Reviews for first half of May

New comics received on April 26:

FANTASTIC FOUR #9 (Marvel, 2019) – “Outside the Box,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Aaron Kuder et al. The FF escape from Doom’s traps and set Galactus free, but then Doom captures them again and is about to execute them. Meanwhile, Wyatt and company rescue Franklin from Wendy’s house, but Wendy’s friends chase them and are about to kill them. Here, Dan Slott cleverly brings the two plots together: Franklin and Val build a teleporter and teleport Wendy’s demons from America to Latveria, while sending the FF in the other direction. This issue is a fairly predictable conclusion to the storyline, but the convergence of the A plot and the B plot is a nice touch.

RUNAWAYS #20 (Marvel, 2019) – “But You Can’t Hide Pt. II,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andrés Genolet. A pretty low-key issue that focuses on the various Runaways’ problems. Victor is racked by guilt over Vin Vision, Gib can’t eat anything except souls, and Karolina is failing all her college classes. As usual, the most fun thing about this issue is Old Lace’s antics.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #43 (Image, 2019) – “Show Time,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Jamie McKelvie. Minerva/Ananke tellls her origin story, and it turns out she created her powers by convincing people that stories or myths are real. So this whole series is a meditation on the power and danger of storytelling, much like Kieron’s Journey into Mystery. The gods realize they can break the cycle of godhood by renouncing their powers, but Lucifer refuses to cooperate. I think the plot of this series finally makes sense to me now, but I still wish I had time to reread the whole thing.

ASCENDER #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. Appropriately, Ascender is the opposite of Descender in terms of genre, though it has the same style of art and writing. Some years after Descender ended, the remaining worlds are ruled by an oppressive dictator named Mother. Andy and his orphaned daughter Mila are living alone on a mountain and trying to avoid Mother’s attention, but Mila is getting sick of her isolated existence. Conveniently, something falls out of the sky, and it turns out to be Bandit, except for some reason he says FRA! FRA! instead of ARF! ARF! Meanwhile, Mother has just received a prophecy: “Beware of the hound with the backwards tongue.” I still think the ending to Descender was anticlimactic, but it looks like this sequel will be fascinating.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Walking the Path Part Two,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. Grix and Vess’s situations get steadily worse, but it looks like they’re finally going to meet each other next issue. An interesting revelation in this issue is that though Vess uses female pronouns, her actual gender is “down”; her species seems to have four genders or sexes. Christian Ward’s draftsmanship is not perfect – it seems looser here than in Black Bolt or ODY-C. But his spectacular use of color makes him perhaps the best artist in the industry.

PRINCELESS VOL. 8: PRINCESSES #1 (Action Lab, 2019) – “Alize,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Kaitlin Jann. This miniseries is not a direct sequel to volume 7, but a series of origin stories for Adrienne’s sisters. We begin with Alize, who co-starred in volume 7. This issue shows how she escaped from her tower, was rescued by desert elves, ended up back in her tower with a sphinx for a guardian, and met her future husband. It’s not a bad issue, but I liked volume 7 better.

WONDER WOMAN #69 (DC, 2019) – “Love is a Battlefield, Part 1,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Xermanico. The subject matter of this issue is kind of appropriate considering its issue number. On the way back from the previous mission, Diana, Aphrodite and Maggie end up in Summergrove, Connecticut, where everyone is having extramarital affairs and engaging in public lewdness. It turns out that this is due to the influence of Aphrodite’s child Atlantiades, aka Hermaphroditus. This issue is very funny and entertaining, unlike Willow’s first storyline, which was too serious for its own good. I think she’s finally finding her own approach to Wonder Woman.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #42 (Marvel, 2019) – “Power & Responsibility,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Ray-Anthony Height. Lunella and Spider-Man team up to fight a pink goblin. This issue suffers from clumsy dialogue and a boring plot, and Ray-Anthony Height’s art style is too harsh and angular for this series.

CODA #11 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Matías Bergara. Hum escapes from the mer-witch’s captivity, but only after writing an epic narrative about her deeds in which she’s the hero. She uses Hum’s story to mind-control everyone, including Serka. It now becomes clear that Coda, like WicDiv, is about the power of story, but not in a nice way. The message of this series is that power consists in getting people to believe that you’re the main character of their story.

IRONHEART #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. Riri finally rescues the enslaved kids, and their abductor, a corrupt city councilman, is brought to justice. Riri starts a community center where the kids can hang out and learn about tech, and she also starts therapy. This is a heartwarming issue, but it’s also brutally honest about contemporary black life. The most powerful moment in the issue is not when Riri rescues the kids, but afterward, when she’s waiting for their parents to pick them up. And the kids say things like “My mama don’t get off ‘til 3 AM.” “My daddy has to stay in line at the shelter or we won’t get a spot.” “Our phone is cut off.” These lines reveal that contemporary real-life America is a worse oppressor of children than any Marvel villain. And I don’t know if any Marvel writer other than Eve Ewing could have written this scene.

MARVEL RISING #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “Heroes of the Round Table!”, [W] Nilah Magruder, [A] Roberto di Salvo. The highlight of this issue is the scene where Squirrel Girl and Quake are talking in the foreground, and in the background, the other characters are taking a photo with a little boy. Otherwise, this issue suffers from overwriting, poor dialogue, and a boring plot, and it feels like it’s talking down to its readers. I really wanted to like this series, but I can’t justify continuing to order it. Incidentally, I also don’t want to believe that Squirrel Girl’s Deadpool Trading Cards “really” exist. I think they should be just a metatextual device that only Squirrel Girl and the reader can see.

THE TERRIFICS #15 (DC, 2019) – “The God Game Part 1,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Stephen Segovia. Mr. and Mrs. Terrific go on a date, then the Terrifics confront a series of threats based on the ten plagues of Egypt. Gene Luen Yang has a very poor track record of writing superhero comics, but this issue is interesting, and I’m going to stick with this series for now. It’s odd that Offspring doesn’t appear in this story.

THE AVANT-GUARDS #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carly Usdin, [A] Noah Hayes. At the victory party, Olivia tries to romance Charlie, and it turns out Charlie is not ready for a relationship just yet, but is definitely interested. Then Olivia gets a message that the team’s games are suspended. This is another really cute and happy issue. I’ve noticed that almost every Boom! Box title has a queer theme, and I assume this is intentional. Queer-friendliness is one of the key features of the Boom! Box line.

DIAL H FOR HERO #2 (DC, 2019) – “River Deep, Mountain High,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. Miguel throws the H-Dial into a river, but another character finds it and uses it to turn into Jobu, the Zonkey King, an obvious parody of Goku from Dragon Ball. Miguel gets the dial back and turns into Iron Deadhead, which may be based on either Akira or Full Metal Alchemist. The Jobu sequence is illustrated in a manga style, with manga-esque page layouts and word balloons, limited colors, screentones, and speed lines. Joe Quinones’s ability to imitate other artists is amazing, and I hope he keeps doing this in future issues. He can even imitate differentkinds of manga; in the manga sequence, he draws like both Toriyama and Otomo.

GODDESS MODE #5 (DC, 2019) – “Keepalive Pattern,” [W] Zoë Quinn, [A] Robbi Rodriguez. I think I’ve pinpointed what I don’t like about this series: it’s doing too many things at once. The ideas in this comic are good, but there are too many of them. There’s Azoth, the Tall Poppies, the oppressive corporation, the father’s legacy… there are too many moving parts to this story, and it’s not clear how they fit together. Nor can I identify what the main theme of this comic is supposed to be. I think that Azoth alone would have been enough, without the subplot about the corporation and the protagonist’s father. This is a common mistake made by writers new to fiction writing: instead of writing manageable stories, they try to write giant epics that are too big to ever finish.

SMOOTH CRIMINALS #5 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kurt Lustgarten, Kiwi Smith & Amy Roy, [A] Leisha Riddel. I wonder why this issue has an extra writer. This issue is an extended training montage, with Mia and Brenda trying to master the Net of Indra’s security system. Smooth Criminals is a fun comic, but its plot hasn’t been going anywhere. It could have been at least an issue shorter.

SUPERB #19 (Lion Forge, 2019) – “We Could Be Heroes,” [W] David F. Walker, [A] Alitha Martinez. Jonah beats up that one evil kid, and forms a possible relationship with a gender-nonconforming kid. That seems to be the end of the series. I enjoyed Superb, but I’m also not going to miss it very much. The recent news about the layoffs at Lion Forge is infuriating; it sucks that so many talented people, many of them queer or POC, are out of work.

G.I. JOE: SIERRA MUERTE #3 (IDW, 2019) – “Sierra Muerte Conclusion,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. I enjoyed this a lot more than last issue, since I was reading it for the story, and I wasn’t expecting much of Michel Fiffe’s experimental draftsmanship. This issue has an exciting story: the revelation that Destro was really Zartan is a nice twist. And this issue also has better artwork. It includes some highly experimental linework and coloring. Reading this series has made me interested in Larry Hama’s GI Joe again; see below.

HEATHEN #5 (Vault, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Natasha Alterici. The previous issues of this series were not solicited through DCBS, as far as I know. And issue 8 was solicited, then cancelled, then offered again. In any event, Heathen is about a lesbian relationship between a female Viking and a Valkyrie. This issue, the Viking, Aydis, tries to hire a ship to cross the northern sea, but the ship owner refuses because the journey is unsafe. Then Aydis meets some mermaids who she convinces to guide the ship. Natasha Alterici’s artwork is amazing. She draws with thick lines and strong white-black contrasts, creating a sense of a wintry northern world. Her dialogue, characterization and historical knowledge are also excellent.

QUEEN OF BAD DREAMS #1 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Danny Lore, [A] Jordi Perez. This new series is about a woman who hunts down “figments,” i.e. dreams that become real. Queen of Bad Dreams isn’t a terrible comic, but there’s nothing very exciting about it, and I don’t intend to read any more of it.

RAWHIDE KID #61 (Marvel, 1967) – “Shotgun to Deadwood!”, [W] Gary Friedrich, [A] Dick Ayers. A shockingly racist comic, even for its time. This issue’s plot is that the Rawhide Kid saves some civilians from murderous bandits and Indians, with the aid of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. The Indians in the story are violent savages, they’re addicted to firewater, and they speak in baby talk. There’s no acknowledgement that they’re being brutally dispossessed of their land and culture. Also, the writer can’t distinguish between Indian nations. The story appears to be set in the West or Southwest, yet the Indians use wampum as money, and one of them claims to be a Cherokee. Since 1967, our society hasn’t made much progress toward equality for Native Americans, but at least we’ve mostly stopped publishing stories like this one. What’s especially ironic is that on the letters page, a reader praises Marvel for its favorable portrayal of Indians (https://www.instagram.com/p/Bw0u4NkhFzy/).

RAWHIDE KID #76 (Marvel, 1970) – “Guns of the Bandoleros!”, [W/A] Larry Lieber. The Rawhide Kid encounters a Dragon Lady-esque Mexican bandit named Lynx. This issue is pretty average, but at least it’s not blatantly racist, though the Mexicans in the story are pretty stereotypical.

BOOKS OF MAGIC #7 (DC, 2019) – “Over the River and Through the Worlds,” [W] Kat Howard, [A] Tom Fowler. Tim and Rose go to Faerie where they meet Titania. This series was already on my chopping block because of its extremely slow pacing, and that problem has not gotten any better. I’ve decided to quit reading it.

HEATHEN #6 (Vault, 2017) – as above. There’s a sequence with the Valkyrie, and then we return to the Viking and her shipmates. It turns out that the crew of the ship are all women who escaped from slavery, and they check every ship they encounter for additional slaves. This is a brilliant idea, and a nice twist on the now-familiar “lady pirates” trope. Overall, this is another excellent issue. I hope I can find issues 2 through 4 somehow – I already have #1.

GHOSTS #71 (DC, 1978) – three stories, [E] Murray Boltinoff. A collection of boring, unscary horror stories about ghosts. The artists are Bill Draut, Ken Landgraf and Jim Craig.

BAD LUCK CHUCK #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Disaster on Demand,” [W] Lela Gwenn, [A] Matthew Dow Smith. A continuation of the plotline with the mother-daughter rivalry. This series is okay, but it’s not especially exciting or unusual, and I didn’t bother to order #4.

CRIMINAL #4 (Image, 2019) – “Orphans,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue focuses on Ricky Lawless, a hopeless drug addict and ne’er-do-well. He’s trying to hunt down the people who killed his dad (as mentioned in #1), but he spends most of the issue getting beaten up and abusing his ex-girlfriend’s generosity. This is a good issue, but not as memorable as “Bad Weekend.”

MARVEL UNIVERSE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #2 (Marvel, 2015) – “Show and Tell,” [W] Mairghread Scott, [A] Adam Archer. I don’t know why I bought this comic. I guess I was hoping it would be like the old Marvel Adventures titles, but it doesn’t come close to that level of quality, although it’s better than the next two issues (see below). This issue, the Guardians’ ship is invaded by a creature that only Groot can see. Each issue of this series also includes a backup story which is an adaptation of an animated short.

MARVEL UNIVERSE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #3 (Marvel, 2015) – “Hang on Tight,” [W] Paul Allor, [A] Adam Archer. The Guardians visit a farming planet that’s experiencing a severe water shortage, and also, all the people there hate Drax. This issue was worse than the previous one, though none of them were especially great.

MARVEL UNIVERSE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #4 (Marvel, 2015) – “All Hail King Groot,” [W] Joe Caramagna, [A] Adam Archer. The Guardians visit a planet where the people worship Groot. Compared to Marvel Adventures, this series suffers from a severe lack of creativity or narrative complexity. The stories are predictable, and they all end by restoring the status quo.

THANOS #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Zero Sanctuary Part 1,” [W] Tini Howard, [A] Ariel Olivetti. A slightly retconned version of Thanos’s origin. This comic is excessively violent and morbid, since Thanos has to sacrifice people to Lady Death on a regular basis. I only ordered this comic because Tini Howard wrote it, but by this point I’ve lost confidence in her work.

WIZARD BEACH #5 (Boom!, 2019) – “Bugs” and other chapters, [W] Shaun Simon, [A] Conor Nolan. Hexley goes back home and solves the crisis that brought him to Wizard Beach, but then there’s another crisis that’s even worse. Hexley realizes that the people in the Wizard Mountains don’t actually want to be happy, so he goes back to the beach for good, and accepts Agnes’s romantic advances. This comic has a somewhat trite and predictable plot, but it’s also cute and heartwarming. Conor Nolan’s artwork is super-detailed and full of sight gags, and effectively immerses the reader in Wizard Beach’s world.

BLACK PANTHER #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Gathering of My Name” (again), [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Kev Walker. The rebels confront Princess Zenzi, who is possessed by Bast the cat god. She tells them that their Wakanda is not the only one, and restores T’Challa’s memory. So finally this story is approaching a climax.

PUNKS NOT DEAD: LONDON CALLING #3 (IDW, 2019) – “I Was There, Too,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Martin Simmonds. The squirrel girl (not that one) introduces Fergie and Sid to some other special people. Meanwhile, the weird old lady tells a story about Beleth’s past history. Martin Simmonds’s artwork in this every issue is every bit as gorgeous as in the first Punks Not Dead miniseries.

THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN #3 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tini Howard, [A] Amilcar Pinna. This issue largely consists of a flashback to Vexana’s history with Vlad the Impaler. As with Thanos #1, I only ordered this comic because of Tini Howard, and I wish I hadn’t ordered it. It’s just not all that good.

DARK RED #2 (Aftershock, 2019) – “Flyover States,” [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Corin Howell. A Nazi vampire tries to enlist Chip to help create an Aryan vampire nation, and Chip reacts violently to this idea. I appreciate that Tim Seeley is trying to confront the topic of rural American whiteness. However, it feels disingenuous when Chip gets furious at the idea of “bringing Nazis to my town.” If there’s any organized resistance to racism and fascism among rural white Americans, I haven’t seen it. From my experience, it’s exactly people like Chip who have made white supremacism such a problem in rural America. I think that as well as rejecting Nazism, Chip should show some awareness of how he might be complicit in it. Overall, I don’t enjoy this series enough to continue reading it.

STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #3 (Image, 2014) – “The Five Fingers,” [W/A] David Lapham. As suggested in CBR’s review (https://www.cbr.com/stray-bullets-killers-3/), this issue is a perfect introduction to Stray Bullets. A man named Dez Finger hires Virginia to babysit his children. It should be a simple task, but it turns out Dez is a brutal cheater, spousal abuser, and deadbeat dad. Also, he’s going to kill Virginia unless she finds his wife’s hidden stash of cash. This issue is a brilliant piece of thriller writing, and it demonstrates Lapham’s ability to go from boredom to high tension in just a few panels. By the end of the issue, I was terrified for Dez’s wife and kids, and I badly wanted to see him dead.

DETECTIVE COMICS #549 (DC, 1985) – “Dr. Harvey and Mr. Bullock,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Pat Broderick. Harvey Bullock is perhaps the worst part of Doug Moench’s Batman, because he’s so unsavory and also such a cliché. He’s the archetypal example of the fat, dirty, lazy cop. This issue, Moench tries to deepen Harvey’s character by revealing that he’s also a film buff. This story does succeed at making Harvey a less one-dimensional character, but only to a slight degree. What’s much more exciting about this issue is that its Green Arrow backup story is written by Alan Moore. “Night Olympics” doesn’t have much of a plot, and it’s not on the same level of quality as “For the Man Who Has Everything” or even “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize.” But it’s full of expertly written dialogue and captions.

JON SABLE, FREELANCE #34 (First, 1986) – untitled, [W/A] Mike Grell. Jon Sable gets lessons in hunting from an old Native American man. At the end of the issue, he discovers a mysterious survivalist compound. This issue is reasonably good, but by this point in the series Grell’s art had become a lot looser and less detailed, and his pages include a ton of unnecessary white space. As a result, this issue is an excessively quick read.

AVENGERS #210 (Marvel, 1981) – “You Don’t Need the Weathermen to Know Which Way the Wind Blows!”, [W] Bill Mantlo, [A] Gene Colan. The Avengers battle some new villains with weather-controlling powers. I’ve read almost every issue of Avengers from #100 to #300, and of all those issues, this is one of the worst. The Weathermen are potentially exciting villains, but Mantlo fails to exploit their potential effectively, and he never writes one line of dialogue when two would do. Also, Gene Colan’s artwork in this issue is less than his best.

New comics received on May 3, which, unfortunately, was a grading day:

PAPER GIRLS #28 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Cliff Chiang. This issue has a structure reminiscent of Alan Moore’s “How Things Work Out.” Each page has four horizontal panels, each depicting one of the four girls’ storylines. The issue can be read either vertically, one page at a time, or horizontally, one storyline at a time. This results in some fascinating tricks; for example, at one point a character says “Afraid I don’t understand the reference,” and this can refer to either the reference to Bobby McFerrin on the previous page, or the reference to Freddy Krueger in the panel directly above. And there are also some moments where the four storylines connect. Of course, as usual I can’t make head or tail of this comic’s storyline, and I’m looking forward to the end of the series so that I can read the whole thing at one sitting.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Joey Vazquez. This is the best “superheroes switch bodies” story I’ve ever read. Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel not only have different powers, they also have very different lives, and Eve Ewing explores what would realistically happen if an adult white man switched bodies with a teenage brown girl. This issue is hilarious precisely because the situations in it are totally plausible, if you accept that body-switching is possible. For example, Peter Parker is amazed by the taste of lip gloss, and Kamala Khan enjoys being able to shave her face and buy scratch-off tickets. Peter in Kamala’s body even gets period cramps, although they’re not identified as such. On top of all that, this issue even has a cat joke (https://www.instagram.com/p/BxA-lcthY60/). What more could you ask for?

GIANT DAYS #50 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. On Facebook, Siva Vaidhyanathan asked for advice on how to understand cricket culture, and I just recommended this comic to him. In this issue, John McGraw’s pub cricket teammates all get food poisoning on the eve of an important match (well, important to him) and McGraw’s friends are enlisted as replacement players. The resulting cricket match is utterly hilarious, and it even gives me a better understanding of why people like cricket. Personally, I find cricket less interesting than baseball because of the lack of baserunning and its associated strategy, but after reading this comic as well as Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, I want to watch more cricket. But then at the end of the issue, as McGraw is basking in his victory, the comic takes an unexpectedly dark turn when McGraw receives the worst news of his life. I’m sad that Giant Days is ending soon, but it’s going out on a high note.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #77 (IDW, 2019) – “Cosmos Part 4: All Together Now,” [W] Katie Cook, [W/A] Andy Price. This issue was a slight letdown after the brilliance of Giant Days #50, but it’s good. Cosmos inevitably manages to collect all six stars, acquire infinite power, and mind-control the princesses, and things are looking really bad for the rest of the Mane Six. Andy’s art in this issue is as amazing as usual, especially the panel where Cosmos says “I feel delightful!”

GRUMBLE #6 (Ahoy, 2019) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. Eddie and Tala visit Asbury Park, New Jersey in order to make a withdrawal from Jimmy the Keeper, a man who can swallow people whole. This is a good issue, but not as good as the last couple.

BEASTS OF BURDEN: THE PRESENCE OF OTHERS #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Evan Dorkin, [A] Jill Thompson. I’m surprised this comic was published at all, since its writer has publicly criticized its artist for lateness, but I’m glad it did eventually come out. In this new story, the Beasts of Burden meet three humans, two teenagers and their dad, who can understand what they say. The animals and humans battle a giant ratlike ogre, and the dad gets turned into a zombie. Jill’s art is spectacular, as usual. Benjamin Dewey was an adequate replacement, but he’s no Jill Thompson.

GREEN LANTERN #7 (DC, 2019) – “Emerald Sands,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. This issue takes place in a mysterious dark realm where a woman named Pengowirr is trying to escape the attention of a villain called Myrwhydden. Then Hal Jordan shows up, and it soon becomes clear that they’re inside his ring, and Pengowirr – an anagram of “power ring” – is the embodiment of the ring’s intelligence. Having had to enter his ring in order to save his life, Hal is floating in space far away from a power battery, and he has to work with Pengowirr and Myrwhydden to reach safety. This whole issue is brilliant; it’s a Green Lantern version of the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife” (which I admittedly have not seen). An especially nice touch is that most of the panel borders are shaped like the Green Lantern symbol.

THE DREAMING #9 (DC, 2019) – “The Void,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. Like Books of Magic #7, The Dreaming #9 takes place in Faerie, but the similarities end there because The Dreaming #9 is much better. Following Daniel’s trail, Dora goes to Faerie, where Nuala tells her about Daniel’s recent visit there. Inevitably, Nuala has to save Dora from Titania. Bilquis Evely’s depiction of Faerie is amazing, especially the establishing shot of Nuala’s house, and the scene where Titania is riding at the head of the Unseelie Court. I also love how every time Titania is introduced, her herald lists all her alternate names.

GOGOR #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing. A fascinating debut issue by an artist I hadn’t heard of before. Gogor takes place in a bizarre fantasy world. Its protagonist, Armano, rides a giant shrew and is pursued by masked men riding beetles, and he escapes them by leaping between the floating islands that make up his world. To defeat an oppressive dictatorship, Armano has to resurrect Gogor, a creature that resembles Swamp-Thing crossed with the Hulk. This comic isn’t very simliar to anything else, but it reminds me a bit of Weirdworld or Beanworld, just because of the sheer strangeness of its setting. Ken Garing’s art is understated but subtly brilliant. I will be on the lookout for his previous series, Planetoid and Planetoid Praxis.

MR. & MRS. X #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “Gambit & Rogue Forever Part Four,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Oscar Bazaldúa. Gambit and Rogue save Spiral’s baby and defeat Mojo, but it turns out that the “baby” is just a fragment of Spiral’s soul, which Gambit perceived as a baby. Based on this, I predict that this series will end with a pregnancy. After finally getting home, Rogue has to go help Captain Marvel, as was already depicted in Captain Marvel’s own title, and meanwhile Gambit’s father summons him back to New Orleans. It’s too bad this series has just two issues left.

On Saturday, May 4th, I went to Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find for their Free Comic Book Day event. Ironically, I had to pass up most of the best FCBD comics because I had already ordered them from DCBS. But I did get some of the less desirable FCBD comics, and I bought some new comics I had missed, as well as a stack of dollar comics. Some of my acquisitions:

LITTLE BIRD #2 (Image, 2019) – “The Fight for Elder’s Hope,” [W] Darcy Van Poelgeest, [A] Ian Bertram. Another fantastic new series. I wasn’t sure what was going on in this comic at first, but I soon realized that it’s a postapocalyptic story taking place in Canada, and the protagonist is a rebel against a brutal Christian dictatorship. This comic’s plot is fairly standard, but Ian Bertram’s artwork is stunning. His page layouts are intricate and innovative, and his linework is extremely distinctive. I see hints of Carla Speed McNeil and Andrew MacLean in his style, but it’s a style that’s entirely his own. I would certainly have preordered this entire series if I’d known what the art looked like. I did order issue 5, and I hope I can get the other three issues.

DARE #1 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – multiple chapters, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Rian Hughes. This was my most exciting find at FCBD. It’s Grant Morrison’s sarcastic, dystopian take on Dan Dare, originally published in the British magazines Revolver and Crisis. Dan Dare is bored and depressed after retiring from his career as an adventurer, but a fascist right-wing prime minister, based on Margaret Thatcher, enlists his aid for her campaign. Dare is an important work of Grant’s early career. Like much of Grant’s best work, it’s a postmodern take on classic comics. It also demonstrates his hatred of Thatcherism, which we also see in St. Swithin’s Day. But the really stunning thing about Dare is Rian Hughes’s art. Hughes is one of many super-underrated artists who came out of the ‘80s British small press, along with Phil Elliott, Paul Grist, David Hine, etc. In this issue, his depictions of art deco architecture and machinery are so slick and colorful that they remind me of Chaland or Daniel Torres.

CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT #2 (Marvel, 2011) – “The Last of the Innocent,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. “The Last of the Innocent” – a.k.a. the Archie story – is probably the best Criminal story, although “Bad Weekend” comes close. Heroes also had the other issues of this miniseries, but I decided to pass them up and save them for later; maybe that was a bad decision. In this issue, Riley (Archie) executes his plot to kill his wife Felix (Veronica) – who was sleeping with Teddy (Reggie) – and to pin the murder on his drug-addicted friend Freakout (Jughead). This story works perfectly well as a crime drama, but it’s extra funny if you get the references. In that sense, it’s like Afterlife with Archie, but it came out before that series did.

GHOST HOG FCBD SPECIAL #1 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Joey Weiser. A simple and forgettable story about ghost animals. It doesn’t make me want to read the graphic novel it’s excerpted from.

JACK STAFF #9 (Image, 2005) – “Tom Tom the Robot Man,” [W/A] Paul Grist. As usual I’m not sure what’s going on in this issue. I rarely come across Paul Grist comics, so I haven’t read enough Jack Staff to understand its continuity or premise, except that it’s an homage to classic British comics. This issue has one plotline about Tom Tom the Robot Man, and another about the Nazi supervillain. As always, Paul Grist’s draftsmanship, page layouts, and coloring are fantastic.

G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO #61 (Marvel, 1987) – “Beginnings… and Endings,” [W] Larry Hama, [A] Marshall Rogers. G.I. Joe and Transformers were the first two comic books I ever followed, and I continued to subscribe to G.I. Joe almost until it was cancelled. But by the time my subscription expired in 1994, I had gotten interested in other comics, and I felt ashamed of reading a comic based on a toy line. I never came back to it, and I even left my GI Joe and Transformers comics at my parents’ house when I shipped all my other comics out. But just like how C.S. Lewis stopped feeling ashamed of reading fairy tales, I now feel comfortable admitting that I liked G.I. Joe and that it’s a well-written and well-drawn comic. Indeed, I feel much more embarrassed of some of the other comics I read after G.I. Joe, like X-Men 2099 and the ‘90s Guardians of the Galaxy. Anyway, this issue, a team of Joes goes on a mission to rescue an American spy from Borovia, apparently based on Yugoslavia. But it turns out that the State Department already made a deal to extricate the spy, without telling GI Joe, and the Joes have to extricate themselves from a hostile country. This plot twist seems very plausible. Despite all the ridiculous machinery and codenames, GI Joe benefitted from Larry Hama’s insider knowledge of the military. This issue also has a bunch of subplots, including one where Cobra Commander seemingly dies.

PAPERCUTZ FCBD #1 (Papercutz, 2019) – “Gilbert: The Curious Mysterious Preview,” [W/A] Art Baltazar. A very typical Art Baltazar comic about a fish boy. It’s not bad, but it’s no different from any of Art’s other work. This issue also includes a preview of an American translation of Mauricio de Souza’s Monica, the most famous Brazilian comic. Sadly, what is translated here is not Mauricio de Souza’s original, but a later adaptation by a different artist in a manga style, and there’s nothing interesting about it.

THE UNEXPECTED #119 (DC, 1970) – “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Deadliest of All?”, [W] uncredited, [A] Bernie Wrightson. When I found this issue in a dollar box at Heroes, I instantly identified the first story as by Wrightson, though it’s uncredited. This story has a typical boring plot, about a mirror that remembers crimes it witnesses, and would be entirely forgettable if drawn by anyone else. But in Wrightson’s hands, it becomes a masterpiece of mood and psychological terror. It’s a rare example of a ‘70s DC horror story that’s actually frightening. Bernie did several other stories for DC’s horror anthologies, and it’s a pity that they’ve never been published as a collection. The other stories in this issue are by Werner Roth (“and friend”) and Sid Greene and are of no interest. The Werner Roth story is called “Swamp Child” but has nothing to do with Swamp Thing.

UNDERGROUND #1 (Image, 2009) – untitled, [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Steve Lieber. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of this series because I love Jeff Parker’s work. Steve Lieber is also an excellent and underrated artist. Underground is a thriller series starring two Kentucky rangers. The two protagonists have just become lovers, but they disagree on whether a local cave should be opened to visitors. While exploring the cave, the male protagonist encounters two men trying to blow it up, and gets caught in the explosion. I hope I can find the other four issues of this miniseries, because it’s a fascinating setup with some interesting characters.

IMMORTAL HULK #8 (Marvel, 2019) – “His Hideous Heart,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. A rogue scientist dismembers the Hulk in order to test how his healing factor works. It turns out the Hulk can control all the parts of his body even when they’re separate, and things don’t end well for the scientist. Meanwhile, Walter Langkowski and the reporter from issue 16 are looking for the Hulk. I think this series is the most interesting Hulk comic in years. It’s squarely in line with the character’s past continuity, yet it’s more a horror comic than a superhero comic. I never noticed Joe Bennett’s artwork much before, but in this series he does a good job of emulating Kelley Jones or Bernie Wrightson.

SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #1 (DC, 2007) – “Kryptonite,” [W] Darwyn Cooke, [A] Tim Sale. This issue, like the other issues in this story arc, begins with a flashback sequence narrated by an animate chunk of Kryptonite. The main story takes place very early in Superman’s Metropolis years. This issue mostly focuses on Lois and Clark’s relationship problems. In general, this is an excellent Superman comic. Darwyn’s writing is almost as good as his artwork, and Tim Sale is a brilliant visual storyteller.

ZENITH PHASE I #1 (Fleetway/Quality, 1992) – “Dropping In,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. Grant Morrison’s first major work, originally published in 2000 AD, is a deconstructionist superhero story in a style similar to Miracleman. Years after the old superheroes have retired, the only new superhero, 19-year-old playboy Zenith, has to team up with his older colleagues to defeat an eldritch Lovecraftian horror. So far, Zenith is not as exciting as Grant’s more mature work, but it’s an interesting window into his development, and it feels like a useful point of comparison to Miracleman. Steve Yeowell was very bad at drawing Lovecraftian monsters, but the costume designs are by Brendan McCarthy, and they look excellent. This series is the origin of the phrase “many-angled ones,” later used by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning among others.

ADVENTURES OF THE SUPER SONS #10 (DC, 2019) – “The Injustice War Part One” or “Gang War,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [A] Carlo Barberi. In this issue’s framing sequence, we learn that the entire series is a story told by an elderly Jon and Damian to their grandkids. That helps explain the major problem with this series, namely the fact that it was already out of continuity before it was finished. In this issue’s main sequence, there’s a giant fun fight scene, then Jonah Hex gets killed, but it turns out he was a robot. And then the cavalry arrives, consisting of Tommy Tomorrow and the Super Sons’ fathers.

YOUNG LIARS #3 (DC, 2008) – “A Hard-Knock Life,” [W/A] David Lapham. This Vertigo series is about a young man whose girlfriend is unable to feel emotion due to brain damage. Young Liars #3 is the first David Lapham comic I’ve read that I didn’t like. The first reason is because it’s in color. David Lapham is an excellent black-and-white artist, but when his work is colorized, it just looks ordinary. Color makes his linework and visual storytelling harder to appreciate. Perhaps the specific problem is that Jared Fletcher’s coloring is too realistic; it adds subtle shades of color that are not present in Lapham’s stark, minimal pencils and inks. The second problem with this comic is that the violence and mayhem start right away, almost on the first page, and never stop. The violence in Stray Bullets is so shocking precisely because it comes out of nowhere. Lapham’s usual tactic is to start with an innocent, ordinary situation and then turn it into a horrific nightmare. But in this comic, the horrible nightmare starts right away, so there’s nothing to compare it to, and the violence loses its shock value.

ANIMOSITY TALES #1 (AfterShock, 2019) – “Animosity Tales,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Elton Thomasi. This FCBD comic is about a fish who falls in love with his human caretaker after the animals become sentient. There are a lot of cute moments in this issue, and I think maybe Animosity would have been better if it had focused on small stories like this one, rather than the epic of Sandor and Jesse. As I have observed before, the premise of Animosity is unsustainable; a world where all animals have human-level intelligence is not logically possible. But this premise is interesting in smaller doses.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #5 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Dan Slott, [A] Humberto Ramos. Dan Slott’s Spider-Man hasn’t impressed me as much as I’d hoped, and I wonder if I’ve just been starting with the wrong issues of his run. But this issue is good. Peter Parker and Cindy Moon can’t keep their hands off each other, but just as they’re exploring their relationship further, Peter has to do a TV interview. J. Jonah Jameson, who Slott writes extremely well, is also present, and when the TV studio is invaded by Black Cat, Eel and Electro, JJJ gets a chance to unmask Spider-Man on live TV.

ZENITH PHASE I #2 (Fleetway/Quality, 1992) – “Patterns,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. Zenith and Ruby Fox recruit Red Dragon, an alcoholic Welsh superhero. Red Dragon is a fascinating character, but he promptly gets killed in a fight with a Nazi superhuman possessed by a Many-Angled One. Again, Zenith is not as good as Animal Man or Doom Patrol, but it’s interesting. I have the next four issues, but have not gotten to them yet.

PRETTY DEADLY #9 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Emma Rios. I thinkthis issue is about Ginny’s battle with the Reaper of War, but I couldn’t understand its plot at all, and Emma Rios’s abstract page layouts didn’t help. This comic’s writing and art attempt to be lyrical and evocative, but they mostly succeed only in creating confusion. I should have stopped buying this series after issue 3, if not earlier.

LODGER #4 (IDW, 2019) – “Who to Trust,” [W/A] David Lapham, [W] Maria Lapham. This issue is much better than Young Liars #3, but I couldn’t follow its plot. It seems to be about a travel writer and her boyfriend, but it has a ton of plot threads, and I don’t understand how they fit together.

BLACK HAMMER ’45 #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ray Fawkes w/ Jeff Lemire, [A] Matt Kindt. I’m willing to keep buying this, but it’s the worst Black Hammer comic yet. This issue, the Black Hammer Squadron has to fight both a German pilot and a giant Soviet robot in order to rescue a scientist and his family from a concentration camp.

SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #2 (DC, 2007) – as above. Rather than go on a date with Lois, Superman has to rescue some villagers from a volcano, and the experience scares him so much that he has to go see his parents for moral support. Meanwhile, Lois goes out with Anthony Gallo, a creepy dude who, I just noticed, has a Kryptonite ring. In this issue Cooke and Sale show a deep understanding of both Clark and Lois. It’s such a tragedy that Darwyn didn’t have time to publish more comics; he was a phenomenal talent.

THUNDERBOLTS #173 (Marvel, 2012) – “Like Lightning Part 2,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Declan Shalvey. The present Thunderbolts go back in time and team up with their earlier selves, from during the Onslaught storyline. But Norbert Ebersol gets into an argument with his past self, and ends up murdering him. The character interactions in this issue are really good.

THE GIRL IN THE BAY #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Time’s End,” [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Corin Howell. Katherine defeats the weird monster dude, and it turns out that her whole situation is the result of time splitting into three parts. This miniseries was better than Impossible, Inc., but it was still only average, and I probably won’t buy JM DeMatteis’s next new title.

BRITANNIA ONE DOLLAR DEBUT #1 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Juan José Ryp. Antonius Axia is a widowed private detective and ex-centurion who suffers from PTSD. The insane Emperor Nero sends Axia to investigate some strange occurrences in the frontier province of Britannia. This comic’s historical accuracy is impressive, and Antonius Axia is an interesting protagonist. Also, I really like Juan José Ryp’s moody and ominous art.

BLACK AF: DEVIL’S DYE #3 (Black Mask, 2019) – untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Liana Kangas. I can’t follow this comic’s plot, and I dislike the art. I suppose Liana Kangas’s storytelling is good, but her linework is just not appealing. I think this will be the last Black comic I order. I love the idea behind this franchise, but I’ve never been satisfied with the execution.

WAR OF THE REALMS #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Quest for Thor,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Russell Dauterman. This is a big dumb crossover series, but it has a far better creative team than most such series. And Jason Aaron has experience writing most of the principal characters, so they’re less out-of-character than is usually the case in crossover stories. This issue, Daredevil becomes the new Heimdall, and the heroes look for Thor, who finally shows up at the end of the issue. Incidentally, I think it’s really stupid that there’s one villain and one army for each continent, even though Australia, for instance, has a fraction of the population of Asia.

DOMINO: HOTSHOTS #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Cold War Part 3,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] David Baldeón. I’m not enjoying this series very much. It’s just a lighthearted romp with no long-term implications, but I don’t find it very funny or exciting. As I suggested in my review of the previous issue, Gail rarely succeeds in making me care about her characters. I’ve cancelled my order of issue 5. This issue does have one very unusual two-page spread where all the panels are arranged diagonally. It’s an interesting experiment, though it results in a confusing reading experience.

RED SONJA #4 (Dynamite, 2019) – “The Brothers of Misfortune,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Mirko Colak & Bob Q. Another story that focuses on military strategy. Atypically for Mark Russell, this comic shows a lack of understanding of either Red Sonja or the sword-and-sorcery genre, as I have already observed. Also, it has no obvious connection to contemporary politics. If there is a political allegory in this series, I’ve missed it completely. I’m going to give up on this title.

HASHTAG: DANGER #1 (Ahoy, 2019) – “The Name of the Game is Death!”, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Chris Giarrusso. I’ve never liked Chris Giarrusso’s style, and I disliked the Hashtag: Danger backup stories in other Ahoy comics. But this issue is better, possibly because of its greater length and narrative scope. It reminds me a bit of Futurama in its style of humor. Perhaps the highlight of this story is the last panel, which is a parody of the last panel of Superman #233 (“moving slowly, relentlessly toward a terrible destiny”). This issue includes a backup story about people waiting in line at a concert.

SEX DEATH REVOLUTION #2 (Black Mask, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Kasia Witerscheim. It turns out that Esperanza’s magical problems are the result of a creepy obsessive stalker, and he tries to get at her through her friend Suze. This isn’t my favorite of Mags’s current series, but the villain in this issue is really creepy and plausible; he acts just like real sexual predators do. The line “Will you be a good girl for me?” is especially creepy.

DEADLY CLASS: KILLER SET FCBD SPECIAL #nn (Image, 2019) – “Killer Set,” [W] Rick Remender, [A] Wes Craig. This one-shot acts as a jumping-on point to a series about a school for assassins. Wes Craig’s art here is very good, with excellent coloring and page layouts, but this series’s premise does nothing for me.

THE MAXX #22 (Image, 1996) – “Other People’s Crap,” [W] Bill Messner-Loebs, [A] Sam Kieth. This issue focuses on Sara, who is currently taking care of her useless unemployed roommate. Also, a giant banana slug is going around eating people. The Maxx is probably Sam Kieth’s best work because it showcases his truly unique art, while Bill Loebs provides a coherent story and effective characterization, neither of which are among Sam Kieth’s strong points.

ACTION COMICS #0 (DC, 1994) – “The Yesterday Man,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Jackson Guice. Despite its issue number, this is not an origin or flashback issue but simply a chapter of the then-ongoing Conduit storyline. Conduit was a creepy, obsessed asshole who somehow knew Superman’s secret identity. I don’t recall him ever appearing again after his initial storyline. I read a lot of Superman comics from this era when I was a kid, and I think they still hold up today, but this issue is only average.

PRETTY DEADLY #5 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Emma Rios. The heroines battle Death in an Old West town. This is perhaps the most coherently plotted issue of Pretty Deadly, but it’s still confusing, and it has all the typical flaws of this series.

DETECTIVE COMICS #813 (DC, 2006) – “City of Crime,” [W] David Lapham, [A] Ramon Bachs. A villain called The Body is driving the people of Gotham crazy. I didn’t quite understand this issue, but it is kind of cool how part of the story takes place in the ruins underneath Gotham City. These ruins were a major setting in the Arkham City video game. I’m not sure if there was a direct line of influence from one to the other.

More new comics arrived on May 9. By that point I was mostly done with the semester, so I was able to read even more comics than usual.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #44 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. Squirrel Girl teams up with Ratatoskr, but when they try to get information from some (stereotypical) local people, they end up getting mistaken for Frost Giants. This is a pretty average issue. I appreciate that it doesn’t require much if any knowledge of the War of the Realms crossover. Ryan is Canadian himself, so the Canadian stereotypes in this story are probably being used knowingly.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #6 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Sole Survivor,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. Turan is invading Stygia under the command of Prince Yezdigerd. Conan falls in with the Turanian army and proves to be a much better commander than any of its generals, who are chosen on the basis of birth rather than merit. This is still a good Conan comic, but I think it’s my least favorite issue yet; it doesn’t have much of a story. In this continuity, Conan’s first encounter with Yezdigerd happens very differently than in the previous Marvel series. In Roy Thomas’s continuity, Conan serves under Yezdigerd at Makkalet and later slashes him in the face, earning his lifelong enmity.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #1 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Police Crackdown,” [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Russ Braun. This FCBD comic is a prequel to Wrong Earth, and tells two parallel stories each taking place on one of the Earths. It doesn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about the characters or their worlds, but it’s hilarious. I especially like Dragonflyman’s line about how teachers are the real heroes. There’s also a Captain Ginger backup story that shows why Ginger and Mittens don’t like each other. I hope we see both these series again soon.

RONIN ISLAND #3 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. Hana and Kenichi travel to Japan with General Sato. After fighting some zombies, they meet the shogun, who turns out to be a useless, spoiled, racist brat. The shogun appoints Kenichi to rule Ronin Island instead of General Sato. This series continues to be fascinating, with unexpected plot twists and complicated moral dilemmas.

BRONZE AGE BOOGIE #2 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Welcome to Fear City!”, [W] Stuart Moore, [A] Alberto Ponticelli. Brita Constantina and Lynda Darrk fight the Martians with the help of Jackson Li, a dead ringer for Shang-Chi. In Jackson Li, Stuart Moore perfectly parodies Doug Moench’s histrionic dialogue and fake Eastern philosophy. This series may have limited appeal to readers who aren’t familiar with ‘70s comics, but for readers who do get the joke, it’s amazing. This issue also includes a backup story about an astronaut bear. A notable moment in this story is when the bear is working as a janitor, and he tells his coworker “You have no idea how hard this is. There’s so much I could be doing – but they’re so blinded by fear and prejudice that they won’t even give me a chance.” And his fellow janitor, who is drawn to look very Mexican, just gives him a long look.

GRUMBLE VS. THE GOON #nn (Albatross, 2019) – “Grumble vs. the Goon,” [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton, [W/A] Eric Powell. This FCBD comic is a crossover between two series both now published by Albatross. I like Grumble a lot more than The Goon; the latter series was funny at first, but quickly got repetitive. However, in this issue Powell, Roberts and Norton find a plausible way to make the two franchises interact, and their respective styles of art and humor are an interesting contrast. I especially appreciate how the two artists collaborate on the same pages. Throughout the comic, each artist draws the characters and settings from his own series, and the characters from each series even speak in their usual lettering fonts. So there are have panels where Tala and Eddie are drawn by Roberts, and the Goon and Franky are drawn by Norton. This is a simple idea but hard to pull off.

THE UNSTOPPABLE WASP #7 (Marvel, 2019) – “Happy Birthday, Nadia!”, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Alti Firmansyah. Depressingly, this series has been cancelled a second time. I’m disappointed if not surprised. Unstoppable Wasp should be as popular as Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl, but it’s as if Marvel doesn’t understand why those series are successful, or how to replicate their success. At least we still get a few more issues, and this is perhaps the happiest issue of the entire series. At her birthday party, Nadia meets all the members of her extended family, and there’s one cute and cathartic moment after another. I especially loved the cameo appearance by Tigra’s son William, and I even noticed William’s little tail under the table on the splash page. As another example, I like the moment where Priya Aggarwal and Kamala Khan realize that their families are both from Mumbai.

LUMBERJANES: THE SHAPE OF FRIENDSHIP FCBD SPECIAL 2019 (Boom!, 2019) – “Shape of Friendship,” [W] Lilah Sturges, [A] Polterink. The Shape of Friendship graphic novel is the only Lumberjanes comic I haven’t read, so the excerpt from it in this issue is new to me. In this excerpt, the girls fight a hydra, then they sneak out of camp once Jo is asleep. The lack of color in this story is annoying, but it’s not bad, and I need to get around to reading the rest of the graphic novel. This issue also reprints a backup story which previously appeared in the 2016 Makin’ the Ghost of It special. I had forgotten about this story, so it was worth revisiting, but I wish Boom! would have commissioned a new story instead of reprinting old material.

BLACK HAMMER: AGE OF DOOM #10 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dean Ormston. Lucy restores the memories of her colleagues by hitting them with her hammer. Golden Gail is too old and frail for that to work, but she manages to recover herself enough to say Zafram. Then Lucy gets teleported to the Rock of Eternity-esque dimension where her dad is. This is another good issue; the scenes with the decrepit Golden Gail are especially poignant.

THESE SAVAGE SHORES #4 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ram V, [A] Sumit Kumar. The Anglo-Mysore War continues, while the European vampires and vampire hunters fight each other. At the end of the issue, we learn that Kori has also become a vampire. This wasn’t the best issue, but I still love this series. I appreciate Ram V’s boldness in immersing American readers in such an unfamiliar setting and history, and trusting us to be able to understand what’s going on.

FCBD 2019: A SHEETS STORY (Lion Forge, 2019) – “A Sheets Story,” [W/A] Brenda Thummler. The best FCBD comic of the year. It’s a sequel to the author’s graphic novel Sheets, which I haven’t read, but I was easily able to deduce all the relevant background information. Seventh-grader Marjorie has recently lost her mother, and her friend Wendell is the ghost of a dead boy. On a visit to her grandmother, she has to deal with both her grief and her anxieties about growing up. A Sheets Story is lyrical and beautiful, and its messages about loss and maturity are conveyed subtly, almost without seeming like deliberate messages at all. Brenda Thummler’s linework and coloring are not the best, but she portrays emotions perfectly. I just ordered the Sheets graphic novel, and I look forward to reading it.

EVE STRANGER #1 (IDW, 2019) – “Rescue Me,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Philip Bond. This new Black Crown series is about a secret agent of some sort who’s unable to form new memories. Anterograde amnesia has become a cliché by now; it appears in everything from 50 First Dates to Memento to Gene Wolfe’s Iatro series. It’s a useful narrative device, because it allows the reader to learn the story at the same time the character does, but it’s no longer new and original. What does make this series enjoyable is Philip Bond’s art. His linework, coloring and visual storytelling are brilliant. He’s another example of a highly underrated British alternative cartoonist, as mentioned in my review of Dare #1 above.

LITTLE LULU IN THE WORLD’S BEST COMIC BOOK #1 (Drawn & Quarterly, 2019) – “The Practical Jokers” and other stories, [W] John Stanley, [A] Irving Tripp. I’m not sure this comic’s title is accurate. Little Lulu is definitely one of the best comics ever, but I’ve read better issues of Little Lulu than this one. The best story in this issue is “The Practical Jokers” from Little Lulu #4, but the other stories are just average, and they seem to be from early in John Stanley’s run. They lack the complexity and subtlety of his best work.

WONDER WOMAN #70 (DC, 2019) – “Love is a Battlefield Part 2,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Xermanico. Atlantiades continues to drive everyone crazy with desire, which soon turns into anger. This issue doesn’t offer much that wasn’t in issue 69, but it provides further evidence that Willow is developing her own original approach to this title.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “Re-Entry Conclusion,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. Carol and her allies defeat Makhizmo, but are unable to save Som. Much like Willow’s first Wonder Woman storyline, the “Re-Entry” arc was an acceptable opening to the series, but it didn’t feel particularly new or original. I look forward to seeing what else Kelly can do with this series. The highlight of this issue is the page with Chewie the cat.

OUR FAVORITE THING IS MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS: FCBD 2019 (Fantagraphics, 2019) – three stories, [W/A] Emil Ferris. This issue includes two previously published stories by Emil Ferris, plus one new one. I can’t remember if I’ve read “The Bite That Changed My Life” before, but it’s an impressive story, and the new chapter of Karen and Deeze’s adventures is also excellent. As ever, Emil Ferris’s art is superhumanly good. It’s no wonder that My Favorite Thing is Monsters has been delayed a lot, but this issue renews my enthusiasm for it.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #9 (DC, 2019) – “House Rules,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Erzulie tells Anansi a story of her encounter with Mazikeen – who, by the way, I really hate, because her dialogue is very hard to read. Then Anansi tells a story about Habibi and her sisters, which has unexpected consequences. This story benefits from Nalo Hopkinson’s deep knowledge of West African mythology. Her version of Anansi feels extremely creepy and threatening, while most other versions of this character are far more sanitized. The dude who gives Habibi the book is based on the writer Daniel José Older.

AGE OF CONAN: BÊLIT #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Lesson,” [W] Tini Howard, [A] Kate Niemczyk. Another unimpressive issue. Tini Howard’s Bêlit lacks a distinctive personality and doesn’t feel like the same character as any other version of Bêlit, and this comic is not comparable to other comics about female pirates. I didn’t order issue 4.

ATOMIC ROBO: DAWN OF A NEW ERA #5 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. I wish this comic had a gallery of character faces, because I can never remember who’s who, except Robo obviously. This issue, Robo’s teammates debate his decision to rehabilitate Alan, while the plotlines with the vampires and the underground monsters continue. This is in fact the last issue of the current miniseries, which is surprising because it leaves so many plot threads unresolved, so I guess the next series is going to follow directly from the ending of this one.

LUCY & ANDY NEANDERTHAL BIG AND BOULDER (Random House, 2019) – “Big and Boulder,” [W/A] Jeffrey Brown. I’ve read and loved some of Jeffrey Brown’s adult-oriented work, especially A Matter of Life, but I haven’t read many of his kids’ comics. This FCBD comic is a short story based on his Lucy & Andy Neanderthal series, about two prehistoric siblings. It’s not all that great, and the caveman setting is just a cosmetic feature; this same story could be told with 21st-century kids. The best part about this comic is the sabertooth kitten.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2019: GENERAL (Dark Horse, 2019) – “The Game Master,” [W] Jody Houser, [A] Ibrahim Moustafa, and “Horrors to Come,” [W] Jeff Lemire & Ray Fawkes, [A] David Rubín. The main story in this FCBD issue is a Stranger Things adaptation. It assumes the reader has seen Stranger Things, which I haven’t, and so I wasn’t able to follow the plot. However, it does have a cute plot about a kid teaching two older kids to play Dungeons & Dragons. What is not immediately obvious is that this comic also includes a Black Hammer backup story. It doesn’t have much of a plot, but it does have beautiful art by David Rubín. I’m going to file this issue under Black Hammer.

WONDER TWINS #4 (DC, 2019) – “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. This issue’s first page includes a scene where a teacher looks at a diagram and says “Ooh, sounds edgy” (https://www.instagram.com/p/BxWQQQAhsjR/) In the mathematical field of graph theory, the lines on a diagram like this are known as “edges,” so I thought the word “edgy” was a subtle math joke. Sadly, on Facebook, Mark Russell said that this was not intentional. Anyway, this issue Zan and Jayna both go on disastrous dates. Zan’s date is just using him to make her ex-boyfriend jealous, while Jayna’s date is a supervillain with the appropriate name of Red Flag. This is another great issue, and it’s a shame that this is only a six-issue miniseries.

THE LONG CON #9 (Oni, 2019) – “Was It Paradise… or Was It a Prison?”, [W] Dylan Meconis & Ben Coleman, [A] E.A. Denich. Destiny and Victor go before the Grand Gatekeeper, who lets Victor into the inner sanctum, a.k.a. the writer’s room. The Grand Gatekeeper dumps Destiny into a pit, but she makes it to the writer’s room too. This series seems to be approaching a conclusion. The Long Con has quietly been one of the funniest and most clever comics of the past year, and it deserves a bigger audience.

SHE COULD FLY: THE LOST PILOT #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Animal,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] Martín Morazzo. Luna’s mental state continues to deteriorate, but a boy named Gary seems to be in love with her. Meanwhile, there are some other plotlines that are complicated and difficult to follow. This series is really disturbing, and is closer to horror than science fiction. The panel with the one woman’s destroyed face is as bad as the braces panel from issue 1.

BY NIGHT #11 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Christine Larsen. There are a lot of plot developments in this issue, but I don’t care much about any of them. I’m glad this series has just one issue left.

CATWOMAN #11 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joëlle Jones, [A] Fernando Blanco & Hugo Petrus. Selina gets into a giant car chase which takes her right through the middle of a film premiere. This was a thrilling issue, but seemed lacking in substance.

WAR OF THE REALMS: NEW AGENTS OF ATLAS #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Fire and Ice Chapter One,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Gang Hyuk Lim. Greg Pak organizes a new Agents of Atlas comprised of heroes from various Asian backgrounds. This team includes some new characters, such as a superheroine who’s a K-pop star. This issue is impressive because it shows an understanding of the diversity of Asian cultures. This is most obvious in the scene where Shang Chi, Amadeus Cho, Silk and Kamala Khan debate over what a certain type of pear is called. Greg Pak understands that there are certain commonalities among Asian-American communities, for example, but that Korean- and Pakistani- and Chinese-American perspectives are all significantly different. Overall, I really like this issue, and I hope this miniseries becomes an ongoing.

DENNIS THE MENACE BONUS MAGAZINE SERIES #129 (Fawcett, 1974) – “The Circus is in Town,” uncredited. Dennis and his family go to the circus, and hijinks ensue. In this issue, Dennis’s parents show themselves to be blatantly irresponsible: they let him go to the bathroom by himself in a crowded arena, and of course he gets lost. Worse, the circus performers mistake Dennis for a fellow performer and allow him to participate in dangerous animal and trapeze acts. One wonders if they’ve ever heard of liability.

CATWOMAN #38 (DC, 2015) – “The Serpent,” [W] Genevieve Valentine, [A] Garry Brown. I stupidly ordered this because it was written by a science fiction writer I’d heard of, but I never got around to reading it until now. Based on the evidence of this issue, Genevieve Valentine’s Catwoman is boring and uninspired, with none of the fun of Joëlle Jones’s Catwoman.

THEY’RE NOT LIKE US #2 (Image, 2015) – “Black Holes for the Young,” [W] Eric Stephenson, [A] Simon Gane. This comic’s plot and characters are of little interest. It’s basically just a remake of X-Men except that Professor X is evil. What is interesting about They’re Not Like Us is Simon Gane’s art. He reminds me of various other British artists (see the review of Dare #1 above for some names) because he draws in a sort of Clear Line style, with precise linework and solid coloring. But his linework is very shaky and fragmented. I didn’t order the first issue of his new series Ghost Tree, but I did order the second issue, and I look forward to it.

SECTION ZERO #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Tom Grummett. Another really fun issue. It feels like Challengers of the Unknown or any number of other Kirby comics, but it’s not just a slavish copy. Kesel and Grummett are emulating the essence of Kirby, like they did on Superboy (see below). Indeed, Section Zero is almost a continuation of Kesel and Grummett’s second Superboy run. This issue, the protagonists encounter some weird creatures, then Tina gets sucked into a portal, and we get a flashback to Sam and Tina’s tragic honeymoon.

TREASURY OF BRITISH COMICS PRESENTS FUNNY PAGES #nn (Rebellion, 2019) – multiple uncredited stories, [W/A] Ken Reid et al. I think it’s a shame that most of the classic British humor comics are unavailable today, even in Britain. However, after reading this FCBD comic, I think it’s possible that this body of work just doesn’t hold up well anymore. Most of the stories in this issue are just one- or two-page gag strips with no continuity or narrative complexity. None of them seem comparable to the best American comic strips or kids’ comic books, and it seems like they would only appeal to young children. I’d like to read more comics by Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid and their contemporaries, but so far, I don’t see the appeal of this tradition of comics.

H1 IGNITION FCBD (Humanoids, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Phil Briones. A model of how not to do an FCBD comic. The first half of this issue is a preview story that’s meant to set up Humanoids’s new superhero universe. This story made no sense to me, and after reading it I had no idea what the premise of the H1 universe was, or how it was different from any other superhero universe. I didn’t even realize that the preview story was based on multiple different H1 titles, not just one. After reading the prose articles that follow the comic story, I understood the H1 universe a little better, but I still couldn’t tell you what its overarching premise is. The goal of an FCBD title is to encourage the reader to purchase the comic it’s based on, and H1 Ignition accomplishes the opposite: it makes me less interested in buying the H1 titles. It’s the worst FCBD comic of the year.

WOLFIE MONSTER AND THE BIG BAD PIZZA BATTLE FCBD (Scholastic, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Joey Ellis. Three monster brothers are running a restaurant that serves disgusting pizza. A large corporation opens a new pizza restaurant in the same town and offers to buy out the protagonist’s restaurant, but this proves to be part of a plot to turn the town’s citizens into zombies. This comic is very silly and is intended for quite a young audience, but it’s more entertaining and has a deeper narrative than I expected, and Joey Ellis’s bright, colorful artwork is attractive. I kind of want to read the graphic novel from which this comic is excerpted, although I probably won’t.

DEFENDERS: MARVEL FEATURE #1 FACSIMILE EDITION (Marvel, 1971/2019) – “The Day of the Defenders!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Ross Andru. Marvel Premiere #1 is not within my price range, so I’m glad Marvel published this facsimile edition. It includes the ads and Bullpen Bulletins page and so on, so it’s the next best thing to owning the actual issue. I just saw that DC announced a simliar facsimile edition for Batman #232. The Defenders’ first appearance is a very basic superhero story, in which the Hulk, Namor and Dr. Strange save the world from Yandroth’s doomsday device. It lacks the humor or originality of later Defenders stories, but it’s not bad. This issue also includes a reprinted Golden Age Namor story by Bill Everett, and a Dr. Strange solo story by Roy Thomas and Don Heck, explaining how Dr. Strange got his powers back. At the time of this issue, Doc had been on hiatus since the end of his solo series.

ZAGOR: THE ALIEN SAGA FCBD (Epicenter, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sergio Bonelli (as Guido Nolitta), [A] Gallieno Ferri. Zagor is a classic Italian comic. Its co-creator, Sergio Bonelli, was the son of the founder of one of Italy’s major comics publishers. However, this comic is hopefully not the best example of his work. It’s a standard alien-invasion story with a Flash Gordon-esque hero and his bumbling sidekick, and it relies on continuity the reader doesn’t know about. Epicenter’s previous FCBD comic, Tex: Patagonia, was far better.

SUPERBOY #54 (DC, 1998) – “Darkness & Light,” [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Scott Kolins. In their second Superboy run, Kesel and Grummett (absent from this issue) tied together all of Kirby’s concepts from his various ‘70s DC titles – notably Jimmy Olsen and Kamandi, but others too. The result was a series which was somewhat derivative, but which brilliantly evoked the feel of Kirby’s comics, while making sense of their somewhat nonsensical plots. This issue, Superboy attends the unromantic wedding of Tuftan and Nosferata. Then he heads to Paris, where he fights a giant gargoyle and makes an enemy of a supermodel named Hex.

DIAL H #9 (DC, 2013) – “A Hiding to Nothing,” [W] China Miéville, [A] Alberto Ponticelli. China Miéville’s Dial H was too weird and esoteric for its own good, and it showed a lack of comics writing experience. However, in this issue China comes up with a stunning idea: a superhero named Glimpse who people can only see out of the corners of their eyes. In comics terms, this means he’s only partially depicted in every panel he appears in; we only ever see his hand or foot or the back of his head. It is very rare for superheroes to have powers that involve breaking the fourth wall, and I wish this would happen more often. I had an idea once for a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes who would always be just outside the panel border.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2019: ALL AGES (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Griefer,” [W] Hope Larson, [A] Meredith Gran, and “Date Knight,” [W] Cavan Scott, [A] Kawaii Creative Studio. This issue’s first story is about a Minecraft griefer who learns the error of her ways. It’s forgettable, but not bad. Meredith Gran is best known for the webcomic Octopus Pie, which I have not read. There’s also an Incredibles backup story in which the kids try to stop their parents’ date night from being interrupted by villains. This story is even worse than the “Crisis in Mid-Life” miniseries, and that miniseries was pretty bad. I’ve completely given up on the Incredibles franchise. It’s become a vehicle for pointless nostalgia.

BIRTHRIGHT #7 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. A further continuation of the plot from the last few issues. There’s a rather poignant flashback to Mikey’s first birthday in Terrenos. The major new development is that Brennan develops a crush on a girl named Becca. I believe I am now out of unread issues of Birthright.

LITTLE ARCHIE #154 (Archie, 1980) – “Imagine That!”, [W/A] Bob Bolling, plus other stories. This issue has just one Bob Bolling story, a six-pager where Little Archie and Sue Stringly discover a military satellite. It’s an okay story, but not Bolling’s best. The rest of the issue is full of forgettable Dexter Taylor stories.

USAGI YOJIMBO #27 (Dark Horse, 1991) – “My Lord’s Daughter,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Usagi is on a quest to rescue his lord’s daughter from an ogre. He defeats 40,000 demons, then a sword-wielding octopus, then a giant centipede, then the ogre. Finally he rescues the princess but refuses her offer of marriage. At the end, it turns out this is all a story Usagi is telling to the children of the family he’s staying with. The twist ending to this story is predictable, given the wild implausibility of Usagi’s story. But this issue is still extremely fun and includes some beautifully drawn monsters and fight scenes. There’s also a backup story by Mel. White, a prominent furry fan.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES VOL. 4# 57 (DC, 1994) – “Friends and Foes,” [W] Tom McCraw, [A] Christopher Taylor. A muddled story with bad art, way too many characters, and a ton of subplots that don’t interact well. Even to an experienced Legion fan, this story is impenetrable. It makes me think that the abandonment of this Legion continuity, just a few issues later, was a mercy killing.

ARCLIGHT #4 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Brandon Graham, [A] Marian Churchland. This issue has some fairly good art, but an unintelligible plot. I believe Brandon Graham is capable of writing plots that make sense, but here he failed to do so. The Arclight universe never really got off the ground.

THE DESTRUCTOR #2 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – “Deathgrip!”, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] Steve Ditko. The Destructor had the best talent lineup of all the Atlas/Seaboard titles; besides the two just named, this issue is inked by Wally Wood. However, while this issue is well-drawn and well-plotted, there’s not much that distinguishes it from any other random ‘70s superhero title. This series could have been good if it had had more time to develop its continuity and characters, but it never got the chance. If Paramount and Steven Paul were willing to spend lots of money to acquire the Atlas/Seaboard library, then they must be pretty desperate for intellectual property. The only way to make a profitable film from any of the Atlas/Seaboard comics would be to essentially redesign them from scratch.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #3 (Marvel, 2018) – “Winter in America: Part III,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. I lost interest in this series almost immediately, but kept buying it nonetheless, out of a misplaced sense of obligation. This issue, Cap visits a small rural town where Hydra has revitalized the local economy and given people pride again. I was going to say that Hydra can be read as Trump, but the problem with that is that Trump hasn’tdone anything for the rural American economy, and yet rural white people still vote for him. So the political allegory in this comic is more complex than that. However, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s major problem is that his comics are not exciting; they have more intellectual interest than entertainment value. This issue is never entertaining, not even when Cap fights a giant army of Nukes.

BLACK AF: WIDOWS AND ORPHANS #4 (Black Mask, 2018) – untitled, [W] Kwanza Osajyefo, [A] Tim Smith 3. Another issue with an incoherent plot consisting mostly of pointless fight scenes. I really want the Black comics to be good, but at the moment, they are not.

IMAGINARY FIENDS #3 (Vertigo, 2018) – “The Cat’s Paw,” [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Stephen Molnar. I barely remember anything about this comic. It’s not terrible, but none of Tim Seeley’s other creator-owned works have had the passion or the local specificity of Revival.

V-WARS #0 FCBD (IDW, 2014) – untitled, [W] Jonathan Maberry, [A] Alan Robinson. Besides Female Furies, this may be the worst comic I’ve read all year. It’s an adaptation of a horror novel in which each region of the world is infested with its own native variety of vampires. The protagonist is an academic expert on vampire mythology, who has been recruited by the government to become a super vampire hunter, because he knows so much about vampires. FYI, everyone: this is a wildly inaccurate portrayal of what humanities academics do. A humanities scholar is not just someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of their topic, but someone who understands the larger significance of their topic and how it functions within society. For example, I know someone who is an authority on monster theory. He would probably not be capable of listing every type of monster in every culture. What he can do is explain why monsters are significant in general, and how certain specific cultures have used monster narratives to think about particular cultural problems. I doubt he would be capable of actually fighting monsters.

That is only the beginning of the problems with this comic. Its first story ends with a splash page in which the protagonist discovers his little daughter devouring her mother’s corpse. I guess there’s a place for this sort of horror porn, but it’s not something I’m interested in. Perhaps worst of all, this comic ends with twelve pages of text written in a typewriter font. When I read a comic book, the last thing I want to do is read prose text – especially boring prose text that’s typeset in an unreadable font. I spend enough time reading novels already. Overall, this comic is a disaster.

RISE OF THE MAGI #0 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Marc Silvestri, [A] Sumeyye Kesgin. Another FCBD comic that I acquired a few years ago but never read. This comic isn’t offensively bad like V-Wars, and it has some interesting art, but it’s not especially interesting. I can’t think of a single good comic that Top Cow has published.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #4 (Marvel, 2008) – untitled, [W] Jonathan Lethem, [A] Farel Dalrymple. Besides Farel’s typically gorgeous art, this issue is most notable for a scene where a high school boy is effectively murdered by bullies. After kidnapping and tormenting him, they give him a gun and dare him to fire it, and seeing no way out of the situation, he shoots himself. Jonathan Lethem is not the best comics writer, but by the end of this sequence I was furious, and I wanted the boy to shoot the bullies, no matter the consequences. This scene is probably based on Lethem’s own experiences with similar bullying, as fictionalized in The Fortress of Solitude.

ULTIMATE DAREDEVIL VS. ELEKTRA #1 (Marvel, 2003) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Salvador Larroca. Back in 2003, I somehow managed to read this comic without buying it. I later did buy it, but didn’t go back and read it again, until now. I did buy the other three issues of the same miniseries. Anyway, this issue is not a superhero comic at all, but a realistic story about Elektra’s freshman year at Columbia and her romance with Matt. The most notable thing in this issue is that Elektra’s roommate gets sexually harassed by a jock, and at the end of the issue, we discover that he’s raped her. This sort of realistic and sensitive depiction of sexual violence was rare at the time.

ATLAS #2 (Marvel, 2010) – untitled, [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Gabriel Hardman. Atlas and Delroy Garrett, the former Triathlon, team up to fight some giant monsters. This is an entertaining and well-crafted comic, though nothing about it particularly stands out.

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #27.AU (Marvel, 2013) – “Age of Ultron: Road Trip,” [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Paco Medina. I must have bought this mistakenly thinking it was a regular issue of Wolverine and the X-Men. Instead it’s an Age of Ultron crossover in which Wolverine and Sue Storm go back in time to when Ultron was created. It’s a pointless comic, and it has some gruesome scenes where Wolverine vomits up a baby Groot. It incorporates some artwork from ‘60s Marvel comics, but the only effect of this gimmick is to remind the reader how much better those comics were than this one. There’s one flashback scene where Sue is trying to end an argument with Reed by leaving the room, and Reed grabs her. Nowadays this would be considered abuse.

ALPHA FLIGHT #3 (Marvel, 2011) – “Powered & Dangerous,” [W] Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente, [A] Dale Eaglesham. I bought Alpha Flight #3 and #4 by accident, by pulling them out of a dollar box when I meant to grab something else. This comic isn’t terrible, but it’s no different from any other superhero comic, and it doesn’t feel Canadian. John Byrne’s Alpha Flight was a labor of love because he’s from Canada himself, and when writing Alpha Flight, Byrne incorporated his insider knowledge of Canada – just like when Greg Pak writes about Korean-American characters. Pak and Van Lente are not from Canada and don’t know more than the most basic information about it, so their Alpha Flight feels uninformed and lacks a clear reason to exist.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #4 (DC, 2012) – “The Long Con,” [W] Nick Spencer, [A] Wes Craig. Here’s another comic with no reason to exist other than nostalgia for the characters. Nick Spencer’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents has none of the excitement or originality of the original, or even the ‘80s revivals. Wes Craig’s artwork in this issue is sometimes brilliant, but at other times muddy and unreadable.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #18 (Marvel, 1972) – “The Thing in the Temple!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Gil Kane. Conan and his pal Fafnir have just made the slave-girl Aala the queen of Bal-Sagoth. But in this issue, Conan and Aala get attacked by monsters, Aala turns on them, and then the city is destroyed by a volcano. Conan and Fafnir escape and are picked up by Prince Yezdigerd, who is on his way to assault the city of Makkalet, as mentioned in the above review of Conan #6. This issue isn’t the best, especially since it lacks BWS art, but it’s not bad. The letters page includes a letter by big-name SF fan Ted White.

JLA #30 (DC, 1999) – “Crisis Times Five Part Three: Worlds Beyond,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Howard Porter. I’d have read this sooner if I’d realized it was Jakeem Thunder’s origin story. As its title suggests, this issue is part of a JLA/JSA crossover in which the combined teams are embroiled in a battle between two fifth-dimensional genies, Yz and Lkz (a.k.a. “Say You” and “So Cool”). Grant’s innovation in this story is to show that Mr. Mxyzptlk, Quisp, and Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt are all from the same Fifth Dimension. This issue includes a scene where Alan Scott and Zauriel create an entire civilization that evolves at rapid speed – like in the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror segment “The Genesis Tub.”

ALPHA FLIGHT #4 (Marvel, 2011) – “With Many, Strength,” [W] Grge Pak & Fred Van Lente, [A] Dale Eaglesham. Canada is taken over by fascists, and it turns out the Master of the World is responsible. This is another example of the writers’ lack of Canadian knowledge: if fascism ever does come to Canada, it will probably not look like it would in America. This issue also includes an annoying piece of Tuckerization in which a person says that Arune Singh, then a Marvel employee, is the greatest goalie in Habs history. The writers should have chosen a team that doesn’t have multiple Hall of Fame goalies. I notice that since the end of Incredible Hercules, Pak and Van Lente have gone in opposite directions: Greg Pak has become a star with series like Mech Cadet Yu and Ronin Island, while Fred Van Lente’s career has gone nowhere.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2019 (SPIDER-MAN/VENOM) #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled Venom story, [W] Donny Cates, [A] Ryan Stegman, and untitled Spider-Man story, [W] Saladin Ahmed & Tom Taylor, [A] Cory Smith. This issue’s first story is dreadful. It reintroduces Carnage into continuity by having him commit some gruesome, pointless mayhem. The second story is a pleasant surprise. Peter Parker and Miles Morales are debating about whether Manhattan or Brooklyn has better pizza. Then they team up to fight the Shocker, who tells them that Bronx pizza is better. In the end, Peter and Miles realize that the best pizza is the one that tastes the most like home.

SUPERBOY #34 (DC, 1996) – “Going Mental,” [W] Ron Marz, [A] Ramon Bernando. This comic has all the characters from Kesel and Grummett’s first Superboy run – Rex, Roxy, Tana, Dubbilex, etc. – but none of the heart. Ron Marz’s characters act emotional, but you never get the sense that they really feel the emotions they’re expressing. Also, Marz writes wooden dialogue. Perhaps I’m biased because I don’t like Marz’s writing, but there’s a reason for that.

New comics received on Thursday, May 16, just three days ago, meaning I’m almost caught up with reviews:

LUMBERJANES #62 (Boom!, 2019) – “The Right Stuff,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] AnneMarie Rogers. The other Lumberjanes travel to the Land of Lost Objects, where they manage to find Mal, but then get attacked by two giant birds. This is another excellent issue. AnneMarie Rogers’s art has improved exponentially since her first issue; her linework no longer looks crude or unrefined at all. She does a great job of visually distinguishing the Roanokes from each other. The highlight of this issue is when April says “I’ve never seen something so truly ancient before,” and it turns out she’s looking at a rotary phone.

PLANET OF THE NERDS #2 (Ahoy, 2019) – “War for the Planet of the Nerds,” [W] Paul Constant, [A] Alan Robinson. The three jocks learn some things about the 21st century, including that you can no longer beat someone up in public and get away with it, and that the police have become militarized. Also, they discover that they’ve gone forward in time and that their old victim, Alvin Pingree, is now a CEO. This comic is funny but also has some subtler moments, like when the black jock, Drew, has to pretend to be shocked by police brutality. This issue also has a backup story in which Drew suffers discrimination from his high school guidance counselor. I don’t know if Paul Constant himself is black, but he shows a deeper understanding of racism than some writers I could name.

ALEXANDRA OCASIO-CORTEZ AND THE FRESHMAN FORCE: NEW PARTY, WHO DIS? (Devil’s Due, 2019) – multiple stories, [E] Josh Blaylock. I was afraid this comic would be a dumb gimmick, and it is, but it’s not dumb. It’s intelligent and well-crafted, and it’s exactly what I needed this past week, when all the political news has been horrible. A week after the Alabama abortion ban, it’s hard to remember how hopeful I felt on the night AOC was elected. But this comic’s overarching message is that AOC and her fellow first-term representatives are going to lead a renaissance in this country, and it delivers that message powerfully and in a variety of different ways. I especially like the opening story, a pro wrestling parody (see https://www.instagram.com/p/Bxh1Xg1B4jx/), but there’s lots of other great stuff in this issue. In a bleak political landscape, AOC and the Freshman Force provides comic relief but also hope.

IRONHEART #6 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve L. Ewing, [A] Kevin Libranda. Riri goes looking for a missing Miles Morales, and finds that he’s been trapped in a time loop by a villain named Tank. This is the least impressive issue of Ironheart yet, but it’s fun. Its central theme is that Miles and Riri are learning to like each other, even though they didn’t hit it off well at first. This issue has a running joke where neither Miles nor Riri can remember the name of the movie Groundhog Day.

PRINCELESS VOL. 8: PRINCESSES #2 (Action Lab, 2019) – “Angelica,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Jackie Crofts. Unlike last issue, this is not an origin story. Instead it chronicles Angelica’s efforts to find something she’s good at. She turns out to be a great player of a certain board game, which seems to be based on Settlers of Catan or some other Euro-style game. As a result of this expertise, the Black Knight recruits her as a strategist. This isn’t a bad issue, but I want to get back to Adrienne soon.

CALAMITY KATE #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Corin Howell. Kate fights some monsters while having flashbacks to the breakup of her relationship. At the end of the issue, she somehow finds herself on the way back to New York. Over the course of this issue, the monsters come to seem like metaphors rather than real entities, and the reader wonders if they actually exist. A common thread in Mags’s comics is that many of her heroines are complete screw-ups. They have good intentions, but they seem incapable of coping with adult life. Calamity Kate is an especially pure example of that theme. I wish it had more than one issue left.

ORPHAN AGE #2 (AfterShock, 2019) – “Give,” [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Nuno Plati. The three protagonists go to an abandoned mall to buy stuff, but the proprietor tries to rob them, and they thwart him by kidnapping his son. The proprietor tells an interesting story about how when all the adults died, the kids who survived were the ones who went looking for tools. I like this comic, especially its artwork and coloring. However, I think Ted could have spent more time on worldbuilding. I’d like to understand more about how this world works, and what happened when the adults died. It feels as if we’ve skipped a bunch of chapters.

SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH #2 (Archie, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Veronica Fish & Andy Fish. Sabrina tries to figure out what’s up with the kraken that attacked her last issue. Meanwhile, Harvey asks her out. This is a fun issue, and while this series is perhaps not as original or memorable as Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, at least it’s being published on a monthly basis.

FARMHAND #8 (Image, 2019) – “A Time to Reap,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. The intruder from last issue proves to be a recipient of Jeb’s donor organs, except his new eyes have turned into flowers. He almost kills Jeb, but Riley saves him with the aid of his caterpillar-puppy pal. This is another good issue, though it has nothing particularly unexpected.

GIDEON FALLS #13 (Image, 2019) – “He Said I Was Special,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. Father Fred travels from Steampunk Gideon Falls to Dystopian Gideon Falls, and then at the end of the issue, he finds himself in Pastoral Fantasy Gideon Falls. I don’t know quite what’s going on in this storyline, but it’s fascinating. A nice touch is that in the segment at the end of the issue, the panel borders change from straight lines to blank white spaces in the shape of twigs or wisps of smoke.

IMMORTAL HULK #17 (Marvel, 2019) – “Abomination,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. The Hulk, now with the Joe Fixit personality in command, outsmarts Bushwhacker and beats the crap out of him. At the end of the issue we learn that the next villain being deployed against the Hulk is the Abomination. This issue is another thrilling blend of superheroic action and body horror. Immortal Hulk is the most original Hulk comic I’ve read since Bruce Jones’s run in the 2000s.

BLUBBER #3 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – “Blubberoo” and other stories, [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. This is one of the most disgusting comics I’ve ever read. It’s an entire issue full of sex, brutal violence, and scatology. Nearly every page has at least one penis on it, and usually several. I don’t understand what Beto was thinking when he drew this. I can’t say it’s poorly crafted, but I also don’t know what sort of person would enjoy it.

BLACK BADGE #10 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Tyler Jenkins. The Black Badge kids learn about an earlier class’s graduation exercise, which was actually a test for recruitment into the evil cabal that controls the Black Badges. Back at camp, the kids realize that their mentor, Gottschalk, has been falsely condemned as a traitor. Then it’s time for their own graduation exercise, but the other groups of scouts are there to prevent them from graduating. This is an exciting issue, and it reminds me a lot of MIND MGMT.

WAR OF THE REALMS #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Stand at the Black Bridge,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Russell Dauterman. This issue’s title is an obvious tribute to one of Walt Simonson’s greatest Thor moments, the Executioner’s last stand at Gjallerbru. In this issue, it is instead Odin and Frigga who are standing alone against all the forces of Hel. Odin’s “Iron All-Father” costume is pretty cool, especially the helmet with one eye hole. As with previous issues, this is a typical dumb crossover, but it separates itself from other crossover stories by being genuinely entertaining.

ALL TIME COMICS: ZEROSIS DEATHSCAPE #0 (Floating World, 2019) – “The Pit,” [W] Josh Bayer, [A] Josh Simmons. I ordered most of the previous All Time Comics releases, but didn’t read them. This issue includes a fairly short superhero story drawn in an alternative comics style, along with a lot of ancillary material. It’s okay, but not especially great.

HIGH LEVEL #4 (DC, 2019) – “Pleasure Island,” [W] Rob Sheridan, [A] Barnaby Bagenda. Thirteen has to rescue Minnow from a bunch of child slavers who are also white supremacists. Barnaby Bagenda’s artwork in this issue is excellent as usual, but Robb Sheridan’s story is not up to snuff. By having Thirteen fight sexists and racists, he tries to establish her as a champion of equality. But this doesn’t work because the villains in this issue are caricatures. They’re cartoon strawman versions of racists and sexists. I know there are many people who literally advocate for white supremacy, but most racists today are like the guidance counselor from Planet of the Nerds #2 – that is, white people who say and even think they’re not racist, but who actively discriminate against black people. If you want to show that you’re an anti-racist or feminist writer, you need to do more than just have your hero fight the KKK; you need to show an understanding of how racism really manifests itself today. My further complaint about this issue is that Thirteen is a shallow character with no distinctive personality. I won’t be getting issue 5.

AMERICAN CARNAGE #7 (DC, 2019) – “Judgment,” [W] Bryan Hill, [A] Leandro Fernandez. Richard is supposed to ensure the safety of a junkie who stole from the Aryan Brotherhood, but the junkie gets kidnapped before Richard can smuggle him away, and Richard has to team up with the Obama mask dude to save him. This issue has great art, as usual, and there’s nothing about it that pisses me off, which is more than I can say about issue 6.

AQUAMAN #48 (DC, 2019) – “Mother Shark Part One,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Viktor Bogdanovic. Aquaman has a vision in which he learns about his origin, then discovers that Mera is responsible for his death (though he got better). I’ve mostly lost confidence in Kelly Sue’s writing, but this issue is intriguing, and it suggests that we’ll see more of Mera soon.

INTERCEPTOR #1 (Vault, 2019) – “Leathers,” [W] Donny Cates, [A] Dylan Burnett. This FCBD issue is a preview of a new series. Interceptor’s premise is that humans have to leave Earth because of a vampire invasion, but then their new home planet, Palus, gets invaded by vampires too. Interceptor does not take itself seriously. For example, early in the issue we learn that the current President of Palus is 65 years old, but he looks as if he’s about 8, and we never learn why. However, Interceptor’s jokes are also not funny. It employs an immature Deadpool-esque style of humor. I still like Babyteeth, but other than that, I haven’t read anything else by Donny Cates that I liked.

MORNING IN AMERICA #3 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Claudia Aguirre. Now reduced from four to three, the Sick Sisters investigate the local police station, then get attacked by a giant flying bat-thing. This is a very interesting series, though I don’t like it as much as Calamity Kate. It doesn’t quite follow Mags’s usual theme of a heroine who’s a screw-up, although the Sick Sisters are not exactly fully functioning members of society.

THE SYSTEM #2 (DC, 1996) – untitled, [W/A] Peter Kuper. A series of intersecting silent vignettes, all taking place in the same city and connected by visual segues. The whole issue is drawn in an expressionistic painted style. It’s a fascinating comic, though the lack of dialogue is a perhaps unnecessary constraint that makes the plot hard to follow. I haven’t read much Kuper because back when he was publishing comic books, I thought his style of comics was boring. I need to read more of his work.

CONAN THE CIMMERIAN #21 (Dark Horse, 2010) – “Blood on the Ilbars,” [W] Tim Truman, [A] Tomás Giorello. Conan barely survives the destruction of the Kozaki by Shah Amurath’s forces, then encounters Shah Amurath himself pursuing a woman named Olivia. This leads into the adaptation of “Shadows on the Moonlight” in the following issue. (Incidentally, I’ve never read REH’s original Conan stories, and I kind of want to, even though I’ve heard bad things about them.) This issue isn’t the best, mostly because it’s full of redundant captions written in purple prose. Truman was probably trying to imitate REH’s prose style, but I don’t think it was worth the effort.

AVENGERS #299 (Marvel, 1989) – “I ©NY,” [W] Walt Simonson, [A] John Buscema. I believe that the actual Avengers were disbanded at this point, so this issue stars the members of the next Avengers team: The Captain, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, and Gilgamesh the Forgotten One. In the midst of Inferno, Cap encounters the New Mutants, while Franklin Richards is kidnapped by Nanny and the Orphan Maker. Because of all the non-Avenger characters in it, this issue doesn’t feel much like an Avengers comic, but it’s not bad. However, Nanny and the Orphan Maker were two of the dumbest Marvel villains ever. John Buscema’s art in this issue is excellent, but the reader tends not to notice it much.

JLA #20 (DC, 1998) – “Mystery in Space,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Arnie Jorgensen. Adam Strange kidnaps the JLA and enslaves them. It turns out he thinks this will somehow bring back Alanna, who was still believed dead at this point. This issue’s plot is only mediocre, and in particular, Mark fails to capitalize on the dramatic potential of Steel, a black character based on an African American folk hero, becoming a slave. Also, Arnie Jorgensen’s artwork is frankly terrible. He was nowhere near ready to draw DC’s flagship title.

ORION #24 (DC, 2002) – “The Eyes of the Hunter!”, [W/A] Walt Simonson. A blind Orion battles a villain named Arnicus Wolfram who has obtained an Apokaliptian time travel device. Wolfram’s origin is interesting: he used to be a warrior of the ancient kingdom of Angkor. Overall this issue is well-crafted and exciting, but somehow I’ve never really gotten into Walt Simonson’s Orion. Maybe this is because Orion is a fundamentally unsympathetic character.

INCREDIBLE HULK #218 (Marvel, 1977) – “The Rhino Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore,” [W] Len Wein & Roger Stern, [A] George Tuska & Keith Pollard. This issue’s cover says “Because you demanded it – Doc Samson in solo super-action at last!!” Indeed, this issue is a Doc Samson solo story, and the Hulk only appears on a couple pages. Doc Samson spends most of the issue fighting the Rhino, whose depiction is highly off-model; he looks like a normal dude, rather than a giant hulking bruiser. This isn’t a terrible issue, but there have been better Doc Samson stories.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2013 (INFINITY) #1 (Marvel, 2013) – “Infinity,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Jim Cheung. This issue’s first story is a dumb introduction to a crossover that’s already been forgotten, though the art is good. What’s more interesting is the backup story, a reprint from Logan’s Run #6 in which Thanos battles Drax. I have no idea why this story appeared in a comic based on a licensed property, but oh well.

KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON #1 (Dark Horse, 2013) – “O Sleeper, Awaken,” [W] Tim Truman, [A] Tomás Giorello. An adaptation of the beginning of REH’s only Conan novel. I liked this better than Conan the Cimmerian #21, perhaps because it’s better plotted, or because it has fewer redundant captions.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #1 (Marvel, 2012) – “New Union,” [W] Rick Remender, [A] John Cassaday. After Professor Xavier’s death, Havok is invited to join a new Avengers team. This issue has good art, but is completely lacking in fun or humor. Also, it ends with a disgusting plot twist: the Red Skull has stolen Professor X’s brain.

UNCANNY X-MEN #2 (Marvel, 2012) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Carlos Pacheco, Jorge Molina & Rodney Buchemi. The X-Men battle Mr. Sinister, who has created a bunch of clone copies of himself. Mr. Sinister is an annoying villain, but this issue has some very clever writing, good dialogue, and bizarre art, none of which Uncanny Avengers #1 has. I’d be interested in reading more of Gillen’s X-Men.

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