Post-Heroes-Con, pre-Comic-Con reviews

New comics received on Thursday, June 27:

RUNAWAYS #22 (Marvel, 2019) – “But You Can’t Hide IV,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andrés Genolet. Karolina saves a falling window washer. Molly makes another failed attempt to feed Gib. But the main part of the issue focuses on the Chase/Gert/Victor love triangle.  It turns out Chase was waiting for Gert to get older so that their age gap wouldn’t be an issue, and now he’s pissed that she didn’t wait for him. Chase’s angry reaction to Gert and Victor’s relationship is understandable, but he’s clearly wrong to think that he has “dibs” on Gert. Oh, also, Victor resurrects the Doombot, but without the failsafe that stopped it from being evil. Runaways is technically a superhero comic, but in most superhero comics, the soap opera and day-in-the-life elements are secondary to the superheroic action, whereas in Runaways, the exploration of the characters’ relationships is the whole point of the series.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #7 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Life & Death of Conan Part Seven: Barbarian Love,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. Each issue of this storyline has examined on a different aspect of Conan, and this issue explores Conan’s sexy side. Conan hires five prostitutes, but not for the usual reason; instead, he takes them on a mysterious secret mission. We eventually realize that this story takes place just after Bêlit’s death, and Conan is using the five women as part of his plot to assassinate one of Bêlit’s old enemies. Of course, after the mission is accomplished, Conan sleeps with all five women at once. This is actually not the sexiest Conan story I’ve read, but it’s not bad. A line of dialogue at the end of the issue suggests that Conan and Zenobia only had one son; in the earlier Marvel continuity, they also had a second son.

DIAL H FOR HERO #4 (DC, 2019) – “Detroit City Blues,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. This is the most visually striking issue yet, and that’s saying a lot. Miguel and Summer visit the JLA’s old Detroit headquarters, where they find Snapper Carr. Then they’re attacked by robots, and all three of them use the dial. Summer turns into Chimp Change, based on Frank Miller’s Sin City; Snapper turns into Alien Ice Cream Man, based on Moebius; and Miguel becomes Lil Miguelito, based on Dennis the Menace. Disappointed, Miguel dials again and turns into Nancy, Cathy, and Hagar the Horrible. Maybe the highlight of the whole series so far is the panel where Miguel has a Nancy hairstyle, a Hagar the Horrible helmet, and a T-shirt that says SUMMER IS LIT – a reference to the “Sluggo is lit” meme.  Joe Quinones deserves an Eisner nomination for the artistic virtuosity he’s shown in this series, and Sam Humphries’s writing isn’t bad either.

FANTASTIC FOUR #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “License to Quantum Drive,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] four artists. Franklin and Valeria have to take a driving test in order to be able to pilot the Fantasticar. This leads to some massive sibling rivalry, because Valeria is so much smarter than Franklin and seems guaranteed to pass the test, and Franklin resents her for it. Of course, the driving test is interrupted by a villain from Microworld, and Franklin ends up passing the test while Valeria fails. I’m a bit surprised by Dan Slott’s depiction of Franklin, but I think it’s reasonable. For most of his history, Franklin was too young to have a clearly defined personality. His main distinguishing quality was his extreme power, and it makes sense that his loss of that power troubles him so much. Dan Slott seems to share Brian K. Vaughan’s love of water bears.

ISOLA #8 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brenden Fletcher, [W/A] Karl Kerschl, [A] Msassyk. In this issue, Rook falls ill and is nursed by a witch named Miluše. But it soon becomes clear that Miluše kidnapped the kids from the mining town in issue 7. Besides Christian Ward, Karl Kerschl is the best artist in comic books right now. It’s just too bad that this comic comes out so infrequently, because it’s hard to remember what happened last issue.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #4 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. This issue is narrated by Kamala, and explores how Kamala sometimes feels stifled by her parents. I like the sequence where Kamala says “Sometimes, when my head is echoing with everyone else’s stories about me… I have to raise my voice to tell mine.” I’m not from Kamala’s culture, but her relationship with her parents seems very realistic. This issue also includes some further development of her relationship with Bruno, though he only appears in flashback. The plot isn’t as interesting as the characterization; the main event is that the Beast Legions turn out to be real. By the way, this is off-topic, but I just read David Low’s book chapter about the depiction of charter schools in Bendis and Pichelli’s first Miles Morales story. I don’t believe Saladin’s Miles Morales series has ever commented on the politics of charter schools, and I think it would be nice if he examined this question. I’ll say more about this the next time I write a review of Miles Morales.

STEEL CAGE #1 (Ahoy, 2019) – three stories, [E] Tom Peyer. This comic’s gimmick is “3 Comics Enter… 1 Comic Leaves!” It includes three stories by different creators, and readers are invited to vote on which of them should become an ongoing series. The first story, Peyer and Alan Robinson’s “True Identity,” stars a Superman knock-off who represents the next-to-last stage in human evolution. So he’s far more evolved than normal humans, but still feels inferior in comparison to the ultimate humans who created him. Next is Stuart Moore and Peter Gross’s “Bright Boy,” starring a brilliant but insufferable scientist who repeatedly saves the world, but leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. Finally, Mark Waid and Lanna Souvanny’s “Noah Zark” features a young space explorer who’s searching for homes for his menagerie of bizarre alien creatures. But he doesn’t know where to find his own home, Earth. After reading this issue, I immediately went online and voted for Noah Zark. This series’s premise is touching, and Lanna Souvanny’s alien creatures are adorably weird. I really want to see more of this comic. True Identity’s premise is intriguing, but seems to have limited potential. Meanwhile, Bright Boy has a loathsome protagonist, and I’m not sure what its main premise is. However, I definitely plan on buying whichever of these comics wins the contest.

MARILYN MANOR #1 (IDW, 2019) – “Living on Video,” [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Marley Zarcone. Mags Visaggio’s latest new series is about the president’s daughter, a bratty teenager who enjoys throwing parties in the White House and dodging her Secret Service agent. The president in this story is a sort of combination of Kennedy and Clinton, but like Morning in America, the series is set in the ‘80s. This comic is a lot of fun, but feels less deep and substantial than Mags’s other work.

ASCENDER #3 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. Andy and Mila’s journey to Telsa is interrupted by flashbacks to Mila’s birth and infancy. The last of these flashbacks shows how Effie got killed. Incidentally, I can’t recall if Andy and Effie ever had sex during the Descender series, and I wonder if Mila was conceived before they got divorced. At the end of the issue, Bandit shows off its previously unknown “guard dog” mode.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #44 (Marvel, 2019) – “Your Place in the World,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Alitha E. Martinez. Lunella accidentally time-travels to the 1960s, where she meets her own grandmother, JoJo. In a rather sad development, she has to prevent her grandmother from taking an advanced placement test, rather than allow the timeline to be compromised. Because this is a time travel story with a black female protagonist, it calls Octavia Butler’s Kindred to mind; however, Montclare doesn’t explicitly refer to racial issues. (Actually it’ s kind of progressive how this series doesn’t present Lunella as unusual or different because of her race.) Doctor Strange appears in the ‘60s sequence as an adult. I initially thought this was a huge continuity problem – how can he be so much older than Lunella’s grandmother? – but it turns out he also got there by time travel.

BOOKS OF MAGIC #9 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Storytime, [W] Kat Howard, [A] Tom Fowler. Another complete waste of an issue, full of scenes that could have been narrated in one page, but are stretched out across three or four pages. The scene where Ellie escapes from a prison made of words is kind of cool, but it wasn’t worth a whole issue. Also, Kat Howard missed an opportunity for something even cooler. Instead of burning the words, Ellie could have escaped by rewriting them; for example, the words include “lock” and “unbreakable,” so she could have just changed them to “unlock” and “breakable.” I’m not getting issue 10.

MARVEL RISING #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Heroes of the Round Table!”, [W] Nilah Magruder, [A] Roberto Di Salvo & Georges Duarte. Another extremely disappointing issue. It’s just a completely generic superhero comic. The characters are impossible to tell apart, the fights are boring, the humor is unfunny, and nothing about this comic is creative or original. Marvel’s younger readers deserve much better than this. In a flashback in this issue, we see that King Arthur killed Morgaine le Fay’s mother. That was a weird thing for him to do, since Morgaine’s mother was King Arthur’s mother too. Maybe this will be explained next issue, but I won’t be reading that issue.

XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS #2 (Dynamite, 2019) – untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Olympia Sweetman. I thought I hadn’t ordered this, but it turned out I did order it, and my copy slipped between some boxes. It’s a thoroughly average comic, of interest only to existing Xena fans.

WONDER WOMAN #73 (DC, 2019) – “The Queen and the Empress,” [W] Steve Orlando, [A] Aaron Lopestri. This is a fill-in issue, but not a bad one. Steve Orlando was a good Wonder Woman writer, though not as good as Willow. This issue explains what Dimension Chi is: an evil mirror universe created by Hippolyta. Most of the issue is a flashback in which Hippolyta battles her evil duplicate with the aid of a young Diana.

MY LITTLE PONY: SPIRIT OF THE FOREST #2 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Brenda Hickey. The CMC disguise themselves as the Spirit of the Forest and convince Filthy Rich to close down the lumber mill, but Filthy Rich discovers the deception and reopens the mill. Throughout the issue the CMC’s big sisters are notably unsympathetic and unhelpful. There’s a cute metatextual moment on page one, when Applejack correctly predicts that there’s about to be a crisis.

EVE STRANGER #2 (IDW, 2019) – “Nowhere to Run,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Philip Bond. In flashbacks, we learn that Eve’s superpowers and memory loss are the result of her father’s nanotech. Also, Eve has some more bizarre adventures, including escorting a little person through the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Philip Bond’s artwork continues to be amazing. Eve calls her father Pabbi, and he calls her Fiflar; these terms appear to be Icelandic.

THE TERRIFICS #17 (DC, 2019) – “The God Game, Part 3,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Stephen Segovia. The Terrifics fight some more plagues. This series is no longer as good as when Jeff Lemire was writing it, but it’s good enough to continue reading. Considering what the tenth plague was, Plastic Man’s firstborn son is in some danger.

TRANSMETROPOLITAN #36 (Vertigo, 2000) – “Gouge Away Part Three,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Darick Robertson. Spider Jerusalem has just implicated a presidential aide in a sex scandal. This issue, the aide commits suicide, and the White House goes into crisis mode. Spider’s employer fires him, but Spider already has an escape plan prepared. There’s also a scene in this issue where a woman is killed by a sniper, probably the same one from #44. Transmetropolitan does three things really well: it has a bizarre and funny setting, Spider Jerusalem is a fascinating protagonist, and the series investigates serious questions about journalism and truth.

PUNKS NOT DEAD: LONDON CALLING #5 (Black Crown, 2019) – “…To the Underworld,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Martin Simmonds. Julie dies and goes to the afterlife with Beleth. Sid survives – if that’s the right word, since he was already dead – and he and Fergie head off to New York. This was another really fun miniseries with great art, and I hope there’s another sequel. Asif’s father’s story about the snow leopard woman appears to be based on a story collected by the anthropologist John Mock: https://snowleopardconservancy.org/text/myth/pakmyths.htm. All the Google hits for the place name “Lenarz Keshk” are references to this source.

SECRET ROMANCE #37 (Charlton, 1976) – “Bus Ride Blues,” [W] unknown, [A] Demetrio Sánchez Gómez, plus two other stories. The stories in this issue are of no interest, but the first story has some fascinating art. Demetrio Sánchez Gómez is very similar to Enrique Nieto because he was a Spanish artist whose only U.S. work was for Charlton, and he put much more effort into his work than was justified by Charlton’s page rates. In “Bus Ride Blues,” Demetrio shows great skill at drawing clothing and hair, and he draws a lot of abstract decorative swirls in the background. As a result, his pages look kind of like psychedelic posters or something. The second story in the issue is by Nicholas and Alascia, and the third one is by Jorge Badia Romero, the brother of the Modesty Blaise artist Enrique Romero.

VICTOR LAVALLE’S DESTROYER #5 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] Victor LaValle, [A] Dietrich Smith. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff in this issue, but the most fascinating thing is the flashback to Akai’s murder. It turns out that a woman called the cops on him because she saw him walking down her street with a baseball bat, and she mistook him for an adult with a rifle. And her willful blindness had tragic consequences. In a sense, the police are the same sort of destructive monstrosity as Destroyer’s fictional Frankenstein creatures. As previously stated, this is a brilliant comic, and it might be a good comic to teach.

WAR OF THE REALMS: NEW AGENTS OF ATLAS #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Fire and Ice Chapter 4,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Gang Hyuk Lim, Moy R. & Pop Mhan. The Agents of Atlas defeat the Queen of Cinders, and it turns out that Pele is a simulacrum, not the real thing. And that leads us into the next miniseries. This issue is mostly just fight scenes rather than character interactions, but I do like the characterization of Sun Wukong as a showboating attention seeker.

THOR #14 (Marvel, 2019) – “To Hell with Hammers,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Scott Hepburn. Malekith has kidnapped Odin and Freya and has magically prevented anyone except Thor from coming to rescue them. So Thor recruits his past and future selves, as well as Jane Foster, as his allies. During the course of the ensuing fight with Malekith-plus-Venom, Thor’s younger self becomes worthy to lift Mjolnir for the first time. This is a pretty fun issue, with lots of funny dialogue between Thor’s three selves.

WAR OF THE REALMS #6 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Storm of Thors,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Russell Dauterman. This issue retells some of the same events as Thor #14, but from a different perspective – Thor #14 was narrated by the younger Thor. In War of the Realms #4, Thor forges a new Mjolnir out of the last chip of the old one, and uses it to finally defeat Malekith. Afterward, Thor becomes the new All-Father. This is kind of a predictable conclusion, since we all knew Thor would get Mjolnir back eventually. But War of the Realms is better than a typical crossover because it’s the culmination of seven years of Thor comics, and it has a top-tier creative team. It’s a reasonable conclusion to the second or third best era of Thor.

BLACK PANTHER #13 (Marvel, 2019) – “Two Thousand Seasons,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Daniel Acuna. Another issue in which not a lot happens, except that the Wakandans from Earth-616 finally contact T’Challa. Surprisingly, one of the highlights of TNC’s Black Panther run is Storm. I always thought T’Challa and Ororo’s marriage was a publicity stunt, but TNC writes Storm really well, and he makes me believe that she and T’Challa love each other.

MR. & MRS. X #12 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Lady & the Tiger Part 2,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Javier Pina. Rogue and Gambit defeat Belladonna and Candra, then return home to their cats. It turns out they’re not ready for kids yet, but maybe someday. This was a truly entertaining series, probably Marvel’s most realistic portrayal of a married couple, and I’m sorry it only lasted twelve issues. It was too good for the current industry.

GLOW #3 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tini Howard, [A] Hannah Templer. This issue is a spotlight on Carmen, one of the GLOW girls, who takes it upon herself to become the coach of the others.  Glow is a reasonably enjoyable comic, but the cast is so large that it’s impossible to remember all the character’s names, and only a few of them get any significant development.

LETTER 44 #16 (Oni, 2015) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule, [A] Alberto Jiménez Albuquerque. Two major events this issue: newborn Astra has a heart-to-heart talk with her mother, and the President stops his Secret Service agent from kidnapping the First Lady. Then the First Lady murders the agent in cold blood, and I don’t blame her at all. This is a really entertaining and well-written series, but I wish I wasn’t reading it out of order.

CANTO #1 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] David M. Booher, [A] Drew Zucker. I was skeptical about this series because I don’t like its art style, but Canto #1 is a strong debut. Canto is an example of clockwork fantasy, if there is such a genre. Its protagonists are nameless clockwork robots who are enslaved by a race of beast-men. One of them gives himself a name and falls in love, and he goes on a quest to retrieve his lover’s stolen heart. Canto is a powerful and evocative story, although at times its storytelling is hard to follow. I couldn’t understand the sequence where Canto picks up the stone and then the beast knocks it out of his hand.

ANIMOSITY #13 (Aftershock, 2018) – “Howl,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Rafael De Latorre. This series concludes the story arc about the bee colony, and then at the end, an older man kidnaps Jesse and takes her to the Walled City. I’ve already stated what I think about this series, but the bee story is better than most Animosity comics, because it revolves around animals that have an alien way of thinking. Most of the animals in Animosity act exactly like humans, and that’s one of the major flaws of the series.

ANIMOSITY: EVOLUTION #3 (Aftershock, 2018) – “Lex Animata: Part 1,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Eric Gapstur. This is a more typical issue of Animosity. In this issue, an important witness in a corruption trial is murdered by a poison-arrow frog, which gets into the witness’s room by crawling through the vents. This is an example of the absurdity of this comic’s premise. Animals can do literally anything, and therefore, there are no meaningful constraints on what can happen in this comic’s plot. As a tangent, this year I’ve been trying to read every new comic book I receive each week, before the next week’s shipment arrives. I’ve mostly succeeded, and because of this, if I’m not enjoying a comic, I can quit ordering it immediately. In the past I didn’t have this policy, and as a result, I often kept ordering comics out of a sense of obligation, even though I hadn’t read the earlier issues of those comics. That’s how I ended up with so many unread issues of Animosity, as well as other comics like DC Comics Bombshells, Ringside, Curse Words, Black Cloud, etc.

SUPERGIRL #71 (DC, 2002) – “Pyramid Schemes,” [W] Peter David, [A] Jamal Igle. At this point in the series, Linda Danvers and Mary Marvel are searching for Supergirl, who has become a separate entity from Linda. They follow Supergirl to the Mexican archaeological site of Teotihuacan, where they fight some native people who have traveled forward in time. That leads us into…

SUPERGIRL #72 (DC, 2002) – “Spiders and Snakes,” [W] Peter David, [A] Leonard Kirk. Linda and Mary battle the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, along with a spider deity. The Pyramid Schemes/Spiders and Snakes two-parter is impressive because of Linda and Mary’s interactions and because of PAD’s use of Jewish mysticism. PAD makes intelligent use of concepts like the Shekhinah and the angel Metatron. What’s less impressive about this series is its depiction of ancient Mexican natives as bloody savages. Obviously even the most extreme moral relativists will have trouble defending human sacrifice. However, this comic implies that Aztecs practiced human sacrifice solely because they wanted to be evil.

STUMPTOWN #8 (Oni, 2015) – “The Case of a Cup of Joe: Part Three,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Justin Greenwood. In this installment of the coffee story, Dex defeats an attempt to steal her coffee beans, but then her awful sister pretends to have been kidnapped in order to extort Dex for reward money. This issue is full of coffee jokes. Overall, “The Case of a Cup of Joe” is an excellent story, perhaps the high point of Stumptown volume three. See below for more thoughts about the Stumptown series.

ARTBABE #1 (Fantagraphics, 1997) – “As I Live and Breathe,” [W/A] Jessica Abel. I believe I have this story in the Mirror, Window collection, but I’ve had that book for years without reading it. I’m much more likely to read comic books than graphic novels. “As I Live and Breathe” is a slice-of-life story about an awkward relationship. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s a sensitive and nuanced story about relationships. It demonstrates Jessica’s intelligence and her ability to see multiple perspectives.

X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN – X-TINCTION #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Ed Piskor. This issue covers everything up to the X-Tinction Agenda, But when we get to the end of that story arc, it doesn’t end the way it did in the published comics. Instead, the U.S. drops a bunch of nukes on Genosha, and this triggers the Days of Future Past timeline. The series ends with the adult Kitty Pryde being sent back in time to the past. It’s suggested that her mission succeeds, and that from this point, things are going to happen the same way they did in the 616 universe. I’m not sure how to interpret this ending, but it feels like instead of adapting the actual end of Claremont’s X-Men, Ed is trying to imagine what would have happened if Claremont had been able to continue his story. Claremont had plans for X-Men #300 and beyond, but he fired or was quit after #279. And even before that point, Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio had already taken over the plotting, according to Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Therefore, X-Men: Grand Design offers us an intriguing glimpse of how Claremont’s “grand design” might have continued, if he had been allowed to tell it.

THE AVANT-GUARDS #6 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carly Usdin, [A] Noah Hayes. The Avant-Guards defeat the College of Endocrinology, then their next game is against the Royal Academy of Punk Rock. But in one of the funniest moments in the series, the punks forfeit the game because they can’t be bothered to wear regulation uniforms. Finally, the Avant-Guards lose in a heartbreaker to the Institute of Internet Influencers. Of course there’s also a ton of relationship drama. The Avant-Guards is an entertaining series that reminds me a bit of Giant Days. I especially like all the weird other colleges in this issue.

SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Spider-Ham in : Boared Again!”, [W] Jason Latour, [A] David Lafuente. Based on the cover, you would think this was Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham #1, and it stars that character. This annual is full of animal jokes, many of which went over my head – accordnig to the beginning of the issue, you can get a No-Prize for identifying all the animal-themed villains, nut I was not able to do it. David Lafuente’s artwork is reasonably good. But I think Jason Latour overestimates how funny Spider-Ham is, and overall I was not thrilled with this issue.

MIRACLEMAN #14 (Eclipse, 1988) – “Book III Chapter Four: Pantheon,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] John Totleben. A ton of stuff happens in this issue. Winter heads off to outer space, the Firedrake Huey Moon is introduced, Liz leaves Michael Moran for good, and then Michael says “Kimota” for the last time and symbolically commits suicide. That all happens by page ten, out of a sixteen-page story. But the most significant event this issue is when Johnny Bates is raped by his classmates, and saves himself by turning into Kid Miracleman. And then he kills not only his tormentors, but also the one person who was nice to him, and we all know what he goes on to do next.  As noted in my review of issue 13 above, Miracleman is an idiot; after he heard Johnny say “Miracleman” without transforming (in issue 2), he naively assumed that Johnny was no threat, and allowed him to be neglected and abused. As a result, the blood of every murdered person in London is on Miracleman’s hands. This issue also includes a backup story by Doug Moench and Jim Sullivan, which reads like a rejected submission to Alien Worlds or Twisted Tales. I now have every issue of Miracleman up to #14, but an interesting quandary is whether I should hang on to my Marvel reprints of #13 and #14, now that I have the originals. Those issues include some reprinted Mick Anglo stories, but I wouldn’t have bought them if I’d already had the original Eclipse issues.

GHOST TREE #3 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Bobby Curnow, [A] Simon Gane. It turns out Bobby Curnow is the editor of the My Little Pony comics, so I’d like to interview him sometime. However, Ghost Tree is a pretty average comic. The only thing I really like about it is Simon Gane’s art, and even that’s not as good as his art on They’re Not Like Us.

INVISIBLES #2 (Vertigo, 1994) – “Down and Out in Heaven and Hell Part 1,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. Dane McGowan meets Tom o’Bedlam, the same one from Macbeth, who gives him a basic education in being an Invisible. At the end of the issue, Dane encounters some men in dark glasses and fox-hunting clothes. The highlight of this issue is Tom o’Bedlam’s brilliantly written dialogue. He has a fantastically bizarre speech pattern, and even when he’s not directly quoting Shakespeare, he sounds like he is. His best line is “Could you give us some money? I won’t lie, sir, it’s for drink. I’m alcoholic and must have drink, that’s all.” Invisibles #3 also includes the first reference to Barbelith.

SUPERGIRL #22 (DC, 1998) – “Comet’s Tale,” [W] Peter David, [A] Leonard Kirk. In this issue PAD comes up with a funny way to rehabilitate a rather embarrassing and creepy old character. His version of Comet the Super-Horse is a jockey who was paralyzed in a racing accident and was “healed” by being implanted with horse DNA. Other than that, this is an average comic. I have other unread issues of PAD’s Supergirl, and I’m more likely to read them now that I understand the premise of the series.

BONE #11 (Cartoon Books, 1994) – untitled, [W/A] Jeff Smith. I read this after reading Annette Wannamaker’s brilliant book chapter “‘ This Is a Well-Loved Book’: Weighing (in on) Jeff Smith’s Bone,” which analyzes the different materialities of the various versions of Bone. (For full disclosure, I also wrote a chapter of the book in which this essay appeared.) I already had the Image reprint of Bone #11, and the Cartoon Books version of that issue is exactly the same as the Image version; they even both include the same letters page. The only difference is that the Cartoon Books printing has different ads.

CRIMINAL #5 (Marvel, 2008) – “Bad Night Part Two,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. I should have read this before issue 6. This issue, Iris and her boyfriend Danny force Jacob (who is indeed the same Jacob from “Bad Weekend”) to make them a fake FBI badge. Then Danny strongarms Jacob into accompanying them on a heist. Afterward, when things inevitably go badly, Iris and Jacob are forced to kill Danny. This issue creates a powerful sense of suspense: Jacob is terrified of Danny, but can’t report him to the police because of his own criminal history. There’s also a gimmick where the Dick Tracy-esque protagonist of jacob’s comic strip keeps appearing and giving him advice.

DEADFACE #1 (Harrier, 1987) – untitled (“Immortality Isn’t Forever Part 1,” [W/A] Eddie Campbell. This is the same story as Bacchus #1 (1995), which I already have. However, the 1987 printing of “Immortality Isn’t Forever” is very different from the later versions, because the reprinted versions are extensively redrawn. Most notably, in the 1995 version, Bacchus is redrawn to have a much bulkier body and a more sardonic, world-weary facial expression. In the 1987 version, Bacchus looked like a skinny scarecrow, and his facial expressions were manic and half-crazed. See https://www.instagram.com/p/BzZU14ah_nr/for an example of the differences between the two versions. As a result, these these two comics have exactly the same dialogue, the same visual content, and even the same lettering, and yet they feel like different comics. Comparing the two versions offers a fascinating example of how even minor alterations to a comic can completely change the way it looks and feels.

FLASH GORDON #25 (Gold Key, 1979) – “Volcano!”, [W] Gary Poole, [A] Carlos Garzón. This comic has a pretty formulaic story, but Carlos Garzón’s artwork is quite good. He’s mostly remembered today as an inker and assistant to Al Williamson, but he was one of the foremost comics artists in his native Colombia. His artwork in this issue is very similar to Williamson’s, to the point where it’s hard to tell the difference if you don’t look too closely.

INVISIBLES #3 (Vertigo, 1994) – “Down and Out in Heaven and Hell Part 2,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. Tom hangs out with Danny some more, and shows him a bunch of weird visions. Tom gives a weird speech about how cities are viruses, and then he tells Danny that they’re going to jump off the Canary Wharf building. Steve Yeowell’s artwork in this storyline is quite sober and ordinary, creating a contrast with the bizarre writing.

HEAD LOPPER #12 (Image, 2019) – “Head Lopper and the Knights of Venora, Part 4,” [W/A] Andrew MacLean. Norgal and Brishka fight a bunch of giant flying snakes, Norgal uses the power of Agatha’s head to save Venora, and at the end of the issue, some mysterious figure on a throne learns that Norgal is alive. I’m glad this story arc is over because it was very difficult to follow. A complicated plot and a quarterly publication schedule don’t mix.

TRUE BELIEVERS: SPIDER-MAN VS. MYSTERIO #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Menace of… Mysterio!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Steve Ditko. A reprint of Mysterio’s first appearance from Amazing Spider-Man #13. I already had the issue of Spider-Man Classics that reprinted this story, but the True Believers reprint has the original cover and is printed on better paper. The best part of ASM #13 is the scene where Peter flirts with Liz, and then Flash says Liz is beautiful with her new hairstyle, and she says (in a word balloon with an icy border), “Really, Mister Thompson?? And what was I before, pray tell?”

THOR #131 (Marvel, 1966) – “They Strike from Space!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. A great comic which is unfortunately hampered by the worst inker in comics history, whose name will not be mentioned here. On the first page, Thor and Hercules teleport into Olympus, and there’s a giant expanse of white space below their feet. I have little doubt that Kirby originally drew something there, and the inker erased it. Otherwise, this is a good issue that leads directly into the classic Ego/Black Galaxy storyline. This issue, Tana Nile reveals herself as a Rigellian Colonizer. The Colonizers are both awe-inspiring and funny, reminding me of some of Kirby’s later ‘70s creations. I especially like the scene where an old lady sees one of the Rigellians and says “Can this be one of those avant-garde New York happenings that I sometimes read about?” This story also includes a collage panel, though it’s printed so dark that it’s hard to appreciate. In addition, this issue has a Tales of Asgard backup story, about Harokin and the Warlock’s Eye (not the same as the Evil Eye).

HUNGRY GHOSTS #2 (Dark Horse, 2018) – “Salty Horse” and “The Heads,” [W] Anthony Bourdain & Joel Rose, [A] Leonardo Manco and Mateus Santolouco. I wasn’t impressed with the first issue of this miniseries, but #2 is better because it combines humor with horror. “Salty Horse” is about a wealthy horse breeder who’s so obsessed with horsemeat that he eats all his horses, and is finally possessed by a horse ghost. Leonardo Manco makes horsemeat look delicious, so that we feel that the protagonist’s problem is not that he eats horse in the first place, but that he overindulges in it. The backup story, about floating head demons, is not as good. I just read Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential after reading this comic, and it turns out he was a skilled writer of both fiction and memoirs, as well as being a celebrity chef.

NEOZOIC #5 (Red 5, 2008) – “Outside Bad, Inside Worse,” [W] Paul Ens, [A] J. Korim. A boring fantasy story about dinosaurs, with ugly lettering. This comic was published by the same company as Atomic Robo, but it ain’t Atomic Robo.

HENCHGIRL #9 (Scout, 2016) – untitled, [W/A] Kristen Gudsnuk. I already have the trade paperback of Henchgirl, so I feel kind of guilty for having bought one of the single issues, but it was only 50 cents. Also, Kristen Gudsnuk’s work is so dense that it’s hard to read in large doses; it’s full of sight gags and hidden messages. I read the Henchgirl collection so quickly that it was hard to fully appreciate it. Therefore, I don’t mind reading it again. In this issue, Mary Posa/Henchgirl saves her parents and her golden-girl sister from a villain named Gunpowder. But she kills Gunpowder while doing it, so instead of getting any credit, she gets arrested.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #115 (Marvel, 1969) – “Now Begins the Nightmare!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] John Buscema. The Red Skull gets the Cosmic Cube again and uses it to torment Cap, including switching his and Cap’s minds. John Buscema’s art in this issue is excellent, but the plot depends on the Red Skull being an idiot. Like Green Lantern’s ring, the Cosmic Cube has no limits except its wielder’s imagination, and every time the Red Skull gets the Cosmic Cube, he can’t imagine anything to do with it except humiliate Cap.

G.I. JOE #76 (Marvel, 1988) – “All’s Fair,” [W] Larry Hama, [A] Ron Wagner. The G.I. Joes intervene in the Cobra civil war between Cobra Commander and Serpentor. G.I. Joe #76 is much better than #37 because it feels realistic. Despite the wildly implausible characters, vehicles and weapons, it feels like an accurate depiction of war, from the perspective of both strategists and common soldiers. The war is resolved when Zartan kills Serpentor by shooting him in the eye with an arrow, as supposedly happened to Harold Godwinson at Hastings. Serpentor’s gimmick is that he keeps making references to military history. However, at one point he mistakenly claims that “von Student” tried to assassinate Hitler despite having just one eye and one arm. Here either Larry Hama or Serpentor has confused Kurt Student with Claus von Stauffenberg. One of the Joes appearing in this issue is a stealth pilot, and there’s a running joke where no one can remember his name. The explanation is that this character’s official name was “Ghost Rider.” Marvel didn’t want to refer to him by name because they already had a different character named Ghost Rider. So instead Larry came up with a joke where Ghost Rider, the G.I. Joe character, was so stealthy that no one could remember his name.

STUMPTOWN #2 (Oni, 2014) – “The Case of the King of Clubs, Part 2,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Justin Greenwood. Dex investigates the beating of a fan at a Portland Timbers game, and encounters rumors that Seattle soccer fans might be responsible. This would be the MLS’s worst nightmare because it could lead to European-style football violence. Stumptown is one of Greg Rucka’s less ambitious projects, but also one of his best, despite Justin Greenwood’s pedestrian art. Stumptown creates a powerful sense of local specificity, and it makes the reader feel affection for Dex, her disabled brother, and their city.

STRANGE ADVENTURES #209 (DC, 1968) – “How Many Times Can a Guy Die? Part 3,” [W] Jack Miller, [A] Neal Adams. As uusal, Neal’s artwork on this issue is incredible. He was head and shoulders above any other DC artist at the time. I especially like the opening two pages, a silent sequence in which where a worker removes a poster of Boston Brand and replaces it with a poster of an acrobat called the Eagle. This issue follows the typical Deadman formula where Deadman mistakes a criminal – in this case, the aforementioned Eagle – for his killer. During the climactic fight scene, Deadman seems to temporarily forget that he can jump out of the body he’s occupying and possess the Eagle’s body.

INCREDIBLE HULK #128 (Marvel, 1970) – “And in This Corner… the Avengers!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Herb Trimpe. The Hulk is traveling underground in the direction of the San Andreas fault, and the Avengers are summoned to prevent the Hulk from starting an earthquake. This leads to an entertaining fight scene. Herb Trimpe’s art in this era of Hulk comics was fantastic. This issue may have been the first time the Hulk met the Vision.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #219 (Dell, 1958) – untitled coyote story, [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. I love how I can actually afford to own comics with original Carl Barks stories. In this issue’s Barks ten-pager, Donald and the nephews are staying at Grandma’s farm when a baby coyote starts eating Grandma’s chickens. The ducks try to tame the coyote, but it turns out to be much smarter and fiercer than them. The coyote’s thoughts are depicted using visual thought balloons, a device I haven’t seen Barks using elsewhere. Otherwise this story is a light but funny piece of slapstick. This issue also includes a Mickey Mouse story by Paul Murry, along with some lesser material.

SANDMAN #3 (DC, 1989) – “…Dream a Little Dream of Me,” [W] Neil Gaiman, [A] Sam Kieth & Mike Dringenberg. Morpheus requests John Constantine’s aid to get back his missing pouch of dust. The first Sandman story arc shows some of what TVTropes calls “Early Installment Weirdness.” In this storyline Morpheus acts like a superhero with well-defined powers (e.g. the ability to travel through dreams) and accessories (the helmet, pouch and ruby). Later in the series, Morpheus’s superhero trappings tended to be taken for granted, and Morpheus himself was often de-emphasized in favor of the other characters around him. However, Sandman #3 still has some really good writing, and the interactions between Sandman and Constantine are entertaining. I especially like how throughout the issue, whenever the radio is on, it’s playing a song about the Sandman or dreams.

THE INVISIBLES #4 (DC, 1994) – “Down and Out in Heaven and Hell Part 3,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. Tom o’Bedlam dies and bequeaths his position to Dane McGowan, a.k.a. Jack Frost. Dane/Jack meets the other Invisibles for the first time, including King Mob and Ragged Robin. This first story arc is a good introduction to the series, though I still don’t get just what the Invisibles are fighting against.

TRANSMETROPOLITAN #20 (Vertigo, 1999) – “The New Scum 2: New City,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Darick Robertson. This issue consists of a bunch of loosely related scenes which all revolve around the upcoming presidential election. Spider saves a man from being stoned to death by Christian fundamentalists, then gets hit by an “information bomb,” then later there’s a splash page depicting a cannibal restaurant called “Top of the Food Chain.” In the stoning scene, one of the fundamentalists gives a long list of sins, one of which is “fogletism.” I thought this was some kind of inside joke, but apparently a “foglet” is a type of nanotech creature that was introduced in an earlier issue. At the end of the issue, Spider is offered an interview with the President.

STARSTRUCK #5 (IDW, 2010) – “Hugs and Kisses,” [W] Elaine Lee, [A] Michael Wm. Kaluta. On her 21st birthday, Molly/Galatia 9 is imprisoned, then allowed to escape on the orders of her evil sister. There’s also a Galactic Girl Guides backup story. Starstruck is a fascinating series with beautiful art, though it’s very dense and difficult.

THE UNWRITTEN #24 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Stairway to Heaven,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. This issue was deservedly nominated for an Eisner. It’s a standalone issue starring Pauly Bruckner, who was imprisoned in a storybook by Wilson Taylor, as previously depicted in issue 12. In “Stairway to Heaven,” Pauly escapes into a world where a bunch of fairytale animals are climbing an endless stairway. He becomes their leader and the lover of the Moomintroll-esque Quark Maiden, who narrates the story. He even has three kittens by her, but at the end of the story, he cravenly abandons the other animals and escapes. However, Quark Maiden and the other animals take inspiration from him and continue their quest. Peter Gross’s artwork in this issue an amazing combination of lighthearted fairytale whimsy and Gothic grimness, thanks in large part to the finishes by Al Davison.

SAUCER COUNTRY #9 (Vertigo, 2013) – “The Reticulan Candidate Part Two,” [W] Paul Cornell, [A] Ryan Kelly. Some dude tries to assassinate Arcadia, the presidential candidate who is this series’ main protagonist. There’s also a plot thread that explains the origin of the “men in black” trope. This series is okay, but not nearly as good as another comic that blended science fiction with politics, Letter 44.

WYTCHES #4 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Jock. Sailor has been kidnapped by a witch, and her parents are scrambling to find her.I read this issue and #3 in the wrong order, but it doesn’t matter because I don’t like this series anyway; I think Snyder is a very overrated writer. Jock’s art in this comic is actually kind of pedestrian, but includes some striking coloring effects.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #135 (Marvel, 1971) – “More Monster than Man!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Gene Colan. I bought this years ago, but never read it because of its poor condition. In this issue, Cap and Falcon battle a scientist named Dr. Gorbo who turns himself into a human ape. Curiously, Dr. Gorbo already looks like an ape even in his human form. Gene Colan’s artwork in this issue is amazing, perhaps due to very precise inking by Tom Palmer.

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #44 (DC, 2010) – “Red Badge of Rage Part 2,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [A] Patrick Gleason. A bunch of Green Lanterns battle Guy Gardner, who has been turned into a Red Lantern. Despite having the same creative team as Super Sons, this is a pretty boring crossover installment.

MADAME XANADU #16 (Vertigo, 2009) – “Broken House of Cards Chapter One: Ladise’ Harm Journal,” [W] Matt Wagner, [A] Amy Reeder Hadley. In 1957, a housewife is experiencing bizarre magical effects. She consults Madame Xanadu, who discovers that someone has cursed her. I disliked this issue at first because of its shallow depiction of ‘50s domesticity; it seems much less historically accurate than Lady Killer or Hex Wives. However, Wagner and Reeder Hadley do a good job of arousing the reader’s curiosity. By the end of the issue, I was really curious as to who cursed Mrs. Reynolds and why.

DETECTIVE COMICS #820 (DC, 2006) – “Face the Face Part 7 of 8,” [W] James Robinson, [A] Leonard Kirk & Andy Clarke. James Robinson had a bizarre career trajectory. In the ‘90s he wrote Starman, the best DC superhero comic of its time, as well as Leave It to Chance, an excellent kids’ comic. But none of his subsequent comics was anywhere near that level, and some of them, like Justice League, Cry for Justice, were horrendous. Detective Comics #820 is such an average comic that it would be hard to even summarize what it’s about. The main event is that Scarecrow makes Batman and Robin think they’re fighting other versions of themselves, and also Superboy-Prime.

SUPERMAN #700 (DC, 2010) – “The Comeback,” [W] James Robinson, [A] Bernard Chang, plus two other stories. This issue begins with a boring story where Superman saves Lois from the Parasite. Next, “Geometry” by Dan Jurgens, is the best of this issue’s three stories, though it’s much more about Robin than Superman. The last story, by J. Michael Straczynski and Eddy Barrows, a woman slaps Superman at a press conference. She explains that her husband died of a cancer that only Superman could have cured, because Superman was away in space. As a result of this, Superman decides that he’s lost touch with the common people, and he decides to spend some time seeing the real world. This entire story is a bunch of emotionally manipulative nonsense. If Superman hadn’t been doing whatever he was doing in space, many more people would have died. There have been many far better and more subtle treatments of the theme of superheroes failing to save people. See for example Superman vol. 2 #64, in which Superman fails to save a man from dying of a brain tumor. But instead of feeling guilty, Superman accepts the fact that he can’t save everyone. (Other less directly relevant examples are Spectacular Spider-Man #310 or Flash #87-89). Worse, this story is the prologue to “Grounded,” the worst Superman story ever published.

New comics received on Saturday, July 6:

GIANT DAYS #52 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. Esther has her job interview, but discovers that investment banking is not for her. Esther leverages her connections with Ken Lord to get Shelley Winters a publishing contract, and in return, one of Ken’s friends hires Esther for a publishing position. Giant Days #52 is another brilliant issue of a comic that will be sorely missed. The best part of the issue is when Esther’s future coworkers talk about attending a “money and cocaine party”.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #46 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. I complain sometimes about Ryan North’s writing style, but this issue reminds me what a brilliant writer he is. At the start of the issue, Squirrel Girl reveals her plan to defeat the frost giants by eliminating their food source, which, as she explains, is the same way the province of Alberta got rid of rats. Alberta is so cold that there’s nothing there for rats to eat, except humans’ food, and the Alberta government takes aggressive measures to exterminate any rats found on houses or farms. When I read this sequence, I hadn’t heard of Alberta’s control policy before, but I instantly knew that Ryan North’s description of it must be accurate. He wouldn’t put something like that in his comic unless it was true. And indeed his account is substantially true. Ryan’s prose style is condescending sometimes, but he shows utmost respect for his readers by always providing them with accurate facts. And somehow those facts are always weirder than anything he could make up. Anyway, on the next page Ryan mentions “the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea.” I love Stan Rogers’s music, and I was delighted at this reference to “Northwest Passage,” Canada’s unofficial national anthem. Besides that, there’s a ton of other great stuff in this issue, including a fight between whales and frost giants, and a scene in which Doreen and Rachel convince the Frost Giants to turn on their leader by reading to them from John Locke.

THE WORLD OF BLACK HAMMER ENCYCLOPEDIA (Dark Horse, 2019) – many vignettes, [W] Tate Brombal w/ Jeff Lemire, [A] various. A Black Hammer version of the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe or Who’s Who in the DC Universe. This comic (if that’s the proper term) is full of fascinating data on Black Hammer’s characters and settings, some of which we haven’t seen yet. The highlight for me is the entry on the Quantum League, in which we finally get a complete list of all 27 Leaguers. However, I’m disappointed that there’s no entry on the Star Sheriffs. Dr. Star is referred to as Dr. Andromeda throughout this issue, even in the ad at the end. There’s no official explanation for this yet, but the speculation is that someone else has the rights to the name Dr. Star.

SEA OF STARS #1 (Image, 2019) – “Lost in the Wild Heavens,” [W] Jason Aaron & Dennis Hallum. The idea behind this comic is that it’s two series in one: a lighthearted adventure story about a little boy lost in space, and a grim, mature story about the boy’s father’s search for his son. Sea of Stars #1 is a thrilling debut issue that effectively sets up both stories. Kadyn is an adorable little brat, and Stephen Green’s artwork is gorgeous; he’s great at drawing both technology and alien creatures. He reminds me a bit of Sean Murphy. Rico Renzi’s moody, dark coloring also helps a lot. I look forward to reading more of this series.

BLACK HAMMER: AGE OF DOOM #11 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dean Ormston. In New World (aka New Genesis or the Rock of Eternity), Lucy encounters her father, who’s not dead. He tells her that Anti-God is coming back because the balance between good and evil is broken, and the only way to stop Anti-God is to keep the other heroes from returning to Earth. Then there’s a sequence where the other heroes recruit Madame Dragonfly, who’s masquerading as a suburban housewife. This was an okay issue. I strongly suspect that Lucy’s dad is lying to her.

PRINCELESS VOL. 8: PRINCESSES #3 (Action Lab, 2019) – “Chapter Three: Angoisse,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Newt Taber & Takeia Marie. I thought I’d forgotten to order this, but I did order it, they just delivered it out of order. In this issue, Angoisse stops some unauthorized logging, and then her goblin friends have an election, which is an obvious parody of the 2016 presidential campaign. The goblin election sequence is funny, but has nothing to do with Adrienne and her sisters’ story. The Black Knight doesn’t appear in this issue, as she did in #1, #2 and #4.

NO ONE LEFT TO FIGHT #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Aubrey Sitterson, [A] Fico Ossio. Vale, a wandering martial artist, visits his identical friend Timor, now married with a family, and old tensions start to boil over. This series is explicitly based on Dragon Ball; it’s been advertised as an examination of what happens to Goku when, as the series indicates, he runs out of people to fight. I have only mild familiarity with Dragon Ball, so I’m sure I missed a lot of the references in this comic. I assume that Vale = Goku, Timor = Vegeta, and Krysta = Bulma. But even without knowledge of Dragon Ball, I enjoyed this comic. Fico Ossio’s art and coloring are excellent, and I really like the pet octopus.

CROWDED #7 (Image, 2019) – “Time to Pretend,” [W] Christoper Sebela, [A] Ro Stein & Ted Brandt. I’m glad that my favorite Chris Sebela comic is back. This issue, Charlie and Vita take a train to Las Vegas, defeating an assassination attempt on the way. But when they arrive, it turns out there’s a Reapr convention in town. Funny things in this issue include Charlie’s “Loose Slots Here” shirt, the bench that “reaches melting temperature after 1 hour,” and “Marie’s Condos, minimum space, maximum joy.”

ADVENTURES OF THE SUPER SONS #12 (DC, 2019) – “Gang War Conclusion,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [A] Carlo Barberi. Jon and Damian meet the living hypercube who created the planet of kid supervillains. They defeat the villains and make it back in time for school. The series ends with another framing sequence with the elderly Jon and Damian and their grandkids. This comic was a lot of fun, but 12 issues may have been too many. Long before this comic was finished, it had already been rendered obsolete by developments elsewhere in the DCU, and it no longer felt relevant.

MS. MARVEL ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Sting,” [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Jon Lam. Kamala encounters a new superhero, Captain Hero. It turns out Captain Hero is really the Super-Skrull, seeking revenge for the destruction of the Skrull Throneworld. A friend of mine wrote an as yet unpublished review which critiques this comic’s politics. I don’t have the same objections as my friend does, but that’s mostly because in my opinion, this comic’s politics are too incoherent to be worth criticizing. In the end, Kamala tells Kl’rt that the past isn’t coming back and they need to build a better future, which is a completely vapid principle. Also, it’s weird how Kl’rt waited until now to take revenge for Throneworld’s destruction, which happened over thirty years ago in real-world time. Overall this issue is far below Mags’s usual standards, and I didn’t like the art either. And the new character introduced in this issue, Shebang, is a complete cipher. This issue may be the first time we’ve seen Kamala’s mother with her hair uncovered. I forget whether she’s usually shown wearing a headscarf around the house.

THE DREAMING #11 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Understanding,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. Dora and Matthew arrive at the Worlds’ End inn, where all the patrons are listening to three people telling stories. The three stories belong to different genres (fantasy, SF and crime) and are drawn in different styles, but each story ends with a person starting to tell one of the other stories, so none of the stories ever ends. And everyone else is so mesmerized by the stories that they don’t realize the inn is burning down. In the end, Dora saves the day by narrating her own ending to all the stories at once. This issue is a brilliant piece of experimental narration, as well as a meditation on the power of storytelling – a power which can be destructive, because the desire for narrative closure is so strong. Besides drawing in multiple different styles, Bilquis Evely does a great job of depicting the bizarre creatures that hang out at Worlds’ End.

BLACK AF: DEVIL’S DYE #4 (Black Mask, 2019) – untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Liana Kangas. I shouldn’t have ordered this, but it’s too late now. I’m totally unable to follow this comic’s plot, and I fail to understand the appeal of Liana Kangas’s art. I suppose her storytelling is good, but her linework is sloppy and ugly. I really want Black to be good, but it’s not, and I won’t be ordering the next Black miniseries.

LOIS LANE #1 (DC, 2019) – “Enemy of the People,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. Lois investigates stories about Russian interference and human trafficking. Greg Rucka has written lots of comics starring confident, super-competent women – Queen & Country, Lazarus, Black Magick, Stumptown, etc. His version of Lois is just as formidable as any of those series’ protagonists, and I like her so far. This comic also has some obvious relevance to current politics. It’s notable that Lois’s son is only mentioned once in this issue. Over the past few years, Lois has been essentially defined by her role as a mother, and I actually thought at first that this comic must be taking place before Jon was born. I still think it’s odd that Jon is nowhere to be seen in this comic. On the other hand, Peter Tomasi’s portrayal of Lois was borderline sexism at times, and I’m glad that this series is exploring other aspects of Lois’s life besides her relationship to her family.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #79 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sam Maggs, [A] Toni Kuusisto. The second worst pony comic IDW has published, after issue 40, the one that depicted Twilight Sparkle as a preteen single mother. The main problem with this issue is its complete lack of a plot. Apple Bloom distracts Mayor Mare so that the other ponies can arrange a surprise anniversary celebration. Then Mayor Mare comes back to city hall, and Sunset Shimmer plays a concert. That’s literally the whole issue. On top of that, the storytelling is incoherent at times, especially on the page with Bulk Biceps’s audition. Sam Maggs is best known as a journalist and critic, and she clearly has limited experience writing comics.

HEATHEN #7 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Natasha Alterici. Frigga and Odin have an argument, and then Aydis falls overboard in a storm, and one of the pirates rescues her but loses a foot as a result. This issue was difficult to follow, but Natasha Alterici’s artwork is brilliant. I love her light-dark contrasts and the way she draws diverse body types. Issue 8 is the last one that’s been solicited so far, and I don’t see how this story can be completed in one more issue. Maybe more issues will be solicited later.

THE LONG CON #10 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W] Dylan Meconis & Ben Coleman, [A] E.A. Denich. Destiny and Victor finally make it in to see the Special Guest, a fictionalized version of Gene Roddenberry. In a flashback, we learn that the catastrophe was caused by Marla, the computer from the Skylarks franchise. It turns out that Marla was real, and she kept getting smarter and more obsessed with maintaining continuity. And according to Skylarks continuity, a worldwide apocalypse happened in the year 2018 (like how in Star Trek continuity, the Eugenics Wars started in 1993), so when that year came around and there wasn’t an apocalypse, Marla made one happen. Marla’s next step is to launch everyone at the convention into deep space. But just in time, Victor and Dez realize that Marla’s true goal is to keep the fans happy, and they convince her that this is inherently impossible, thus saving the day. This ending is brilliantly metatextual, and overall, The Long Con is one of the best miniseries of the past year. It’s an incisive satire of fandom. I wish people were paying more attention to it.

HASHTAG: DANGER #3 (Ahoy, 2019) – “The Ape in the Iron Mask!”, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Chris Giarrusso. The team goes to the moon to look for a supervillain who turns out to not exist. There’s no mention of the cliffhanger from last issue, where Sugar becomes a supervillain. This issue includes a backup story in which a Trump supporter gets punched in the face. Hashtag: Danger is probably my least favorite Ahoy title, though it’s still good.

BIRTHRIGHT #37 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. The good guys prepare for a mission to recruit Mastema, the daughter of the primary villain, Lore. We also encounter Mikey and Aaron’s grandfather Samael, who is himself some kind of wizard. Birthright is one of those series where there’s not much difference between one issue and another.

SWEET TOOTH #15 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Animal Armies 3,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. This issue includes two parallel plot threads, one about Gus and the other about Tommy Jepperd. The highlight of the issue is when Gus and Tommy are both dreaming, and for two consecutive two-page spreads, the left page depicts Tommy’s dream while the right page depicts Gus’s dream. Then on the following two-page spread, the two dreams merge into a single big thought balloon, and Gus and Tommy both wake up in shock. This effect is easier to see than to describe, and it’s the sort of trick Jeff Lemire is really good at.

IMMORTAL HULK #20 (Marvel, 2019) – “Metatron,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. The Hulk dies from having his heart cut out, but dying restarts his healing factor, and he and the Harpy team up to defeat the Abomination. Then there’s an enigmatic sequence where Bruce Banner encounters the angel Metatron. Immortal Hulk may be the best Hulk comic since PAD’s first run.

TEST #1 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Jen Hickman. Chris Sebela seems to be competing with Mags Visaggio to see who can start the most new series. This comic stars Aleph Null (a name derived from mathematics, specifically set theory), a “professional guinea pig” who makes a living by being experimented upon. Like the protagonist of Jen Hickman’s previous series Moth & Whisper, Aleph Null appears to be transgender; at one point their gender is stated as “various given.” In this issue, Aleph Null travels to a mysterious midwestern town called Laurelwood. I’m not sure yet what this series is about, but it’s interesting so far.

GREEN LANTERN #9 (DC, 2019) – “The Day the Stars Fell Down!”, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. This issue starts with a sequence where a cosmic villain destroys a world full of superheroes, including Vartox. Then the scene shifts to a fantasy world called Athmoora, where Hal is taking a vacation. While there, he encounters an other-dimensional version of Abin Sur, and then he’s attacked by the same villain from the first sequence. It’s called Qwa-Man (Qwa = Qward?) and seems to be some kind of reverse version of Hal. Then the issue ends with Hal being recruited by three alternate Hal Jordans from other realities. This was a very dense issue, and I don’t quite understand this storyline yet. I do like how every issue of Grant’s Green Lantern has been very different from the others.

DOOM PATROL: WEIGHT OF THE WORLDS #1 (DC, 2019) – “Damaged,” [W] Gerard Way, [A] James Harvey. This excellent but chronically delayed series is finally back. I was disappointed by the lack of Nick Derington art, but James Harvey, who I haven’t heard of before, is equally brilliant in a different way. He does amazing stuff with coloring and lettering and page layout. This issue, the new Doom Patrol visits a planet where the naturally sphere-shaped inhabitants have been forced to contort themselves into human shapes. Meanwhile, the newly human Cliff Steele is rejected by his elderly father, and in grief, Cliff drives himself off a cliff, trying to replicate the accident that made him Robotman.

SECTION ZERO #4 (Image, 2019) – “A Long Time Dead,” [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Tom Grummett.  Confusingly, this issue starts 18 years after #3. I guess that’s because this is the first new issue, while the first three were reprints from the original Gorilla series. In this issue, the Section Zero characters visit a daycare where all the children turn out to be changelings.

TALES TO ASTONISH #86 (Marvel, 1966) – “The Wrath of Warlord Krang!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jerry Grandenetti, and “The Birth of… the Hulk-Killer!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] John Buscema. In this issue’s Namor story, Namor tries to rescue Dorma from Warlord Krang. Dorma was a pretty boring superhero girlfriend, and overall this is an average story. The Hulk story is a bit better, although the villain is Boomerang, whose costume is hideous. In general, Tales to Astonish was one of the lesser ‘60s Marvel titles

IGNITED #2 (Humanoids, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid & Kwanza Osajyefo, [A] Phil Briones. In the wake of the shooting and the superheroes’ appearance, tensions at the school erupt into violence. There’s also a backup story written by Carla Speed McNeil. This issue is just okay; it lacks the impact of issue 1.

PUMA BLUES #3 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1986) – “Strings,” [W] Stephen Murphy, [A] Michael Zulli. Another issue that has a minimal plot, but creates a powerful sense of mood and atmosphere. The overarching theme of Puma Blues is ecological catastrophe, and this issue narrates that theme from several viewpoints. Sequences in this issue include a dream about nuclear war, narrated by a college professor, and a TV movie about the Rapture.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #108 (Marvel, 1968) – “The Snares of the Trapster!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. A thrilling story full of epic action sequences. Unfortunately it stars Marvel’s dumbest villain ever. At least by this point he’s calling himself the Trapster instead of Paste Pot Pete, but he still has a bizarre belief that there’s no problem that can’t be solved with paste.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #154 (DC, 1965) – “The Sons of Batman and Superman!”, [W] Edmond Hamilton, [A] Curt Swan. This issue introduces the Super Sons, though they’re distinctly different from the ‘70s versions of those characters. Notably, these Super Sons’ mothers are named as Lois Lane and Kathy Kane, while in Bob Haney’s Super Sons stories, their mothers were never identified. This first Super Sons story is very cute and lighthearted.  A very young Kal-El Jr and Bruce Jr get into a fight, and their mothers forbid them to see each other. They decide to run off together, but Kal Jr gets kidnapped by a villain, and Bruce Jr rescues him. Kal Jr and Bruce Jr appeared again a few issues later, then were forgotten until the ‘70s. World’s Finest #154 also includes a reprinted Green Arrow backup story.

WYTCHES #3 (DC, 2014) – untitled, [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Jock. Sailor Rooks’s dad searches for his kidnapped daughter and instead finds a man who’s been stuffed inside a tree. There’s also an extended flashback depicting Sailor and her parents at a playground. This is an okay comic, but not great. I’m not surprised there wasn’t a sequel after the initial six issues.

THE UNWRITTEN #20 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Leviathan 2,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. Tom Taylor and Lizzie Hexam visit Pittsfield, Massachusetts for the annual Moby Dick festival, which is sadly not a real thing, although Herman Melville was in fact born in that town. Tom gets sucked inside the book and discovers that his father is Captain Ahab. There’s a flashback in which a young Tom and Lizzie discuss the difference between “real truth” and “story truth.” As usual, this issue is fascinating; it’s full of literary references and metatextual moments.

HUNGRY GHOSTS #3 (Dark Horse, 2018) – “Deep” and “Boil in the Belly,” [W] Anthony Bourdain & Joel Rose, [A] Sebastian Cabrot and Paul Pope. “Deep” is about a chef who’s sexually harassed by a senior coworker. Another coworker kills the evil chef by summoning a kappa to rip out his shirikodama, or the ball in his ass – apparently this business about the ball is a real part of kappa mythology. This story is inspired by Bourdain’s own experiences working in abusive, hierarchical restaurant kitchens. At one point, a senior chef says “I make two chefs like you in the toilet every day!” In Kitchen Confidential,Bourdain attributes this exact same insult to his culinary school professor. The backup story is about a man who develops a second mouth in his belly, and because it’s drawn by Paul Pope, it has the best art in the entire miniseries.

HUNGRY GHOSTS #4 (Dark Horse, 2018) – “The Snow Woman” and “The Cow Head,” [W] Anthony Bourdain & Joel Rose, [A] Irene Koh and Francesco Francavilla. “The Snow Woman” is about an encounter with Yuki-Onna, the snow spirit. This story is disappointing because it’s not about food at all. “The Cow Head” is about a minotaur who visits a famine-starved town, where the people kill and eat him. It has some pretty good artwork, though I’ve seen better art from Francavilla. Overall, Hungry Ghosts is a moderately successful experiment. Bourdain’s stories benefit from his expert knowledge of food, but most of them are unsatisfying in terms of narrative; they’re too short and their twist endings are nonsensical. Sadly, he never got the chance to develop his comics writing skills any further.

TRUE BELIEVERS: WOLVERINE VS. SABRETOOTH #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “24 Hours,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] John Buscema. This story is reprinted from Wolverine #10. It intercuts between two sequences: a flashback to the day Sabretooth killed Silver Fox, and a present-day sequence in which Wolverine hunts for Sabretooth in Madripoor. The latter story thread guest-stars Jessica Drew and her partner Lindsey McCabe, two old Claremont characters. “24 Hours” is very well-constructed and exciting, and effectively reveals the characters of both Wolverine and Sabretooth. It’s a small gem, and it was well worth reprinting. However, John Buscema’s pencils and Bill Sienkiewicz’s inks don’t mix well.

CRIMINAL #4 (Icon, 2007) – “Coward Part Four,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue’s protagonist is a career criminal named Leo. His friend Ivan dies from overdosing on some stolen heroin, and Leo heads off to town to deal with the owners of the heroin, leaving his girlfriend Greta alone in the country with the drugs. At the end of the issue, we realize that the people Leo is looking for in town have already tracked down Greta in the country. I’m not quite sure what the larger context of this story is, but it’s an exciting story. I think Criminal is probably Ed Brubaker’s masterpiece.

ANIMOSITY: EVOLUTION #6 (AfterShock, 2018) – “Lex Machina: Part 1,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Eric Gapstur. Someone has just killed all the animal-machine hybrids except Wintermute herself, who barely survived, and this issue deals with the aftermath of that. There’s one scene in this issue where a pig explains that when the animals all came alive, the humans and their pets felt like they had lost their freedoms. But “their freedoms were astonishing luxuries that the rest of us” (i.e. the other animals) “could never dream of… ‘the most meager step towards equality’ will, to those in power, always feel like ‘relentless oppression.’” Here we see what Animosity could have been. It could have been the ultimate expression of the principle that “when you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” It could have explored the feelings of animals who have been tortured and killed for generations, and who are finally free to become something more than food. However, the series wasted this potential by failing to treat the animals as animals. As I’ve said many times before, the animals in Animosity are just humans in smaller bodies. They all think and talk like humans, except the bees. They seek for freedom and equality entirely on human terms. Therefore, Animosity can’t seriously explore the question of what it might mean for mice or cows or bats to be equal to people. It just assumes that an animal’s version of freedom and equality is the same as a human’s version. Animosity also fails to seriously confront other problems with its premise, like the fact that some animals have to eat other animals to live. In the end, Animosity promised far more than it could deliver.

ZAP COMIX #7 (Last Gasp, 1974) – “Sangrella,” [W/A] Spain, plus other stories. This comic is an expression of the underground movement at its peak, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. Zap #7 is an incredible demonstration of graphic virtuosity, to such an extent that it’s a rather labor-intensive reading experience. There’s a major story by Spain, two stories by Robt. Williams (both of which are heavily influenced by classic animation), multiple stories and pinups by S. Clay Wilson, and short pieces by Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso. Compared with all this material, the two stories by Crumb almost feel like breaks from the difficulty and complexity of the rest of the issue. While the stories in Zap #7 are visually brilliant, they’re also full of testosterone and misogyny. S. Clay Wilson’s stories are some of the most gruesome material ever printed in a non-pornographic comic, and the entire issue is full of male sex fantasies. Even though Spain’s “Sangrella” has a female protagonist, it too seems intended to appeal to the male gaze. A comic like this shows you why It Ain’t Me, Babe and Wimmen’s Comix were necessary correctives.

GRIP: THE STRANGE WORLD OF MEN #1 (Dark Horse, 2002) – “Grip of Fear,” [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. This issue is less difficult than some of the later issues of the series, but still very weird. A man wakes up with no memory and no idea who he is. He encounters various other bizarre people, and we gradually realize that his skin and his body belong to different people. On the last page, his empty skin is found in his bed, with no body inside it. Grip has the same sort of disturbing body horror as Blubber, but unlike Blubber, Grip also has a coherent story.

HATE #13 (Fantagraphics, 1993) – “In Search of the Enigmatic George Cecil Hamilton the Third,” [W/A] Peter Bagge. Buddy’s old roommate, George, writes an article slandering Buddy as an example of the worst qualities of Generation X, and publishes the article in a free newspaper with nationwide distribution. After making a futile attempt to steal all the copies of the newspaper, Buddy tracks down George and forces him to publish a retraction. The sequence where Buddy discovers the slanderous article is hilarious; I was laughing my ass off as I read. The second half of the issue isn’t as funny. There’s also a backup story that shows what happened to Leonard/Stinky after “Follow That Dream.”

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Declan Shalvey. Dr. Doom and Ben Grimm visit an alternate reality, where they fight a different version of Doom. This comic has some useful insights into the relationship between Doom and the FF, but it’s not nearly as entertaining as the current FF series. Surprisingly, this issue shows both versions of Doom with bare faces, although it doesn’t technically break the taboo on showing Dr. Doom’s face: one of the Dooms is from an alternate reality, and the other has previously had his face healed.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #140 (Dell, 1952) – untitled Gladstone story, [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. In this issue’s Barks story, Donald and the nephews are sick of Gladstone’s constant good luck. They decide that he must have some kind of good luck charm, so they visit his house and find that he has a locked safe. With Scrooge’s help, they break into Gladstone’s house and open the safe, which turns out to contain a dime. Gladstone explains that this dime is the only money he ever earned by working, and he was so ashamed of it that he hid it in the safe. The symmetry of this is brilliant. Scrooge’s Old Number One dime represents the beginning of his life of hard work and honest earning. Gladstone’s dime is the exact opposite; it represents his allergy to work, and his faith that random chance will provide for his needs. In general, Gladstone represents the exception to the Protestant logic of Scrooge’s universe, according to which success is the reward for hard work. As with most of these old WDC&S comics, the non-Barks stories in this issue are of no interest at all, though the Grandma Duck story has some good artwork.

TRUE BELIEVERS: MARVEL KNIGHTS 20TH ANNIVERSARY – IRON FIST BY THOMAS & KANE #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “The Fury of Iron Fist!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Gil Kane. This reprints Marvel Premiere #15, Iron Fist’s first appearance and origin story. This issue is valuable because I didn’t actually know Iron Fist’s origin before; I knew some of the separate pieces of this story, but I wasn’t sure how they fit together. “The Fury of Iron Fist!” introduces a number of important concepts and characters, like Danny’s parents, Howard Meachum, K’un L’un, and the August Personage in Jade. Gil Kane’s art in this issue is excellent, though I’m not sure he understood how to draw martial arts action, as opposed to Western styles of combat.

STORMWATCH #50 (Image, 1997) – “Change or Die Part 3,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Tom Raney. This is the storyline that leads into The Authority, but not directly; prior to The Authority, there was a second volume of Stormwatch. Reading this issue, I was confused as to how Warren, in the space of one issue, could advance the story to the point where The Authority begins, but it turns out he didn’t have to. Besides that, Stormwatch #50 creates further confusion because it has a ton of characters who aren’t clearly identified, and Tom Raney’s art is kind of bad. But besides all that, “Change or Die” is an important story. The basic idea is that Stormwatch battles a group of superheroes, the Changers, who want to remake the world on their terms. Stormwatch wins, but later, some of the Stormwatch members decide that the Changers’ goal was correct, though their methods were flawed. And that’s how we get to The Authority.

THE UNWRITTEN #13 (Vertigo, 2010) – “Dead Man’s Knock: Monsters,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. Tom Taylor, Lizzie Hexam and Savoy are in London searching for Wilson Taylor. Meanwhile, the impending release of the fourteenth Tom Taylor book has led to a massive media frenzy, but what no one realizes is that the book is a complete train wreck, full of obvious plagiarism. This issue is full of fascinating stuff; its most striking moment is a two-page splash depicting a giant whale made up of people carrying umbrellas.

THE UNWRITTEN #14 (Vertigo, 2010) – “Dead Man’s Knock: Atrocities,” as above. While searching through my boxes, I discovered that I also have #9 and #11, but I decided to read #14 first. It begins with an excerpt from the new Tom Taylor novel, in which we encounter a black runesword that hungres for souls, a “Powder, with a capital P” that “is the raw stuff of sentience,” an “emerald telescope,” and a “blade of subtlety.” These obvious plagiarisms of Michael Moorcock and Philip Pullman are very funny. Next, Lizzie Hexam contacts Wilson Taylor by cutting her hand and throwing the blood onto the pages of a book, but Wilson’s message is that she’s on her own. Then Tom and Savoy fend off an attack by agents of some unknown power, and the issue ends with Lizzie projecting herself into the world of a Dickens novel. I’m not sure how all the pieces of this story fit together, but Unwritten is an amazing comic. It’s an inspired piece of metatextual playfulness, and it also offers a satisfying story.

DOMINO #6 (Marvel, 2018) – “Killer Instinct Conclusion,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] David Baldeon. I only read this because I was tired and wanted to read something simple, and I didn’t expect to enjoy it. Surprisingly, I did. My main complaint about this series is its lack of passion, but in her fight with Topaz, Domino displays a lot of passion. Also, this comic’s dialogue is very funny, and David Baldeon’s art is excellent. I take back some of the negative things I said about Gail’s writing.

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