet. It’s just a typical G.I. Joe story, and it’s drawn in a conventional style, with none of the graphic mixed-media fireworks that make Michel’s work fascinating to me. I’m going to give this series a few more issues, but so far it’s not grabbing me.

LETTER 44 #6 (Oni, 2014) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule, [A] Alberto Jiménez Albuquerque. The main event this issue is that baby Astra is born. Also, the new President has a tense confrontation with the old President. I believe this is the last unread issue of Letter 44 that I had.

UNCLE SCROOGE #1/405 (IDW, 2015) – “Gigabeagle: King of the Robot Robbers,” [W] Rodolfo Cimino, [A] Romano Scarpa. I usually don’t like European Disney comics, but Romano Scarpa is one of the few European Disney artists I do like. His work is visually impressive and effectively evokes the spirit of Barks. In this issue’s main story, the Beagle Boys create a giant robot and send it to steal the Money Bin. In the backup story, also by Scarpa, a thief steals Scrooge’s coat because there’s a treasure map sewn into the lining.

STRAY BULLETS #15 (El Capitán, 1998) – “Sex and Violence,” [W/A] David Lapham. In 1984, teenage Virginia runs away from home and hides in a friend’s basement. While there, she discovers her friend’s mother having a series of affairs. Finally, the friend’s father comes home and finds his wife and her lover together, and they also discover Virginia in the basement. Things almost get violent until Virginia’s big sister and guardian, Beth, shows up to diffuse the situation. This is an entertaining and well-crafted issue that also depicts the ‘80s realistically, though I guess at the time, 1984 was in the very recent past. I found this issue in my suitcase after I returned from a quick trip to Florida. I must have bought it at Charlotte Mini Con and then forgotten to unload it.

ETHER: THE COPPER GOLEMS #2 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. Investigating some leaks from the Aether into the Earth, Boone and his companions investigate the realm of Roman mythology. That means it’s full of Capitoline wolves and baby Romuluses and Remuses. Boone saves the day by giving the local sorceress, Agrippa, a riddle to solve. It’s one of those grid-based logic puzzles, and I didn’t bother trying to solve it myself, but I assume there’s enough information provided to enable the reader to solve it. David Rubín’s art in this issue is brilliant, as usual, but I wasn’t too impressed by the story. However, see the review of #3 below.

ENCOUNTER #4 (Lion Forge, 2018) – untitled, [W] Art Baltazar & Franco, [W/A] Chris Giarrusso. While out camping, Encounter and Barko meet  two space bounty hunters, one of whom turns out to be an old friend of Kayla’s. This leads to the best line in the entire series: “After I moved to California, I got work waiting tables, some office temping… One thing led to another and I became an intergalactic bounty hunter.”

TRUE BELIEVERS: ANT-MAN AND THE WASP – THE BIRTH OF GIANT-MAN #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “Return of the Ant-Man” and “The Birth of Giant-Man!”, [W] Stan Lee & Larry Lieber, [A] Jack Kirby. This issue reprints two stories from Tales to Astonish #35 and #49. The first story is from the earliest period of the Marvel universe, when their superhero comics were stylistically similar to their monster comics. By the time of the second story, in which Hank appears as Giant-Man for the first time, the Silver Age Marvel style is better developed. This story introduces the Living Eraser, one of Marvel’s coolest villains who only ever appeared a few times. It’s also notable for its outrageous sexism, even for a Silver Age comic. Hank’s treatment of Jan is borderline abusive. He tells her at one point “You’re just in love with the idea of being in love! Now button those ruby lips until we finish the job!”

NEW LIEUTENANTS OF METAL #2 (Image, 2018) – “Victim of Changes,” [W] Joe Casey, [A] Ulises Farinas. Ulises’s art is spectacular, but I wish he would work with a better writer. I don’t especially like either his writing or Joe Casey’s writing. Also, the main story in this issue is very short, and the issue ends with fourteen pages of Joe Casey’s reflections on his career. I have no interest in Casey’s recollections, and I didn’t bother reading any of this material.

INJECTION #4 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Declan Shalvey. This is better than an average Warren Ellis comic. I’m not sure what it’s about exactly, but it includes some interesting reflections on the pace of change and how it accelerates or decelerates throughout history. It poss the idea that in the issue, the pace of change will slow down and things will get boring and that this is not good. I’d be interested in reading more of this series.

DONALD DUCK #275 (Gladstone, 1989) – “Webfooted Wrangler,” [W/A] Carl Barks. In this issue’s first story, Donald tries to become a cowboy, but fails spectacularly at all the skills involved in being a cowboy. It’s a funny piece of slapstick. In the backup story, by Walt Kelly, Donald has a dream where he’s transported into the world of Pinocchio. This story seems to assume that the reader has seen Pinocchio and remembers its plot well.

ELRIC: THE WHITE WOLF #1 (Titan, 2018) – untitled, [W] Julien Blondel, [A] Julien Telo & Robin Recht. This is an adaptation of the second part of The Sailor on the Seas of Fate. I haven’t read that book in a long long time, and what I remember about it is mostly the first part, where Elric meets Corum, Hawkmoon and Erekosë. This adaptation is visually spectacular, with lush artwork and coloring. The artists’ version of Elric looks scary and very different from normal humans, and they draw Stormbringer as an enormous greatsword, whereas I usually imagine it as more of a rapier. Along with P. Craig Russell’s Stormbringer, this may be the best comics adaptation of Moorcock.

BATMAN/THE MAXX: ARKHAM DREAMS #1 (IDW/DC, 2018) – “The Outback,” [W/A] Sam Kieth. I bought this entire miniseries, but didn’t read any of it. I’m trying not to do that anymore, and so far this year, I’ve read almost every new comic I’ve bought.  Sam Kieth’s artwork on this issue is amazing and unique, but his writing is not good. It’s cliched and boring. I think his work is better when he collaborates with a dialogue writer, like Bill Messner-Loebs.

I received more new comics on February 18. This was a stressful week and I wasn’t able to enjoy my comics as much as they deserved.

MS. MARVEL #38 (Marvel, 2019) – “Boss Rush,” [W] G. Willow Wilson et al, [A] Nico Leon et al. In Willow’s final issue, a flying sloth pulls Kamala through a wormhole to a video game dimension, where she has to fight a bunch of bosses. Each boss encounter is handled by a different writer and artist, and each boss turns out to be one of Kamala’s friends. I’m guessing that the anthology format was necessary because of Willow’s health issues, but whether or not that’s true, this issue is a nice ending to her run. Congratulations to Willow on the completion of the most important Marvel comic of the decade, a series that transformed the genre of superhero comics.

RUNAWAYS #18 (Marvel, 2019) – “That Was Yesterday Pt. 6,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Kris Anka. Gert saves the day by using the time machine to send Bo and Rim into the future. But the Doombot appears to be dead. Gib is stuck in the present, so I guess he’s a Runaway now, except that he needs to eat souls to live. Alex leaves the team before they get the chance to kick him out, but on the last page, he hears an unidentified voice asking “Can I come with you?” Unfortunately this is Kris Anka’s last issue. He did an amazing job. His depiction of Old Lace was a particular highlight.

OH S#!T IT’S KIM & KIM #5 (Black Mask, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Eva Cabrera. After a lot of shenanigans, the Kims recover the film, but in the process they piss off El Scorcho and damage their relationship. The last page reveals that the film is not the original song “Heaven is a Place on Earth”; it’s a video from before Kim Q’s transition, in which her father is listening to her play that song. This is a poignant ending which reveals that even though Furious Quatro is a complete shit, Kim Q still deeply yearns for his approval. This title would be a good candidate for the Eisner for Best Limited Series.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #41 (Marvel, 2019) – “Pop Quiz,” [W] Ryan North, [A] Naomi Franquiz. Peter Parker and Nancy Whitehead are kidnapped by a new villain called Ms. Quizzler, whose gimmick is obvious from her name. This is an entertaining done-in-one issue, but I still think Ryan’s prose style is sometimes condescending to the reader. Though maybe I only think that because I’m far older than this series’ target audience. Also, this issue would have been better if Ms. Quizzler’s riddles had taken some actual effort to solve. I know Ryan is capable of constructing difficult riddles.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “Re-Entry Part 2,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. In the dystopian version of Roosevelt Island, Kelly teams up with some other female superheroes to battle Makhizmo, the living embodiment of toxic masculinity. I liked this better than issue 1, and I think Kelly is the perfect writer for Ms. Marvel, but I still feel that this series isn’t as exciting as it could be.

WONDER TWINS #1 (DC, 2019) – “It Gets Weirder,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. A much better debut than Red Sonja #1. Zan and Jayna are immigrants from the planet Exxor, which is pretty straitlaced except that when it thunders, everyone goes crazy with lust. They have to navigate high school, while also performing monitor duty at the Hall of Justice. This is perhaps Mark Russell’s first series that’s not overtly political, and it shows that he’s not just a one-trick pony who can only write political allegories. Zan and Jayna are cute characters, and Russell’s attitude toward them is gently mocking but not mean-spirited.

WONDER WOMAN #64 (DC, 2019) – “The Grudge,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Jesus Merino. Veronica Cale summons Nemesis, the god of vengeance, to make Diana look like a public menace, and it works. This was worse than #63, but better than the issues before that. I like the way Willow writes Diana. “What a sad fate to be pampered in your sickbed by the daughter of the queen of the Amazons” is a nicely sarcastic line, and Jesus Merino pairs it with the perfect facial expression. I still think Veronica Cale is an unsuccessful attempt to give Diana an archenemy.

GIDEON FALLS #11 (Image, 2019) – “Did I Find You or Did You Find Me?”, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. This is the most visually impressive issue of this series yet, and that’s saying a lot. It’s a quick read, but that’s because almost every page is part of a two-page splash with a unique page layout. Andrea Sorrentino really goes for broke this issue; he deconstructs the space of the page in ways that are unheard of in mainstream comics. This series deserves serious Eisner consideration. To briefly summarize the plot, in this issue Daniel and the priest encounter the real Norton Sinclair, and then they switch places, each finding himself in the other’s reality.

BLACKBIRD #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Jen Bartel. Nina has a tense confrontation with Marisa, during which she summons a horde of cats and then turns them into giant monsters. Nina joins the Zon Cabal. Then she discovers she actually died in the earthquake. This is an excellent issue, and the series’s plot threads are coming together nicely.

IRONHEART #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve L. Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. Riri fights Midnight’s Fire, a villain from New Warriors. I had totally forgotten about this character. Otherwse there’s nothing radically new in this issue, but this series has been riveting so far. Eve Ewing’s portrayal of Riri’s experience seems very authentic.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #6 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Open the Unusual Door,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. I wonder why Dan Watters co-wrote this issue. On the subject of non-English scripts (see the above review of These Savage Shores #3), this issue includes a sentence in Hmong. This issue, Shakpana is defeated, but his victims don’t get their souls back. Meanwhile, we learn Uncle Monday’s origin, which is deeply immersed in African and African-American history. Uncle Monday’s origin story shows that House of Whispers is a still-rare example of a comic that draws upon Black Atlantic culture.

RAT QUEENS #14 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kurtis J. Wiebe, [A] Owen Gieni. After a bunch of fight scenes, we discover that the villains have Orc Dave’s son, and that one of them is Braga’s brother Broog. Kurtis Wiebe has announced that he’s leaving this series and that Ryan Ferrier is the new writer. I think that’s actually a good thing. This series hasn’t been truly enjoyable for a long time, and maybe it should have been cancelled after the accusations against Roc Upchurch became public. I will try Ryan Ferrier’s Rat Queens, though. I’ve had mixed feelings about his work so far, but at least he can’t do a significantly worse job than Wiebe has been doing.

MR. & MRS. X #8 (Marvel, 2019) – “Gambit & Rogue Forever Part 2 of 4,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Oscar Bazaldua. Mojo transports Rogue and Gambit into a bunch of different stories from different genres. But in each story, Gambit is trying to steal something called the Star Soul, and Rogue kills him by accident. Also, Spiral keeps showing up. This story arc is hilarious, with all its references to generic cliches, but it’s also a sensitive exploration of the difficulties and anxieties of a new marriage.

THE LONG CON #6 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W] Dylan Meconis & Ben Coleman, [A] E.A. Denich. We finally get to see how the catastrophe happened and how Loren survived. Also, we see some of the history of the Skylarks franchise, and Meconis and Coleman give us a very negative depiction of Gene Roddenberry. The writing this issue is very clever; I like how the catastrophe in the Skylarks series coincides with the one in the series’ “real” world.

SEX DEATH REVOLUTION #3 (Black Mask, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Kasia Witerscheim. This is the series about the woman whose memories are getting selectively edited. I missed issue 2, and it’s been a while since I read issue 1, so it was very hard to tell what was going on in this issue. At least it seems like this series is an interesting examination of trans issues.

THOR #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “A Boy and His All-Father,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mike Del Mundo. This issue investigates Thor and Odin’s relationship with perhaps unprecedented depth. Jason Aaron suggests that Odin is an uncaring and sometimes abusive father, and that Thor has spent his entire immortal life chasing his father’s approval. This is not a new take on the characters, it only makes explicit an aspect of their relationship that was mostly just implied before. Depressingly, this issue does not end with a reconciliation between Thor and Odin. Instead we get the sense that Odin is too much of an old asshole to change his ways. Mike Del Mundo’s art also deserves special mention. I really like the page where the panels are framed within Thor’s hammer.

WIZARD BEACH #3 (Boom!, 2019) – “A Slug at Midnight” and other chapters, [W] Shaun Simon, [A] Conor Nolan. More of the same sort of thing as issue 1. There’s some kind of conspiracy against Uncle Salazar. A girl likes Hex, but he’s too oblivious to realize it. As noted above, this series is funny and well-drawn, and it has some nice worldbuilding. I especially like the page with pictures of wizards from different regions.

OUTER DARKNESS #4 (Image, 2019) – “Each Other’s Throats, Part 4: Elox,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. We learn that Chief Navigator Elox used to be a god, and not the nice kind of god either, before he was betrayed and depowered. The first officer ignores the captain’s orders and rescues a cryogenically frozen spaceman, but it turns out he’s possessed by a demon, and all hell breaks loose. Also, everyone on the ship hates the captain, with good reason. This is an entertaining series and a fun parody of Star Trek.

INVINCIBLE #131 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Cory Walker. Two of the Viltrumite children try to kidnap Terra. That’s literally the entire issue.

BY NIGHT #8 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Christine Larsen. The best thing in this issue is the three adjacent businesses named Porn Palace, Pawn Palace and Prawn Palace. Otherwise, this is another boring issue. It’s difficult to pinpoint why By Night is so much less interesting than Giant Days or Bad Machinery. Perhaps because By Night is a limited series, its lack of a strong overarching plot is a more severe flaw than if it were an ongoing.

IMPOSSIBLE INCORPORATED #4 (IDW, 2018) – “The Everything and the Nothing!”, [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Mike Cavallaro. This series has gotten less interesting as it’s gone on. It has too many ideas for its own good, and it can’t explore any of those ideas in enough detail. It would have been better if DeMatteis had focused more strictly on Number’s relationship with her father and brother, although there is some of that in this issue. I do like the idea of Number finding herself in a black-and-white world of nothing.

GODDESS MODE #3 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Inheritance,” [W] Zoe Quinn, [A] Robbi Rodriguez. I was too tired to enjoy this issue as much as it deserved. (For that matter, I’m pretty tired now. It’s a constant condition in February.) This is an excellent series so far, but nothing particularly stands out about this issue.

DICK TRACY: DEAD OR ALIVE #4 (IDW, 2018) – “Dick Tracy Unbeatable,” [W] Lee Allred & Mike Allred, [A] Rich Tommaso. As expected, Tracy defeats all the villains and returns to the police force, now assisted by a new team of Crime-Stoppers. This series was not quite to my taste because of its high level of violence and Tracy’s sadistic attitude toward his enemies. However, those things are very consistent with Chester Gould’s original version of the character, and the Allreds and Tommaso obviously know Dick Tracy very well. Just about everything in this series comes straight from the comic strip. As usual, Tommaso’s design is excellent; I especially like the giant Moon Maid sign.

CRIMINAL #2 (Image, 2019) – “Bad Weekend,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue has no obvious connection to issue 1. Instead, it’s about Hal Crane, a cantankerous old comic book artist, and his assistant/handler Jacob. Hal Crane is a composite figure: he looks like Gil Kane, but his name recalls Hal Foster and Roy Crane, and he resembles Alex Toth because of his work in TV animation and his short temper. This issue’s story is a sordid and hopefully exaggerated tale of corruption and art theft. I know there were lots of rumors about people in the comics industry being connected to the mob, but I don’t think Ed is seriously suggesting that anyone in comics was as much of a criminal as Hal Crane.

ELRIC: THE WHITE WOLF #2 (Titan, 2018) – untitled, [W] Julien Blondel & Jean-Luc Cano, [A] Julien Telo. This concludes the story from last issue. It looks like Titan has published a couple other Elric adaptations from this same series. I definitely want to track those down, and I hope there are more forthcoming. On the back cover, Michael Moorcock is quoted as calling this “the best graphic adaptation of the story,” and it’s certainly the best comics adaptation of Elric, besides P. Craig Russell’s Stormbringer.

INVINCIBLE #140 (Image, 2017) – “The End of All Things Part Eight,” [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Ryan Ottley. Mark battles Thragg, the series’ worst villain besides Robot, inside a sun. After one of the most gruesome fight scenes in the entire series, Mark finally kills Thragg, and barely survives himself thanks to Al’s intervention. Mark’s internal montage while fighting Thragg is quite powerful, but it contrasts oddly with the grim bloodiness of the fight scene.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES/BUGS BUNNY SPECIAL #1 (DC, 2017) – “The Impostor Superboy!”, [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Tom Grummett. This is one of the three worst Legion comics ever published. Reading it made me furious. The main problem with this comic is that Sam Humphries’s approach to the Legion is to make fun of it. He makes all kinds of metatextual jokes about the Legion’s tangled continuity, repetitive plots, etc. Number one, making fun of the Legion is flogging a dead horse. What is even the pint of mocking a comic that’s no longer published? Number two, Legion fans like me are desperate for new Legion stories, and it’s especially insulting that when DC finally does throw us a bone and publish a Legion comic, it’s an unfunny parody. The final annoyance is that this issue has a backup story, but it’s just a retelling of the main story in a different style. Shame on whoever decided to publish this piece of crap.

BETTY BOOP #3 (Dynamite, 2016) – “Quit Buggin’ Me,” [W] Roger Langridge, [A] Gisèle Lagacé. I didn’t realize this comic was drawn by Gisèle Lagacé, or if I did realize that, I didn’t know who she was. This issue, the villains launch yet another plot to take over Betty’s grandpa’s house. There’s a subplot about a waitress who’s trying to impress a record producer, even though she’s a terrible singer. Overall, this is a terrific comic. It perfectly captures the spirit of the Fleischer brothers’ cartoons, and it even includes a bunch of song lyrics that are written with correct metre.

BETTY BOOP #4 (Dynamite, 2017) – “Mephistopheles Metamorphosis!”, as above. A fantastic conclusion to the series. Betty and Grandpa are tricked into selling the house to Lenny Lizardlips, and it turns out he was posing as Betty’s boss, Scat Skellington, for the entire series. Luckily, Betty and her friends save the day, and Betty becomes Skellington’s new regular singer. After reading Birth of an Industry, I find it hard to enjoy this series innocently. But if you can temporarily ignore the questionable racial politics of this series’ source material, then it’s yet another brilliant work by Roger Langridge, with excellent artwork by Lagacé.

INVINCIBLE #139 (Image, 2017) – “The End of All Things Part Seven,” [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Ryan Ottley. I should have read this before #140. This issue explains how Mark and Thragg ended up inside a star, but it’s mostly just a series of fight scenes.#