Two (big) weeks of reviews

COPPERHEAD #9 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Jay Faerber, [A] Scott Godlewski. Sheriff Clara and her posse try to track down her missing partner. One of the posse is the same ne’er-do-well one-eyed dude that she arrested in issue 1, or else a relative of his. They eventually find him in the Bastion, a refuge for criminals. I had high expectations for this issue after reading #6 through #8, but it turned out to be a bit disappointing.

COPPERHEAD #10 (Image, 2015) – as above. Clara finally rescues her partner, Budroxifinicus or whatever, then returns to town to find that the mayor has been murdered. Again, this issue was disappointing.

I got my next shipment of new comics on Monday, March 18, right after I got back from ICAF. The highlight of ICAF for me was that I got to meet, and even be on a panel with, G. Willow Wilson herself. It was a thrill to finally meet someone whose work has inspired me so much. Unfortunately, by the time I got back, I was so exhausted that I found it hard to appreciate the comics I was reading.

Appropriately, the first comic I read this week was:

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. Saladin is the obvious choice to succeed Willow on Ms. Marvel, and this issue is a really promising start to his run. The main event is that Kamala’s dad finally learns her secret identity, and is not happy about it. Then Kamala fights some hybrid animal monsters, and the issue ends with her parents dissolving into goo. The most outstanding aspect of this issue is its humor. Saladin’s writing is very funny, in a related but distinct way as compared to Willow’s writing.

LAGUARDIA #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Future Citizen,” [W] Nnedi Okorafor, [A] Tana Ford. Future and Citizen are reconciled, and Future becomes a liaison to alien immigrants.  This issue is an understated but sweet conclusion to one of the best miniseries of the year. It continues this series’ central theme in which aliens are used as a metaphor for immigration and the blending of cultures.

ASSASSIN NATION #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kyle Starks, [A] Erica Henderson. Erica’s first creator-owned series is radically different from Squirrel Girl in terms of subject matter. It’s about an assassin who hires a bunch of other assassins to protect him from being assassinated himself. But this series has the same irreverent sense of humor as Squirrel Girl does, even though it’s intended for a much older audience. The central conceit of the series is that the assassins all compete to be #1 on the world assassin rankings. There’s lots of violence and death, but it’s not meant to be taken seriously.

RUNAWAYS #19 (Marvel, 2019) – “But You Can’t Hide Pt 1,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andrés Genolet. Turns out it was Molly who asked to come along with Alex, and it’s because she thinks Alex can bring her parents back. Like Ripley in Lumberjanes, Molly is a more complex character than she appears to be; she has deep anxieties behind her façade of a happy child. The issue ends with the other Runaways tracking Molly and Alex down, but while this is a heartwarming moment, the story isn’t over yet. By the way, it’s a bit disappointing that Molly has been wearing the same hat for this entire storyline. I have this headcanon that one of Molly’s powers is the ability to conjure silly hats from thin air.

MY LITTLE PONY: NIGHTMARE KNIGHTS #5 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Tony Fleecs. The Nightmare Knights succeed in defeating Eris and freeing Daybreaker and Nightmare Moon, and it turns out that Capper’s apparent betrayal was indeed part of his plan. But they don’t succeed in turning the princesses back into Celestia and Luna; instead, they become the new evil rulers of this world. So the Nightmare Knights didn’t achieve much after all.  This was perhaps the grimmest pony comic yet, though it’s still kid-friendly. dr

SHURI #6 (Marvel, 2019) – “A Friend in Need Part One,” [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Paul Davidson. In the first issue of a fill-in storyline, Shuri teams up with Miles Morales to fight a new villain called Collision. Ms. Marvel appears at the end of the issue. Vita Ayala writes good dialogue, but her writing doesn’t excite me as much as Nnedi does. And the guest stars in this issue seem a bit gratuitous, although that may be unfair, since this series has already had a bunch of guest stars.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #42 (Marvel, 2019) – “Kang vs. Squirrel Girl of Three Eras!”, [W] Ryan North, [A] Naomi Franquiz, Derek Charm & Erica Henderson. Ryan’s 50th issue of Squirrel Girl is one of his best. In this issue Squirrel Girl fights Kang and (of course) wins, thanks to assistance from her future and past selves. This issue’s plot is brilliant. All the uses of time travel in the issue are consistent and make logical sense, and that testifies to Ryan’s technical virtuosity. It’s also fun to see three different versions of Doreen interacting, and as an added bonus, this issue has art from both major Squirrel Girl artists as well as a guest artist. As an added bonus besides that, this issue’s letters page contains annotations to Ryan and Erica’s first Squirrel Girl story.

RAT QUEENS #15 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kurtis J. Wiebe, [A] Owen Gieni. The Rat Queens defeat Braga’s brother and the other villains, and then Violet and Orc Dave decide to get married. This was a reasonable conclusion to Kurtis Wiebe’s run, but as usual with Rat Queens volume 2, it was nowhere near as good as any issue of the first volume.

WONDER WOMAN #66 (DC, 2019) – “Giants War Part 1,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Cary Nord. Diana teams up wth Giganta to battle a rampaging Titan – the mythological kind, not the superhero kind. Also, the three mythological creatures from #63 are now permanent fixtures in the series. Willow’s writing in this issue is very funny, and she writes some nice interactions between Diana and Giganta, although this series is still not at quite the same level as Ms. Marvel.

AGE OF CONAN: BÊLIT #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Lost Verses,” [W Tini Howard, [A] Kate Niemczyk. A young Bêlit’s father is going to train her to become a pirate queen, but things go badly wrong. She ends up having to mercy-kill him herself, before finding a pirate ship so she can gain revenge on his betrayers. This issue is okay, but nowhere near as fun as Raven: The Pirate Princess. And it seems kind of unnecessary, since Belit’s early years were already covered in Roy Thomas’s first Conan run.

CALAMITY KATE #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Corin Howell. I am going to have to create a new tab in my long boxes for “Visaggio, Magdalene, other than Kim & Kim.” This is at least her sixth different original series, counting Kim & Kim, and there are more coming. Calamity Kate is about a professional monster hunter, who, like many of Mags’s protagonists, is also kind of a train wreck as a person. As the series begins, she drops in on an old friend of hers, a widowed single mother, and immediately upends her life. This series has a really funny and touching setup, and I’m excited to read more of it.

WONDER TWINS #2 (DC, 2019)  -“Little Boxes,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. This issue is mostly a critique of the private prison industry. Like most of Russell’s politically oriented stories, it’s incisive and powerful while also being genuinely funny. But the highlight of this issue is the scene where Beast Boy is filming a “Hot Mess Fruity Pies” ad. It’s exactly like the old Hostess Fruit Pies ads, but with an added twist: the villain is Jack O’Bin, who wears French revolutionary clothing and has a jack o’lantern for a head. And when Beast Boy defeats him, he quotes Rousseau: “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains.”

CATWOMAN #9 (DC, 2019) – “The Two-Step ChaChaCha,” [W] Ram V, [A] John Timms. In this one-shot fill-in issue, Selina executes an elaborate caper in order to steal back a stolen bracelet. This issue is funny and well-plotted, but not especially memorable.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #7 (DC, 2019) – “The Troubles I’ve Seen,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Speaking of troubles, I’m troubled that Dan Watters is co-writing this series, because I like Nalo’s work a lot more than his. This issue reintroduces the creepiest Sandman villain, The Corinthian. The sequence that introduces him initially seems like a pointless dream about people eating animal eyes, but as I read further, I slowly realized that the Corinthian was back. This slow realization was a really cool effect. House of Whispers #7 ends by introducing one of the most famous African deities: Kwaku Anansi. I look forward to seeing what Nalo does with this character.

X-23 #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “X-Assassin Part 4,” [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] Diego Olortegui. It turns out that the assassin clones were built with an artificially shortened lifespan. The still-unnamed clone sacrifices her already-doomed life to kill her creator, Dr. Chandler. I already read this story once, when it was called Scud the Disposable Assassin. But X-23 #10 is a funny and sad issue, and it has a totally different tone from Scud.

BLACKBIRD #6 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Jen Bartel. I accidentally ordered two copies of this issue with two different covers. This issue, Nina finally confronts her mother, and it turns out that to save Nina’s life, Nina’s mother put some kind of curse on Marisa. So Nina’s mother is awful, and Nina decides to give up on her and join the Zon Cabal – because “Zon Cabal never called me crazy baby.” This series went in a very different direction than I expected, but it still makes sense as a coming-of-age tale, in which a young woman decides to throw off her mother’s yoke and start making her own choices.

OUTER DARKNESS #5 (Image, 2019) – “Each Other’s Throats Pt. 5: Planetfall,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. I was really tired when I read this. Outer Darkness #5 begins with a horrifying scene of a little girl getting killed by an alien monster. Then we go back in time 125 years (?!) to the main story. Thanks to the demon’s sabotage, the Charon crashes on an ice planet, and when the crew tries to regroup afterward, the possessed Sato Shin starts murdering his crewmates. The fun part of this comic is how things keep getting worse and worse. The joke is that this series is basically Star Trek, except 1) the captain is terrible at his job, and 2) the major characters aren’t immune from bad consequences.

THE LONG CON #7 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W] Dylan Meconis & Ben Coleman, [A] E.A. Denich. The heroes are about to get shot by Skylarks fans, but are saved by an army of lady barbarian cosplayers. The franchise they’re from is an obvious reference to Xena. Then after further dangerous travels, the heroes end up in Hollywoodland. Again, I was too tired to enjoy this much, but it’s an excellent issue. There are some great one-panel scenes near the end, including a giant chess board where Loren can only move diagonally, and a “Women Wyverns in Comics” panel.

HOUSE AMOK #5 (IDW, 2019) – “We Dissolve,” [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Shawn McManus. Olivia and Dylan manage to save themselves, but their parents’ and brother’s fates are unclear, and the girls are traumatized for life. The series ends 24 years later with a much older Ollie showing up at Dylan’s door. This comic demands a sequel, because its conclusion doesn’t resolve much of anything.

HEAD LOPPER #11 (Image, 2019) – “Head Lopper and the Knights of Venora Part 3,” [W/A] Andrew MacLean. This issue finally shows us how Agatha lost her head. Of course it also advances the Knights of Venora plotline, but I had trouble following that part of the story, though this was likely due to my exhaustion.

BY NIGHT #9 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Christine Larsen. This issue is a flashback to the creation of the interdimensional portal. It’s colored in an old-fashioned style with Ben Day dots, and it even includes a parody version of a ‘90s Bullpen Bulletins page. It’s one of the better issues of the series, but that’s not saying much.

A few older comics:

INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #2 (Marvel, 2013) – “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. Bruce Banner has been effectively enslaved by SHIELD, or at least that’s what Tony Stark thinks, and he’s not happy. This is a somewhat inconsequential comic, but it’s entertaining and well-drawn. It includes a quotation from the SF writer Charles Yu.

THUNDERBOLTS #145 (Marvel, 2010) – “Field Test,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Kev Walker. A new team of Thunderbolts is sent on a fake training mission, followed by a real mission to hunt some rogue Asgardian trolls. Except it turns out one of the trolls is human. I bought this issue because it’s the debut of Troll, a cool-looking minor character, but it’s also a good comic in its own right. Jeff Parker is a consistently excellent writer, even though almost all of his assignments have been rather low-profile, and Kev Walker’s art is quite good.

BIRTHRIGHT #14 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Josh Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. I liked Birthright #1 enough that I was glad to realize I already had another issue of the same series. This issue is obviously tough to understand without having read #2 through #15, but it’s fun. The main thing I remember about it was the surprising realization that Mikey has a child on the way, although this was already revealed in an earlier issue.

SILK #5 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, [W] Robbie Thompson, [A] Veronica Fish. This series was never as good as Spider-Gwen, let alone Ms. Marvel or Squirrel Girl. This issue’s storyline is totally forgettable, and its plot is way too compressed; for instance, it wastes an entire page on an unimpressive splash panel of Black Cat knocking Silk out a window. I should have dropped this series sooner.

BATMAN #641 (DC, 2005) – “Family Reunion Conclusion: Face to Face,” [W] Judd Winick, [A] Doug Mahnke. I don’t understand the plot of this issue, but it ends with the revelation that Red Hood is Jason Todd. This issue is a good example of the problem with most modern Batman comics: it’s grim and gritty, excessively violent, and pessimistic, and it has no real point.

MAGNUS ROBOT FIGHTER #2 (Dynamite, 2014) – “Caught in the Correctional!”, [W] Fred Van Lente, [A] Cory Smith. This is at least the third different Magnus revival from as many different companies, and none of them have been truly successful. This is because the licensees are hard to work with, but also, I think, because Magnus has limited appeal today. The original Magnus series had minimal characterization, and its SF elements are badly dated. What made Magnus a classic was Russ Manning’s brilliant artwork, and none of the Magnus revivals were ever able to match that. Fred Van Lente’s Magnus at least has some interesting ideas, like Magnus being a twentieth-century schoolteacher who somehow finds himself in North Am, but Van Lente doesn’t do much with those ideas.

New comics received on March 22:

LUMBERJANES #60 (Boom!, 2019) – “The Life of the Party,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] AnneMarie Rogers. I was still pretty tired when I read this. Jo and her companions escape from the serpent and make it back to camp in time for the play. April saves Jo some embarrassment by declaring that it’s a surprise party for all the campers with summer birthdays, not just Jo. This was an effective concluding chapter, but I think April and Jo could have learned more than they did. April should have learned to stop throwing unwanted birthday parties for Jo, and Jo should have learned to stand up for herself.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #1 (Image, 2019) – “Walking the Path Part One,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. A very exciting debut from an all-star creative team. Willow is one of the best writers in comic books right now, and Christian Ward is probably the single best artist. Considering the interests and talents of the two creators, it’s appropriate that this series is a space opera about religion. There are two protagonists – Vess, a new initiate to a religious order, and Grix, a space pilot – and while they don’t meet each other in this issue, they both seem to be involved in the same conspiracy. This issue is a bit of a low-key start, but this series looks fascinating.

MONSTRESS #21 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. Maika spends most of this issue talking to her dad, who seems like a real jerk. Also, we’re introduced to a bunch of new characters who are allied with Maika’s dad. I don’t remember much else about this issue.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #76 (IDW, 2019) – “Cosmos Act the 3rd: …And Far Too Many Stars Have Fell on Me…,” [W] Katie Cook, [A] Andy Price. The title is a song lyric. This issue, the two parties of ponies recover two of the remaining stars, and Cosmos decides to find the last one herself. This issue’s plot is fairly predictable, but as usual, Katie’s writing is very funny, and Andy’s art is spectacular. The highlight of the issue is the line “Canterlot! Canterlot! In short, there’s simply not a more congenial spot.”

RAINBOW BRITE #5 (Dynamite, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Xenia Pamfil. Wisp gets captured and sent to prison, where she meets the green Color Guard. Then the ultraviolet sprite goes and finds Willow. The issue ends on a cliffhanger, and so far there’s been no announcement as to whether this series will continue, or, if so, in what form. That’s a shame, because it’s only just getting interesting. This issue finally reintroduces Willow, which cures my biggest annoyance with the series.

GRUMBLE #5 (Ahoy, 2019) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. This issue is mostly a flashback showing what happened to Tala’s mother and grandfather. It seems like they’re all part of some demon species, and they’re being chased by something called a S’Taera, which has killed Tala’s grandfaher and abducted her mother. So Tala’s goal is to get her mother out of the S’Taera’s prison, but she has to replace her with someone else, which is what Eddie is for. This is an exciting issue, but Eddie’s absence from the flashback sequence is unfortunate. Early in the issue there’s a reference to the Jucy Lucy sandwich.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Re-Entry Part 3,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. The war with Machus/Nuclear Man continues. It turns out that Som is Machus’s son. Rogue appears at the end of the issue. So far this series hasn’t made much of an impression on me.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #4 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garrón. I forgot about this issue until I looked at it again while typing this sentence, but now that I look at it again, I remember that it’s quite good. Miles and his roommate and girlfriend decide to skip school to go see a hip hop exhibit, but the vice principal is trying to catch them playing hooky. So this issue is like one of the Little Lulu stories with Mr. McNabbem. It’s very funny, while also showing deep insight into the characters. The high point of the issue is the two-page sequence with the Family Circus-esque dotted lines.

BLACK BADGE #8 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Tyler Jenkins. Two White Badge spies are spying on the individual Black Badges, but Willy turns the tables on them and kills them. This issue offers some interesting background information on the protagonists.

HIGH LEVEL #2 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Minnow,” [W] Rob Sheridan, [A] Barnaby Bagenda. This is a mild improvement over the last issue, because there are some cute interactions between the protagonist and the little girl. However, this comic is still not good enough to continue reading.

FARMHAND #6 (Image, 2019) – “ReCreation,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. I just got back from ICAF, where I met Rob Guillory, not for the first time, and watched him do an interview with my friend Qiana Whitted. The interview was enlightening; in particular, until Rob made it explicit, I didn’t get the joke that Farmhand is about “organic farming” in the sense of growing organs on a farm. I’m glad to have the series back, and I really appreciate Rob’s transparency about when each issue will come out. However, this issue was a bit of an interlude. It advances a bunch of ongoing plots, and it reveals that the organ seeds will only grow in response to Jedediah’s voice, but it didn’t have much else that was new.

MIDDLEWEST #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. This issue begins with a flashback to another shocking scene of child abuse. Abel’s mother sends him a new bicycle, but Dale smashes it out of pure spite. Then Abel confronts Bobby – I think that’s the girl’s name – and the old magician, who turns out to be Jebediah’s sister. The issue ends fairly happily, but we’re reminded that Dale is still hunting for his son.

SUPERB #18 (Lion Forge, 2019) – “Live Fast, Die Young,” [W] David F. Walker, [A] Alitha Martinez. Nothing particularly new here. The Cosmosis backup story in this issue is a parody of an anti-drug story, but it doesn’t seem all that funny even for readers who will get the joke.

BITTER ROOT #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] David F. Walker & Chuck Brown, [A] Sanford Greene. This issue is mostly a series of fight scenes. I’m really enjoying this series, but it’s hard to find anything to say about each issue. As with Bitch Planet, Bitter Root’s paratextual material is often just as interesting as its stories. This issue includes an essay by another of my fellow comics scholars, Stacey Robinson.

WEST COAST AVENGERS #9 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Gang Hyuk Lim. It turns out that Johnny and Ramone (I just got that joke) are Wakandans, and then Ramone gets metal skin powers. Also, Kate’s mom is a vampire. I wonder if Kelly is ever going to get to resolve the ongoing plotline about Kate’s mom. Both Hawkeye and this series got cancelled while that plotline was still going on.

DARK RED #1 (Aftershock, 2019) – “The Forgotten Man,” [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Corin Howell. This is another horror series set in the upper Midwest, but it has a much less interesting setup than Revival; it’s just a standard vampire story. Also, the protagonist is a hardcore Trump supporter, so sympathizing with him is out of the question. I’m not planning to read any more of this series.

AQUAMAN #46 (DC, 2019) – “Unspoken Water Part 4 of 5,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha. Aquaman and Caille fight Namma and win, but she comes back as a dragon. This issue is okay, but not especially memorable.

AMERICAN CARNAGE #5 (DC, 2019) – “War,” [W] Bryan Hill, [A] Leandro Fernandez. In general this is another excellent issue, but it contains one scene that drove me nuts. The black FBI agent character, Sheila, is talking to a Beto O’Rourke-esque politician, and she accuses him of only caring about white voters while taking black voters for granted. Then she tells him “People like you are why I vote Republican.” Now perhaps I shouldn’t comment on this because I’m not black, but the logic here makes no sense. She thinks Democrats are passively racist, so she prefers to vote for the party that’s actively racist? And the way this scene is written makes it seem like Bryan Hill agrees with Sheila. As I pointed out on Facebook, this is an example of the biggest problem with this series, which is that I don’t like any of the characters.

SPARROWHAWK #5 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Delilah S. Dawson, [A] Matías Basla. Of course, sometimes the whole point is that you aren’t supposed to like the characters. This issue, Artemisia kills the Unseelie Queen and takes her title, but her sister (?), Caroline, gets pulled into Faerie. And then the boar dude sends her on a mission to kill and replace Artemisia. I don’t know what we’re supposed to learn from this, if anything, but Sparrowhawk is a powerful work of dark fantasy.

THOR #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Eve of War,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Lee Garbett. A series of vignettes taking place right before War of the Realms. Frigga is the central character. This is an okay issue, but nothing special. I like how Thor’s favorite foods are mutton, oxtails and lamb shanks.

On March 24, I went to the latest Charlotte Comicon. This was the best convention I’ve attended since last Heroes Con, mostly because I felt genuinely excited. I came in determined to have fun and buy stuff, and I did. Here are some of my purchases:

IRON MAN #18 (Marvel, 1969) – “Even Heroes Die!”, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] George Tuska. This is probably the best run of Iron Man issues prior to Michelinie and JR Jr. This issue has a complicated plot in which Tony has been replaced by an LMD, while Madame Masque and Midas mistakenly think the real Tony is the impostor. Also, Tony and Madame Masque are developing feelings for each other. In the end, Tony puts on his old golden armor to defeat the impostor, but suffers a heart attack. It’s a confusing story, but Archie tells it effectively, and Tuska makes a reasonable effort to draw like Steranko.

TEEN TITANS #9 (DC, 1967) – “The Big Beach Rumble!”, [W] Bob Haney, [A] Irv Novick. Like many early Titans stories, this one shows the Titans addressing a problem specific to teens. It’s spring break, and the students from two rival universities are meeting on a beach to resolve their feud. The Titans defuse the fight by getting the students to work together to build a jetty, but that’s just the first half of the story. In the second half, the Titans and the students fight a dumb villain named Captain Tiger. (All of Haney’s Titans villains were dumb.) This issue is very fun, and it shows Haney’s interest in resolving tensions between adults and kids. Unfortunately, Nick Cardy just did the inks and not the pencils.

QUANTUM TEENS ARE GO #1 (Black Mask, 2017) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Eryk Donovan. Another Mags Visaggio series that I hadn’t been aware of. This series’ protagonists are a transgender high school girl and her boyfriend. The plot focuses on their hobby of stealing technology to create time travel devices. I need to look for the rest of this miniseries.

GREEN LANTERN #83 (DC, 1971) – “And a Child Shall Destroy Them!”, [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Neal Adams. Black Canary takes a job at a private school, but it turns out to be run by a creep named Grandy, with the help of a little mute girl with psychic powers. This is neither the best nor the worst issue of this run. It has some touching moments, including the panel where Hal and Ollie are about to be killed by a bunch of kids, and Hal’s reunion with Carol at the end. But Grandy is not a great villain. Neal Adams’s artwork from 1971 looks much more contemporary than his artwork from 2019.

STRAY BULLETS #2 (El Capitán, 1995) – “Victimology,” [W/A] David Lapham. Another shocking tale of violence. In 1977, just after seeing Star Wars, a little girl named Ginny witnesses a murder. Her older sister warns her not to tell anyone, but because she can’t process her trauma, she attacks another child in school. On Halloween, the child’s friends beat Ginny and leave her for dead. Ginny’s descent from happiness to violence to victimhood, through no fault of her own, is painful to watch. Like other stories by Lapham, “Victimology” shows that Americans are never more than a heartbeat away from violence. Ginny doesn’t die in this issue, but survives to play a major role in the series; she’s also known as Virginia and Amy Racecar.

USAGI YOJIMBO #18 (Fantagraphics, 1989) – “The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy, Part VI: Storm Clouds Part,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. This issue begins with a nine-page vignette in which Usagi leaves Geishu, refusing an offer to enter Lord Noriyuki’s service, and encounters Gen on the road. The more interesting part is the second half. Ino was previously thought to be dead, but this issue he wakes up in a remote village. He saves the village from brigands and gains a love interest, but his pet tokage Spot gets killed. We see what happens to him next in “The Last Ino Story” from #38.

PREZ #2 (DC, 1973) – “Invasion of the Chessmen,” [W] Joe Simon, [A] Jerry Grandenetti. One of the most bizarre DC comics I’ve ever read. It focuses on a chess match between the American “Robby Fishhead” and the Soviet “Queen Errant.” The obvious inspiration for this is the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match, yet Bobby Fischer is mentioned as if he’s a different person from Fishhead. The issue also depicts bombings, living chessmen, counterfeit money, and a ton of other stuff. Its plot is impossible to summarize. It’s hard to know what to say about this comic, but it’s certainly a memorable comic.

MELODY: THE STORY OF A NUDE DANCER #5 (Kitchen Sink, 1995) – “Book Three: Dancer’s Debut – Balls,” [W] Sylvie Rancourt, [A] Jacques Boivin. This is a bit like Omaha because it’s a story about a nude dancer, set in a specific and identifiable city (Montreal). Unlike Omaha, it’s autobiographical. Unlike Omaha, it’s also rather slow and mundane. The most interesting part is when Melody and her boyfriend shoplift clothes because they can’t afford to pay for them. However, even if this issue was unexciting, I think this series is potentially fascinating, and I want to read more of it. I believe there’s also a Melody graphic novel which was drawn by Rancourt herself.

MARS #2 (First, 1984) – “Mars Attacks,” [W] Marc Hempel, [A] Mark Wheatley. Morgana and Teezy meet Fawn, and lots of other weird stuff happens. This comic has some interesting writing and art, but its plot makes no sense, and I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be about.

STINZ #4 (Fantagraphics, 1990) – “Sorting Things Out,” [W/A] Donna Barr. While at training camp, Stinz learns that his girlfriend Brüna is pregnant, so he has to rush back home for a shotgun wedding. He ends up having to fight both his own father and his future father-in-law, but true love wins in the end. This comic is hilarious and strangely heartwarming. I definitely like Stinz better than Desert Peach, but in this issue’s letters page, we’re told that Stinz is getting cancelled due to low sales. It did get revived later at another publisher.

BIRTHRIGHT #3 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. I bought a bunch of these at the convention, and it turns out that the series is still being published, so I can jump onto it with #36. In this issue’s flashback sequence, little Mikey and his friends battle some giant monsters, while in the present-day sequence, Mikey and Brennan escape from their parentts and go to look for one of the wizards from Terrenos.

AMAZING ADVENTURES #10 (Marvel, 1971) – “—In His Hand… the World!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Mike Sekowsky. Magneto uses a mind-controlled Black Bolt as his pawn, while the other Inhumans try to get Black Bolt back. This is an okay story, but not great. It was also the last Inhumans story in Amazing Adventures; the next issue starred the Beast. The last page says that this issue’s story will be continued in Avengers #95. It also says that “we’ll fill in the rough gaps between those two sagas at some later date,” but I don’t think that ever happened.

AVENGERS #23 (Marvel, 1965) – “Once an Avenger…,” [W] Stan Lee, [A] Don Heck. Cap quits the Avengers and becomes an itinerant boxer, just in time for the Avengers to be attacked by Kang. This is a classic Avengers story, but its art is unimpressive. Kang’s obsession with Ravonna is creepy and disturbing, though I guess that’s appropriate since he’s a villain.

SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES #11 (EC/Gemstone, 1953/1995) – four stories, [E] Al Feldstein. This issue includes two crime stories, a war story, and an SF story. The most interesting story in the issue is Wally Wood’s “In Gratitude…”.  A white Korean War veteran, Joey, returns home as a hero, but his comrade Hank returns in a coffin, having died saving Joey’s life. Joey’s parents refuse his request to have Hank buried in the local cemetery, because Hank was black. In a public speech, Joey castigates the townspeople for their racism. This story is powerful but also surprising. I knew about the famous story with the orange and blue robots, but I didn’t realize EC had published any other stories that directly addressed racism. The other three stories, including the SF story, are all about jealous spouses. In Johnny Craig’s “The Tryst,” an insanely overprotective husband murders a young boy who he thinks is his wife’s lover. Reed Crandall’s “The Space Suitors” is about an extramarital affair in space that results in three deaths. In Jack Kamen’s “Three’s a Crowd,” a different jealous husband murders his wife and best friend because he thinks they’re having an affair, but it turns out the wife was pregnant, and they were planning a surprise baby shower. I don’t blame the husband in this story for being suspicious, because the wife and best friend were acing really shady.

JOURNEY #2 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1983) – “The Forgotten,” [W/A] William Messner-Loebs. Wolverine MacAlistaire encounters an insane widow who thinks he’s her husband. It turns out she’s gone nuts because of the deaths of her husband and children. And MacAlistaire can’t stop having sexual fantasies about her. This issue is hilarious and creepy at once. It’s unrelated to the series’ ongoing plotline about Tecumseh’s war.

THE HORROR OF COLLIER COUNTY #1 (Dark Horse, 1999) – “Them,” [W/A] Rich Tommaso. This miniseries starts out as a slice of life story, about a single mother who moves with her child to her own mother’s house in Florida. But there’s also some kind of a horror plot, the nature of which is not clear yet. Much of Tommaso’s work is set in Florida, and he’s very good at capturing Florida’s hot, sticky, laid-back and ominous atmosphere. Compared to Tommaso’s later work, this issue’s art is more cartoony and less Clear Line, and it’s also in black and white. Until now I hadn’t read any Tommaso comics older than Dark Corridor, and I look forward to exploring more of his early work.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #2 (Marvel, 2015) – “Water Proof,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Spider-Man and Prowler infiltrate an underwater Zodiac base. This is an entertaining Spider-Man story, but it’s nothing spectacular. I wonder if Slott’s best Spider-Man stories were from earlier in his run.

BATMAN #374 (DC, 1984) – “Pieces of Penguin!”, [W] Doug Moench, [A] Don Newton. The Penguin visits Gotham in order to steal the plans for an airborne defense system. Also, there are subplots involving Vicki Vale, Julia Pennyworth and Harvey Bullock. Doug Moench was not an especially good Batman writer, and Newton’s art is rendered unrecognizable by Alfredo Alcala’s inking. According to Wikipedia, Moench more or less created Bullock, but is not recognized as his creator because he borrowed the name from an earlier character introduced by Archie Goodwin. However, Moench’s version of Bullock is just a stupid comic relief character. Later writers would make him more interesting.

KORAK, SON OF TARZAN #4 (Gold Key, 1964) – “Wizard’s Gorge” and “Warrior from the Past,” [W] Gaylord Du Bois, [A] Russ Manning. In this issue’s first story, Korak battles a fake witch doctor who is angry that white doctors are stealing his business. This story has beautiful art, but its treatment of African traditional healers is pretty embarrassing. In the backup story, Korak encounters a lost tribe of mammoth hunters, as well as some mammoths. This story has equally good art, and is less racist.

U.S.AVENGERS #2 (Marvel, 2017) – “$kullocracy Part Two,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Paco Medina. The USAvengers and a future Danielle Cage battle the Golden Skull. When I looked at this issue just now, it was so unfamiliar that I thought I hadn’t read it at all, and I had to examine it closely to make sure I had in fact read it. So I guess this wasn’t one of the more memorable issues of USAvengers.

ACTION COMICS #462 (DC, 1976) – “Super-War of Independence!”, [W] Cary Bates, [A] Curt Swan. Superman battles Karb-Brak, the pale white-skinned dude with orange hair and yellow and purple clothes. In a tie-in to America’s bicentennial celebration, Karb-Brak sends him back in time to 1776.  What’s more interesting is the backup story by ENB and Swan. It has a forgettable plot, but it’s a rare Krypto solo story.

BATMAN AND ROBIN ANNUAL #2 (DC, 2014) – “Batman and Robin: Week One,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [A] Doug Mahnke & Pat Gleason. I need to collect more of this series because I really like how Peter Tomasi writes Damian. However, this issue is not that great, and it doesn’t justify its extra length. As the title indicates, it takes place at the start of Batman and Dick Grayson’s partnership, and the villain is called Tusk and has giant tusks. I think Tomasi is better at writing a bratty, sarcastic Robin than a cheerful Robin.

THE TWISTED TALES OF BRUCE JONES #1 (Eclipse, 1986) – five stories, [W/A] Bruce Jones. Bruce Jones is best known as a writer, but is also a professional-caliber artist. His art in this issue is impressive, although it’s heavily indebted to other artists like Roy Krenkel, Al Williamson and Jeff Jones. For example, the third story, “Stopped,” feels like an imitation of Jeff Jones’s Idyl and I’m Age. The plots are typical EC-style shock-ending SF and fantasy stories. They’re competent, but not as good as the stories in Alien Worlds or the original Twisted Tales. The last story, “Booba the Jungle Boy,” is an extremely stupid Tarzan parody.

DAREDEVIL #101 (Marvel, 1973) – “Vengeance in the Sky with Diamonds!”, [W] Steve Gerber, [A] Rich Buckler. In this issue Daredevil fights Angar the Screamer, one of the most dated villains in Marvel’s history. Angar has long hair and wears a hippie fringe vest and no shirt, and his power is to get people high on LSD. This issue might have been a classic if it’d been drawn by an artist who could have done justice to Angar’s powers. For example, Jim Starlin or Frank Brunner could have created some very compelling hallucinatory images. Sadly Rich Buckler is not up to this challenge, and his hallucinations are more silly than scary. Gerber’s story is all right, but not the best he was capable of.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #39 (Marvel, 1975) – “The Trial of the Watcher,” [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Al Milgrom. Mar-Vell and Rick visit the planet of the Watchers,  where Uatu is put on trial for his history of interfering with Earth. I had high expectations for this issue because it’s a cosmic story by Englehart, but it was disappointing. Al Milgrom does his best to draw like Jim Starlin, but he’s not Starlin. This issue is the first appearance of Aron the Watcher, who later became a Fantastic Four villain.

BATMAN #346 (DC, 1982) – “Half a Hero…”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Don Newton. Two-Face escapes prison and sets up shop in a literal halfway house, i.e. a house that’s half beautiful and half dilapidated. Meanwhile, the new mayor fires Commissioner Gordon. This issue is much better than #374 because its plot is less convoluted, and because Frank Chiaramonte’s inking doesn’t obscure Don Newton’s storytelling skill. The issue also includes a Catwoman story by Bruce Jones and Trevor von Eeden, but it suffers from extreme overwriting.

HERO FOR HIRE #3 (Marvel, 1972) – “Mark of the Mace!”, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] George Tuska. I just noticed that this is the same creative team as Iron Man #18. This issue, a villain named Gideon Mace (whose hand is also a mace) organizes an army of veterans who are angry at being ignored. But his Bonus Army scheme turns out to be just a distraction to allow him to rob banks. While its racial politics may be questionable, the early Hero for Hire always had a very gritty and realistic feel, as well as a compelling protagonist and a distinctive setting in pre-tourist Times Square.

BIRTHRIGHT #4 (Image, 2015) – as above. Mostly just a continuation of the plot from #3. A notable feature of this series is the fairly realistic relationship between Wendy and Aaron, Mikey and Brennan’s parents. Their marriage has been ruined by what happened to Mikey, and Aaron is mostly to blame, yet he and Wendy still have to co-parent their remaining child.

INCREDIBLE HULK #165 (Marvel, 1973) – “The Green-Skinned God!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Herb Trimpe. A very strange issue from the best run of Hulk stories between Stan Lee and Peter David. The Hulk has been kidnapped by a submarine captain named Omen (Nemo spelled backwards – I just noticed that). Omen and his crewmen have a bunch of grown children who have spent their entire lives under the sea in his submarine, and whose bodies are grossly distorted by water pressure. With the Hulk’s help, the children revolt against their parents and force Omen to take the ship to the surface, but as soon as they get out of the sub, they all die from the bends. There’s also a villain named Aquon the Man-Fish, which sounds like a Pokémon’s name. Overall, this is a weird but compelling issue.

LUCIFER #6 (Vertigo, 2019) – “A Long-Awaited Comeuppance,” [W] Dan Watters, [A] Max Fiumara. Another issue with some good dialogue, but a completely impenetrable plot. I’ve had enough of this series.

CRIMINAL #3 (Image, 2019) – “Bad Weekend Part Two,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. The Hal Crane saga continues. Ricky, Teeg Lawless’s son, helps Crane and Jacob look for Crane’s stolen art, but they can’t find the art they’re looking for. The secret is that the art isn’t missing. It’s a Star King (Flash Gordon) strip that was the direct cause of Archie Lewis (Alex Raymond)’s death, and Crane gave it to Jacob but forgot having done so. “Bad Weekend” is a poignant story about the brutal way the comics industry treats its living legends. On the letters page, Brubaker mentions that there was a famous real comics artist who had a habit of stealing artwork to pay gambling debts. I wonder who this was.

WIZARD BEACH #4 (Boom!, 2019) – “Long Distance Wizards” and other chapters, [W] Shaun Simon, [A] Conor Nolan. Hex watches the annual Running of the Jellyfish, then leaves the beach to return to his homeland. This series has a fairly standard plot, but its artwork and dialogue are excellent.

STRAY BULLETS #28 (El Capitán, 2002) – “The Prize,” [W/A] David Lapham. This issue has a complicated plot that revolves around an imprisoned woman named Beth. I’m honestly not sure what’s going on here.

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