Reviews from two conventions

7-30-19

Some comics I read after finishing the previous round of reviews:

NORMALMAN #10 (Renegade, 1985) – “Normalman for President,” [W/A] Jim Valentino. This was much better than issue 1, which I read a couple years ago. It’s very reminiscent of Cerebus because of its political themes and its inclusion of characters based on the Marx brothers, and it even includes a cameo appearance by Cerebus himself. But it feels like an interesting story in its own right, rather than just a Cerebus ripoff like Hepcats #12, reviewed below, or a superhero parody like Normalman #1.

THE UNWRITTEN #9 (Vertigo, 2010) – “Inside Man Conclusion,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. At this point in the series, Tommy Taylor and Savoy are in prison in Italy, and the villains have invaded the prison to assassinate them. Tommy and Savoy escape with the aid of the flying cat Mingus, but in a heartbreaking scene, they fail to save the prison warden’s two children from being killed. Even though I’ve been reading this series out of order, it’s starting to come together in my mind, and I really like it.

THE UNWRITTEN #11 (Vertigo, 2010) – “Jud Süss: The Canker,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter  Gross. I forget what happened in issue 10, but in this issue, Tommy, Savoy and Lizzie are in a standoff with a fictional version of Joseph Goebbels. They defeat Goebbels, but not before he projects Tommy inside a story. That story is Lionel Feuchtwanger’s Jud Süss, a novel written from a Jewish perspective; however, the Nazis turned it into an infamous anti-Semitic propaganda film. As a result, Jud Süss becomes a “canker”: a story that gets corrupted and turned against itself, thus becoming a monster. Tommy succeeds in purifying the story, and he and his sidekicks return to the real world three months after they left it. Mike Carey’s account of Jud Süss in this issue is accurate, and the way he uses it is brilliant.

STORMWATCH #1 (Wildstorm, 1997) – “Strange Weather One of Three: Hard Rain,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Oscar Jimenez. Of the cartoonists named Jimenez or Gimenez, Oscar is the worst. The best, of course, is Carlos, followed by Juan, and then Phil and Jorge. Stormwatch #1 is confusing at first because it doesn’t continue directly from issue 50 of the previous volume. In the gap between “Change or Die” and “Strange Weather,” Jackson King has replaced Henry Bendix as Weatherman, and he’s created a new Stormwatch Black that’s not accountable to the UN. As a result, Stormwatch gets expelled from the United States. The theme of superheroes as an unaccountable, supra-governmental agency foreshadows The Authority.

BIRTHRIGHT #15 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Mastema confronts Wendy and Rya, while meanwhile, Kylen conducts a “test” of Mikey’s abilities that turns into an attempt to kidnap him. The issue ends with the revelation that Samael is Mikey’s grandfather. I think Joshua Williamson was at Comic-Con, but I did not see him; more on Comic-Con below.

BATMAN #677 (DC, 2008) – “Batman R.I.P.: Batman in the Underworld,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Tony Daniel. Batman tries to track down the Black Glove, but meanwhile, his new love interest Jezebel Jet accuses him of being insane. This is a fun issue, but like many Morrison comics, it’s hard to understand without having read the rest of the storyline.

STRAY BULLETS #7 (El Capitán, 1996) – “Freedom!”, [W/A] David Lapham. As a child, Ginny lives with her parents and her older sister Jill. When Ginny’s dad leaves, her mother starts abusing her. Then when Ginny’s dad comes back, he gets cancer and slowly dies. This issue is very emotionally affecting, and it’s a departure from the rest of the series because it’s a pure slice-of-life story, without any crime. The only violence is one harrowing scene of child abuse.

BACCHUS #16 (Eddie Campbell, 1996) – “Banged Up Part 1” and other stories, [W/A] Eddie Campbell. At Comic-Con, I asked Eddie about the two versions of the first Bacchus story, and he told me that he revised that story in order to make Bacchus look more like the character he later became. Oh, also, Eddie and I were both nominated for Eisners in the same category, and netiher of us won. Oh well. “Banged Up” part 1 is an eight-pager in which Bacchus is put on trial for his actions during “King Bacchus.” Next, “Gods, Monks and Corkscrews” is a historical account of the invention of champagne, “Afterdeath” is a monologue by Simpson on his experience in the afterlife, and “Josephine” is an Alec and Danny Grey story from 1981.

THE UNWRITTEN #19 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Leviathan Part One,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. A sort of in-between issue. Tommy, Lizzie and Richie Savoy visit the Herman Melville museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. There are also a lot of vignettes depicting other members of the cast.

AMERICA’S ARMY #0 (IDW, 2009) – “The Briefing,” [W] M. Zachary Sherman, [A] Scott R. Brooks & Matt Hess. Besides being mediocre, this comic is ethically questionable because it’s propaganda for the U.S. Army.

PREACHER SPECIAL: SAINT OF KILLERS #1 (Vertigo, 1996) – untitled, [W] Garth Ennis, [A] Steve Pugh. I had been thinking of collecting Preacher, as I’m doing with Transmetropolitan and Unwritten. But this comic makes me significantly less interested in Preacher, because it reminds me why I often hate Ennis’s work. Saint of Killers #1 is the origin story of one of Preacher’s major villains. Before becoming immortal, the Saint was a former Confederate soldier. In this issue, he goes on a mission to collect medicine for his dying family, but gets delayed by encounters with a bunch of sadistic murderers. After a lot of gratuitous and implausible violence, the Saint gets home to find his family dead. This comic is a brutal, offensive orgy of violence, with no purpose other than shock value, and I wouldn’t read the rest of this miniseries unless you paid me.

SCOUT #12 (Eclipse, 1986) – “Me and the Devil,” [W/A] Tim Truman. I’ve always been lukewarm about this series, though it’s not bad. In Scout #12, Scout and Rosa Winter invade a military base that’s been taken over by a crazy holy man. Tim Truman’s draftsmanship in this issue is too loose, compared to his art on Grimjack.

THE ORIGINAL ADVENTURES OF CHOLLY & FLYTRAP #1 (Image, 2006) – multiple stories, [W/A] Arthur Suydam. Arthur Suydam is a thief and a plagiarist, and he should never get any more work or be invited to any more conventions; see https://bit.ly/2OrFGKoand https://bit.ly/31bfCVv. It’s a shame that he’s also a talented artist. The Heavy Metal stories reprinted in this issue are reminiscent of Wrightson, Vaugn Bodé, Moebius, or Sam Kieth, but they also have a level of photorealistic detail that those artists’ work usually lacks. These stories have no real plot; they’re just about ugly creatures wandering around a post-apocalyptic world. Unfortunately, Image did a terrible job of reprinting this artwork. The reproduction in this issue is so blurry that it often obscures the details of the art.

New comics received on Monday, July 15, two days before I left for Comic-Con:

SECOND COMING #1 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Second Coming,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Richard Pace. This comic was cancelled by Vertigo before finding a new home at Ahoy, and I’m glad it’s finally come out. As one would expect from a comic where Jesus and Superman are roommates, it’s extremely irreverent and satirical. But it also has a serious message about Jesus’s teachings and about how those teachings have become corrupted and distorted. I’m not Christian, but to me, Mark Russell’s Jesus seems much closer to the Biblical version than the Jesus of the protesters who got this comic cancelled. Second Coming also asks what it means to truly be good, or to save the world. And of course it has a lot of Mark Russell’s characteristic humor, including a rather unflattering portrayal of the Old Testament God. I’m sorry I missed seeing Mark Russell at Comic-Con; I still really want to meet him.

BLACK HAMMER/JUSTICE LEAGUE: HAMMER OF JUSTICE! #1 (DC/Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Michael Walsh. I did meet Jeff Lemire at Comic-Con, though I didn’t get to talk to him much. This comic starts out with two very conventional vignettes about the Justice League and the Black Hammer Farm characters. It gets more interesting when an unnamed villain switches the two teams with each other, so the Black Hammer characters are now fighting Starro, while the Justice Leaguers are stuck on the Black Hammer farm. The whole premise of this crossover seems redundant since Black Hammer is already based on the Justice League, but I trust that Jeff will be able to make this series exciting.

INVISIBLE WOMAN #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Mattia De Iulis. This new series’ premise is that Sue Storm used to do missions for SHIELD, and now she’s been recruited again to rescue an old ally of hers, Aidan Tintreach. Sue is my favorite Fantastic Four member, at least when she’s being written in a non-sexist way, and I like Mark Waid’s take on her.

WONDER WOMAN #74 (DC, 2019) – “Return of the Amazons Part 1,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Jesus Merino & Xermanico. Diana fights an evil Hippolyta robot, then finally finds the Amazons again – but not all of them. It turns out that Grail, Darkseid’s daughter, has overthrown Hippolyta and besieged Themyscira. See the review of next issue, below.

GOGOR #3 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing. Tetra Hedron gives Armano some information and equipment, then sends him on a new quest. We learn that Gogor can regenerate itself as long as it doesn’t lose any bones, but then Gogor does lose a bone in a fight with a giant orange dude. This is still a very entertaining series with a distinctive style. I have not yet seen any issues of Ken Garing’s previous comics.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #8 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garron. In the grimmest issue of the series yet, Miles is kidnapped by a creature called the Assessor who subjects him to constant tests of his powers, while referring to him only as “the subject.” Miles thinks he’s escaped, but it turns out that his escape was yet another test. The bleakness of this story is amplified by the use of tiny, separate panels against a solid black background. Under the current political circumstances, it’s hard not to read this story as an allegory for immigrant detention camps.

IRONHEART #8 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. Riri visits Dr. Strange for advice about Midnight’s Fire and the Wellspring. Eve and Dr. Strange’s interactions are fun, but I feel that Dr. Strange’s mansion could have been even weirder. I miss the chatty snakes from Jason Aaron’s run. I forgot that Midnight’s Fire is the leader of the Ten Rings, a name which alludes to the Mandarin. I thought that Marvel had stopped using the Mandarin because of his Yellow Peril associations, but I guess they still do use him.

OUTER DARKNESS #8 (Image, 2019) – “Castrophony of Hate Pt. 8: Turncoat,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. This issue’s spotlight character is Ensign Hydzek, a star officer candidate who was assigned to the Charon for unclear reasons. She’s assigned to babysit Sister Magdalena Antona. They become friends, and it turns out the nun is pregnant. Funny moments in this issue include Hydzek’s ignorance of Christianity, and the scene where it starts raining on the bridge, and the captain wants to know WTF is going on.

BITTER ROOT SUMMER SPECIAL #1 (Image, 2019) – “Etta” and other stories, [W] David F. Walker & Chuck Brown, [A] various. A series of vignettes drawn by different artists, each of which fleshes out a different aspect of the Sangeryes’ world. These stories are often too short to have much impact. My favorite is the one that introduces Wu, who belongs to a Chinese-American equivalent of the Sangerye family, and suffers from sexism just as Blink does. I like the idea that other American ethnic communities have their own versions of the Sangeryes and the Jinoo. Another of the stories is about the Tulsa Massacre. At Comic-Con I went to two different panels that included David Walker, but I don’t think I spoke to him. (Sanford Greene was also on one of those panels, but I see him at conventions all the time.)

GHOSTED IN L.A. #1 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. I ordered this because it’s a Boom! Box comic, but I had very low expectations for it, because I haven’t liked any of Sina Grace’s other work. However, Ghosted in L.A. was better than I expected. It’s about a Montana girl who follows her boyfriend to college in Los Angeles, only to be promptly dumped. Also, her roommate is horrible. In a fit of depression, she wanders into a house that’s full of ghosts. This comic’s fantasy/horror plot is actually less interesting to me than its depiction of the first-year experience. This issue reminds me how much it sucked to share a room with a randomly selected stranger.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #11 (Vertigo, 2019) – “For I Know What I Do Must Be Wrong,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Erzulie has now lost her contest with Ananse, but Corinthian continues the contest on her behalf. It looks like he’s won, but Anansi springs a trap and captures both Corinthian and everyone else on the boat. Back on earth, Erzulie’s followers perform a sacrifice to resurrect her in her most violent form, that of Marinette. This series is still excellent, but its plot has been dragging a bit, and I wish we would get some resolution. “Dodger in the Colonies” is not an actual unfinished Dickens novel.

WONDER TWINS #6 (DC, 2019) – “The Great Scramble,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. Faced with the threat of the Great Scramble, the world’s governments scramble (heh) to come up with laws that will solve all the world’s problems. Of course, just before the laws are scheduled to take effect, Zan “saves the day” by locating and defeating the Scrambler. Thus, as so often happens in real life, the only people who have the power to do the right thing decide not to do it. This comic is depressing, but that’s because it’s an effective and incisive piece of satire.

ORPHAN AGE #4 (Aftershock, 2019) – “Loss,” [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Nuno Plati. Princess and company make it to Albany, a metropolis founded by apocalypse survivors. Then the religious terrorists show up right after them. This issue is a quick read, but it provides an interesting picture of how a society would evolve if it was created entirely by children. Essentially, the children do everything the way they remember their parents doing it.

MORNING IN AMERICA #5 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Claudia Aguirre. I spoke to Magdalene Visaggio a couple times at Comic-Con. This issue, the entire town gets destroyed, but the two remaining protagonists manage to survive by hiding in a bomb shelter. That’s kind of a disappointing conclusion, and it leaves me unclear as to what the point of this series was.

THOR #15 (Marvel, 2019) – “War’s End,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mike del Mundo. This issue wraps up a bunch of loose ends from War of the Realms. The emotional high point of the issue is when Odin finally admits that he’s proud of Thor. He did already say that at the end of Thor #353, but that was a long time ago.

BLUBBER #5 (Fantagraphics, 2019) – “Corazon” and other stories, [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. This issue includes one story, “Corazon,” that almost makes logical sense, but other than that it’s another onslaught of violence, bestiality and scat. I frankly hate this comic. I hope there won’t be a sixth issue, because on one hand I feel obliged to buy anything by Los Bros, but on the other hand I may not be able to make myself read any more Blubber.

MARVEL ACTION: BLACK PANTHER #2 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kyle Baker, [A] Juan Samu. T’Challa and Shuri confront a series of ecological catastrophes, which turn out to have been deliberately caused. This isn’t the best Black Panther comic I’ve read, but Kyle’s dialogue is really good. I especially like how he writes Shuri.

GIANT-SIZE X-STATIX #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Hereditary-X,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Mike Allred. In 2001 and 2002, X-Statix (previously X-Force) was Marvel’s best ongoing title. However, it feels outdated now, and earlier attempts to revive it, like All-New Doop, have not succeeded. As a result I wasn’t expecting much from this latest revival, but Giant Size X-Statix #1 turned out to be surprisingly good. This issue focuses on Katie, who thinks she’s the little sister of the late Edie Sawyer, or U-Go-Girl, but is actually her daughter. Until reading this issue I had totally forgotten about Katie, but she really was introduced in Milligan and Allred’s X-Force run. As a teenager, Katie is contacted by the few living members of X-Statix, plus the children of some of the dead ones, and becomes involved in a plot to recreate the team. This issue succeeds because it acknowledges the length of time that’s passed since X-Statix. Rather than trying to start right where the previous series left off, it asks what X-Statix’s legacy is now, almost twenty years later.

CATWOMAN #13 (DC, 2019) – “Far from Gotham,” [W] Joëlle Jones, [A] Fernando Blanco & Hugo Petrus. I’m still enjoying this series, but it’s been kind of lackluster lately; it feels like nothing has really happened in the last few issues. This issue, the old lady with the missing nose performs a blood sacrifice to unlock the power of the Mayan mask.

CRIMINAL #6 (Image, 2019) – “Cruel Summer Part Two,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Ed Brubaker was at Comic-Con and was signing at the Image booth, but I never got to talk to him because his line was too long. Criminal #6 retells the same events as #5, but from Teeg’s perspective. Teeg is hopelessly in love with Jane, a.k.a. Marina, but their honeymoon is disrupted when Dan Farraday shows up. That’s as far as we got last issue. Subsequently, Teeg decides to arrange a big score with his friend Tommy Patterson, but it turns out Tommy is already housing Teeg’s ne’er-do-well son. The plot is thickening.

SHE COULD FLY: THE LOST PILOT #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Dipshit,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] Martin Morazzo. This issue was more enjoyable and made more logical sense than last issue, though I’d still have trouble summarizing just what’s going on in this series. At Comic-Con, I attended the Berger Books panel that Christopher Cantwell was on, and I got to talk with him briefly.

STRANGELANDS #1 (Humanoids, 2019) – “Faith Alone,” [W] Magdalene Visaggio & Darcie Little Badger, [A] Guillermo Sanna. This new series stars two siblings who cause explosions when they get too far from each other. Darcie Little Badger is Native American, and this comic has indigenous themes, but it’s not an effective first issue. The writers make no attempt to introduce the characters or tell us what’s going on, and as a reader, I felt lost. I won’t be getting issue 2.

In late July, I went to Comic-Con for the first time since 2014. As always, it was an overwhelming experience. The main reason I went was to attend the Eisners, and even though I didn’t win, going to the Eisner ceremony as a nominee was a highlight of my career. Another high point was the Wednesday meetup and Saturday breakfast with Kim Munson and a bunch of comics scholars and creators. I used to attend Comic-Con with a lot of other people from the Comic Book Resources forums, but most of those people have long since quit going, and the last two times I went to Comic-Con, I felt kind of lonely, as if I didn’t have a community there. But thanks to Kim, I feel I have a Comic-Con community again.

The panels and other events at Comic-Con were great, but the exhibit hall was a bit disappointing. Compared to previous years, it felt like there just weren’t as many people tabling or doing signings, and the dealer’s room was the worst it’s ever been. There were still a lot of comics dealers, but they were mostly selling expensive stuff. I did come home with a modest stack of comics, including:

AGE OF BRONZE #34 (self-published, 2019) – “Betrayal 15,” [W/A] Eric Shanower. I was shocked to see this at Eric’s table. It turns out that while Age of Bronze series is now digital-only, he’s still publishing paper copies for conventions. It’s a thrill and a relief to finally read a new issue of this phenomenal series, which has been on hiatus for six years. I always hoped Eric would get back to it someday, and I’m glad he finally found the time. Other than being in color, Age of Bronze #34 follows directly from #33 as if no time had passed. Hecuba, Helen and Laodike have all given birth recently, and on their way back to Troy, Helen encounters Achilles for the first and last time. This results in a fascinating conversation that deepens our knowledge of two of the series’ main protagonists.

LITTLE ARCHIE MYSTERY #2 (Archie, 1963) – “The Strange Case of the Mystery Map,” [W/A] Bob Bolling. This barely feels like an Archie comic; it’s drawn in Bolling’s most realistic style, and it includes no Archie characters besides Little Archie himself. It has a complicated plot where Archie teams up with a teenage reporter to foil an attempt to steal a treasure map. It lacks the tenderness and emotion of some of Bolling’s other work, but it’s a thrilling adventure story, reminiscent of Jonny Quest or even Tintin. While most of Bolling’s Little Archie stories are kid humor comics with overtones of mystery or science fiction, Little Archie Mystery is a full-fledged adventure comic, and it shows that Bolling could have been a major artist in that genre.

More comics from Comic-Con, as well as new comics that were waiting for me when I got back:

USAGI YOJIMBO #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Bunraku Part Two,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. I got to talk to Stan a bit at Comic-Con, and he mentioned Shusaku Endo as an influence on “The Hidden.” I went on to read Endo’s Silence, which I already had, and I loved it. In Bunraku part 2, Usagi and Sasuke investigate the puppet murders and learn that the puppetmaster isn’t really blind. The highlight of the issue is this exchange: “It’s as if he was attacked by children!” “It’s something much more sinister!” “More sinister than children?”

ASSASSIN NATION #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kyle Starks, [A] Erica Henderson. The surviving assassins manage to defeat Rankin, and it turns out he set up all the events of the series in order to establish himself as the #1 assassin. But afterward, we’re introduced to a whole bunch of new assassins. I didn’t realize this until later, but one of the new assassins, The Professor, is based on my friend Andrew Kunka.

UNSTOPPABLE WASP #10 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] GuriHiru. A very satisfying ending in which the good girls win, and everyone lives happily ever after. It’s such a shame that this series was cancelled again. Clearly the direct market is not the appropriate home for a comic like this one. Marvel should have tried to market this series in the same way as Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur, but it seems like they’re not learning enough from the success of that title.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #1 (DC, 2019) – “The Pal Who Fell to Earth” and other vignettes, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. An excellent debut issue that fully embraces Jimmy’s bizarreness. It begins with Jimmy turning into a giant turtle and falling to Earth from space, and there are also allusions to Jimmy’s other adventures, including “The Bride of Jungle Jimmy.” In this issue, after getting sick of Jimmy’s antics, Perry sends him to Gotham City. While Matt Fraction is obviously the star of this show, Steve Lieber is also an excellent and highly underrated artist.

BRONZE AGE BOOGIE #4 (Ahoy, 2019) – “You Are a Magnet – I Am Steel!”, [W] Stuart Moore, [A] Alberto Ponticelli. I went to one of Stuart Moore’s panels at Comic-Con, and I think I spoke to him briefly. I don’t remember there being an Ahoy booth. The main event this issue is that we’re introduced to Jackson Li’s deadbeat dad. Jackson is mostly based on Shang-Chi, but his origin is reminiscent of that of Iron Fist. Also, there’s a two-page spread that looks like a Viewmaster reel.

GIDEON FALLS #15 (Image, 2019) – “The Misplaced Man,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. This issue is fairly confusing and it doesn’t introduce any new versions of Gideon Falls, but it does end with Father Fred meeting Dr. Xu for the first time. There’s one disgusting two-page spread where a hanged woman’s face explodes into insects.

ONCE AND FUTURE #1 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Dan Mora. I met Dan Mora briefly at Comic-Con, and I saw Kieron Gillen on the Boom! panel, but didn’t get to speak to him. This exclusive advance edition of Once and Future #1 was given out for free at that panel. Once and Future is based on a fascinating conceit: what would it mean for King Arthur to return today, in an age where English national identity has essentially been co-opted by Nazis? More broadly, who owns the myth of King Arthur? This first issue begins with some white nationalists stealing the scabbard of Excalibur from an archaeological dig. We then meet the protagonist, Duncan, and his grandmother Bridgette. After a disastrous date, Duncan and Bridgette meets the Questing Beast. (My friend and former officemate, Valerie Johnson, used to have her students’ pictures of the Questing Beast on our office door.) Then she makes him take her to Arthur’s tomb at Glastonbury, where the white nationalists are already headed. Once and Future could be just as important as The Wicked + The Divine; it asks tough but important questions, and it’s super-relevant to contemporary politics. Also, I don’t know if Kieron Gillen is aware of the current controversy over race in medieval studies, but Once and Future is highly relevant to that controversy as well.

SERA AND THE ROYAL STARS #1 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jon Tsuei, [A] Audrey Mok. This comic’s creators were at Comic-Con, but I didn’t meet them. Sera and the Royal Stars is a well-done but fairly conventional fantasy story, with a female protagonist. What makes it unique is that it’s based on Persian mythology. It takes place in a country called Parsa, and it references things like Mitra, Hormuzd and yazatas. Persian mythology is a vast treasury of stories and characters, but has gone almost unused as a source of inspiration for American writers. The key text of Persian literature, the Shahnameh, is one of the world’s great works of literature, but is almost unread in America. I’m excited that Tsuei and Mok are drawing upon this tradition, though I don’t know if they’re Iranian themselves. More broadly, I like how Vault is publishing comics based on cultures that are unfamiliar to American readers, including this series as well as These Savage Shores.

AVENGERS #76 (Marvel, 1970) – “The Blaze of Battle… the Flames of Love!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] John Buscema. The Avengers fight Arkon, who wants to destroy Earth in order to power his world’s dying sun, and also to abduct the Scarlet Witch as his bride. The artwork in this issue is spectacular. Buscema plus Tom Palmer is an excellent combination, though Palmer makes Buscema look kind of like Adams. This issue also has some nice characterization, though the suggestion of romantic sparks between Arkon and Wanda is creepy. There’s one scene where Wanda recites Tennyson’s “Flower in the Crannied Wall.” This reminds me of the “Ozymandias” scene in Avengers #57, and there was also a Bacchus story where the Eyeball Kid quoted this same poem.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #8 (Marvel, 2019) – “Falling Star Part 1,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. Carol meets a new heroine named Star, and then her friends stage an intervention for her. As I complained in my review of #7, the problem with this series is that it still has yet to establish any identity for itself. We still don’t know kow Kelly’s Captain Marvel is different from any other writer’s take on the character. The problem is that Carol has become Marvel’s flagship character, so her titles keep getting hijacked by crossovers. I forgot to mention that the “send her home” chants have an eerie political relevance right now, even though this issue was written before Trump’s racist attacks on Ilhan Omar.

SHORT ORDER COMIX #2 (Family Fun, 1974) – various stories, [E] Art Spiegelman. While I didn’t buy a ton of comics in San Diego, I did buy a lot of underground comics. In particular, I bought a stack of stuff from the Last Gasp booth, which had a huge selection of underground and alternative comics. This particular comic is sort of a prototype for Arcade, which started the next year. It includes two major Spiegelman stories, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” and “Ace Hole, Midget Detective,” as well as some absurdist work by Bill Griffith. Other contributors include Diane Noomin, Michael McMillen, Willy Murphy, and Rory Hayes. I haven’t seen any comics by Hayes yet, and his work is truly insane.  Unfortunately, the overall quality of the issue is dragged down by a blatantly racist story by Joe Schenkman, about how God created black people.

THIRTEEN #12 (Dell, 1964) – “Wrong Numbers” and other stories, [W/A] John Stanley. Like Little Lulu, Thirteen tends to follow the same formula every issue, but it’s a very effective formula. This issue begins with a story where Val and Billy are on the beach and Val tries to make Billy jealous. There are also some other teenage Val and Judy stories, and a couple Judy Junior stories. As always, the comic timing of John Stanley’s stories is perfect. It’s hard to identify any individual moments in his stories that are particularly effective, because each joke flows so naturally from the previous one.

SCOOBY-DOO #7 (Marvel, 1978) – “The Faceless Phantom,” [W] Mark Evanier, [A] Dan Spiegle, plus other stories. I don’t understand why, but Evanier Scooby-Doo’s tend to be very expensive, and I’m always excited when I can find an affordable one. This issue’s Evanier story is about a scientist who claims to have invented a teleportation device, which proves to be fake. As in his other Scooby-Doo stories, Evanier’s brilliant dialogue and plotting, together with Spiegle’s realistic and exciting art, results in a story that transcends its rather limited source material. There really ought to be a collection of all the Scooby-Doo comics by this creative team. The high point of this story is a panel where Shaggy orders extra-spicy chili at a restaurant, and the waiter serves it with tongs and a radiation suit. I don’t think I saw Mark at Comic-Con, although I’m sure he was there.

IMMORTAL HULK #21 (Marvel, 2019) – “A Secret Order,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Ryan Bodenheim. This issue is narrated by General Ross’s lieutenant Reginald Fortean, who is obsessed with maintaining order and minimizing chaos, and has little regard for individual rights. Ryan Bodenheim’s guest art job is quite effective and is a nice break from Joe Bennett. In general, Immortal Hulk is probably the best Hulk comic since Peter David and Gary Frank’s run ended. It’s a rare example of a Marvel comic that does something genuinely new with an old character.

SUBVERT COMICS #3 (Saving Grace, 1976) – untitled Trashman story, [W/A] Spain Rodriguez. Spain may be my favorite artist from the first generation of underground comics. I love his draftsmanship, especially his machinery and his spotting of blacks, and his storytelling is dynamic and innovative, showing the influence of Steranko. (According to an interview I found, Spain was a fan of Steranko, which surprised me because I wouldn’t have expected him to be a Marvel reader.) This issue begins with a sex scene, in response to “complaints about the dearth of explicit sexual material in our previous issue.” The rest of the issue is an adventure story in which Trashman searches for a renewable power source that’s disguised as a hubcap. Spain’s storytelling is confusing at times, but overall this story makes much more logical sense than some underground comics, and it’s exciting and funny. I should note, however, that Trashman is an obvious male power fantasy.

SLUTBURGER #1 (Rip Off, 1990) – “The ‘Jelly’” and other stories, [W/A] Mary Fleener. I sat across from Mary Fleener and Krystyne Kryttre at Kim Munson’s breakfast. I still don’t know either of their bodies of work very well, but they both seem very friendly and engaging, and it was nice getting to know them. Slutburger #1 includes a number of mostly autobiographical stories that are drawn in Fleener’s unique cubist style. I love the way she uses cubism to suggest extremes of emotion, and her stories are exciting and sometimes harrowing. There’s one where she’s out on a boat and almost gets busted for cocaine possession, and another where she takes a hitchhiker to a dangerous neighborhood. The first story in this issue is a bit troubling; the protagonist’s response to her roommate’s sex life would be considered slut-shaming today.

BLACK BADGE #12 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Tyler Jenkins. The new Black Badge helps to solve a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. This is a fun issue and a satisfying conclusion to the series. It’s a lot like NEW MGMT #1. I ran into Matt Kindt once at Comic-Con, at the Fantagraphics table.

BATGIRL #12 (DC, 2017) – “Troubled Waters,” [W] Hope Larson, [A] Eleonora Carlini. I think this was the last Hope Larson Batgirl I was missing. It’s a self-contained story in which Batgirl helps save a grad student who was sent into an alternate dimension, thanks to her evil advisor. Also, Babs sets up her friend Qadir with a new girlfriend. This is an entertaining issue, and overall, I loved Hope Larson’s Batgirl run.

AQUAMAN #50 (DC, 2019) – “Amnesty, Part 1: The Call,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha & Eduardo Pansica. Aquaman returns to the town where he was living before, accompanied by the old sea gods. Meanwhile, Mera decides to marry Vulko of all people, and Black Manta shows up at the end of the issue. After a slow start, Kelly Sue’s Aquaman is getting really good. However, this issue assumed too much knowledge of the run that came before Kelly Sue’s.

JACK STAFF #6 (Image, 2004) – multiple vignettes, [W/A] Paul Grist. I bought a bunch of Jack Staffs from a 75-cent box. It was one of the few booths in the room that was selling comics for under a dollar, and the stock was refilled every day. This issue introduces Bramble and Son, two underemployed vampire hunters, and there are also a lot of other scenes with other characters. See the review of Jack Staff vol. 1 #1 below for more on this series.

Before I’d even finished the new comics from the week of Comic-Con, I got another new shipment of comics on Thursday, July 25:

LUMBERJANES #64 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] AnneMarie Rogers. The girls manage to move the space station so the dinosaurs can complete their migration, and then the sasquatches show up and lead them back to camp. This was another thrilling issue. Watters, Leyh and Rogers are working very well together now. This series has abandoned any pretense of an overarching plot, and it’s clear that the summer won’t be ending anytime soon, but that’s fine with me. The only Lumberjanes creator I met at Comic-Con was Lilah Sturges.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #44 (Image, 2019) – “Better No Devil at All,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Jamie McKelvie. Baal sacrifices his life to kill Minerva, then the other gods are sentenced to life in prison, apparently, but Laura doesn’t seem to mind very much. By this point, most of the loose ends of the series have been wrapped up, and that just leaves the epilogue. I’m curious to see what Kieron will come up with for the final issue.

DIAL H FOR HERO #5 (DC, 2019) – “Secret Origins of the Heroverse!”, [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. Disappointingly, this issue includes no scenes where characters use the dial, and no imitations of other artists. It does include a lot of panels borrowed from old DC comics, plus some other really impressive artwork. This issue, Miguel discovers that Mr. Thunderbolt is Robby Reed, and that he’s also the embodiment of the universal force of heroism, so he was involved in lots of DC heroes’ origins. That’s where the borrowed artwork comes in. Then at the end of the issue, the entire population of Metropolis gets turned into heroes.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. Kamala saves the alien planet and gets a new costume, but back at home, she discovers that her dad has a rare disease. Also, Kamala’s parents lose their knowledge of her secret identity. One of my friends decided to drop the series with this issue, partly because of Kamala’s parents’ mindwipe. I agree that this plot twist is unnecessary and that it erases a lot of the development of Kamala’s relationship with her parents. However, I’m still enjoying this series, and I trust that Saladin knows what he’s doing.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #5 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Walking the Path Part Five,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. Vess and Grix manage to survive until a government ship intervenes to save them. But they’re no longer welcome in the Dunian system, so they have to head out into nowhere. This is another thrilling issue. Along with Ronin Island, Invisible Kingdom is the best new series of the year.

PLANET OF THE NERDS #4 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Conquest of the Planet of the Nerds,” [W] Paul Constant, [A] Alan Robinson. Steve makes an extremely awkward attempt to Jenny, but she reveals that she knows he’s gay. This comes as a surprise to him. Afterward, the bullies try to break into Alvin’s house, but he’s waiting for them with armed guards. Steve and Jenny’s conversation is a very powerful moment. But there’s also lots of funny stuff in this issue, including the running joke about Jenny’s vibrator, and the various things that the bullies find surprising about the world of 2019.

ASCENDER #4 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. I talked with Dustin Nguyen briefly at Comic-Con. In Ascender #4, Andy and Mila are chased by Mother’s monsters, but in a brilliant twist, they’re saved when they jump off a cliff onto a giant flying turtle. Then they reach Telsa, only to find that she’s a hopeless drunk. There’s also a plot thread involving an assassination attempt against Mother.

FARMHAND #10 (Image, 2019) – “In Vocation,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. Monica Thorne continues taking over the town, and we see that she has a giant vagina in her shed. Also, Zeke goes to work at Jed’s farm. There’s also a cameo appearance by an FDA inspector who, like all the FDA members in Chew, has a food pun for a name: Roland Matcha. Farmhand is a humor comic, but it’s more than just that; it’s also about family relationships, about moving back home as an adult. And it draws heavily on Rob’s rural Louisiana background. Like Skottie Young in Middlewest, Rob is showing in Farmhand that while he’s best known for his humor work, he’s versatile enough to do serious work as well.

MIDDLEWEST #9 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. Speaking of Middlewest, this issue Abel ends up with some turkey-riding forest natives (not squirrels, as I had thought when I read #9). They send him into a giant tree called Homji Billo to confront the bear spirit Nokoyuna. These names both appear to be completely made up. The two-page spread that introduces Nokoyuna is spectacular. Nokoyuna sends Abel to the Winter Woods, where he’s greeted by a voice that calls him “grandson.” Meanwhile, Bobby leaves the carnival to go look for Abel.

SHURI #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “Living Memory,” [W] Nnedi Okorafor, [A] Rachael Stott. I met Nnedi Okorafor briefly after the Berger Books panel. This issue, Shuri and her allies solve their Space Lubber problem with some help from Wakandan ancestors, including the wrestler Mgwazeni. I wonder if this character is inspired by Igbo wrestling. Afteward, Shuri voluntarily gives up being Black Panther. This was an extremely fun series, and I’m sorry Nnedi doesn’t have any more comics projects that have been announced yet. I will continue to follow her work in other media.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #80 (IDW, 2019) – “Live-Action Role Pony!!”, [W] Sam Maggs, [A] Kate Sherron. The Mane Six play a live-action RPG. This issue is slightly better than #79, but it’s still bad. It’s a retread of the episode “Dungeons & Discords,” and it doesn’t tell us anything new or interesting about the ponies. I hope this will be Sam Maggs’s last pony comic. If she writes any more MLP comics, I may skip ordering them.

STAR PIG #1 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Delilah S. Dawson, [A] Francesco Gaston. I met Delilah Dawson at Comic-Con, but missed my chance to get a free copy of her novel. In Star Pig #1, a teenage girl is on a field trip in space when her ship collides with a giant alien water bear. She’s the only survivor. The girl and the tardigrade then encounter a non-humanoid alien that collects Earth memorabilia. Star Pig is Delilah Dawson’s third original series, and all three have been completely different from each other, but they’ve all been excellent in their own ways. This latest series is mostly humorous; the deaths of the other kids on the ship aren’t taken too seriously.

WONDER WOMAN #75 (DC, 2019) – “Return of the Amazons Part 2,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Xermanico, Jesus Merino & Vicente Cifuentes. Diana defeats Grail and is finally reunited with her mother, but Cheetah and Luthor find Grail’s God Killer sword, setting up the next story arc. This was a pretty straightforward issue, but Diana and Hippolyta’s reunion was a nice cathartic moment.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #45 (Marvel, 2019) – “Field Trip,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Alitha Martinez. I saw Alitha Martinez on a panel at Comic-Con, the same one that Sanford Greene and David Walker were on. This issue, the kids go on a field trip to a museum, where Devil falls in love with a tyrannosaurus skeleton. This was a cute but forgettable issue.

GRUMBLE #8 (Albatross, 2019) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. Tala, Eddie and Jimmy are pursued by a bunch of mobsters, as well as two magical assassins – one with a bird’s skull, and another with a purple thing on her shoulder. Nothing all that spectacular happens in this issue, but Grumble is still one of the funniest and most underrated series on the market.

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN VOL. 4: THE TEMPEST #6 (Top Shelf, 2019) – “Then, the Immortal Blue…”, [W] Alan Moore, [A] Kevin O’Neill. This issue is designed to look like an issue (prog) of 2000 AD. Each segment begins with a 2000 AD-style credits box, containing anagrams of the actual creators’ names (Noel O’Mara, Lionel Vinke, etc.). The story in the Tempest #6 is a little bit easier to follow than that of the previous issues, and there’s one brilliant scene where Alan and Kev try to crash a wedding and are thrown out an airlock. This is an homage to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s cameo appearance in Fantastic Four Annual #6. Although I enjoyed this issue more than the others, I’m glad this series is over.

VALKYRIE #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Sacred and the Profane Part 1,” [W] Jason Aaron & Al Ewing, [A] Cafu. Jane has become Valkyrie instead of Thor, but she’s still facing the same problem of being torn between her mortal and Asgardian selves. This issue she fights some humorously lame villains, then investigates a murder, which turns out to have been committed by Bullseye. So far, this series is a nice follow-up to Jason Aaron’s previous stories about Jane.

CRIMINAL #7 (Icon, 2008) – “Bad Night Part Four,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Jacob Kurtz discovers that his lover Iris is in league with Detective Starr, who is obsessed with convicting Jacob of murdering his (Jacob’s) wife. Jacob kills Starr, then drives off a cliff with Iris, killing her and crippling himself. Also, Jacob realizes he actually is to blame for his wife’s death. This issue is very bleak and grim, but that’s kind of the point. It’s weird how I like Criminal even though I normally don’t enjoy this style of fiction. Perhaps I enjoy how all the stories fit together in subtle ways. I assume Bad Night happens after Bad Weekend, but I’m not sure.

DYNAMITE DAMSELS #1 (self-published, 1976) – various stories, [W/A] Roberta Gregory. This is Roberta Gregory’s first solo comic, predating Naughty Bits by many years. It’s mostly a series of semi-autobiographical stories about a woman named Frieda, focusing on her coming-out experience and her involvement with second-wave feminism. It’s an interesting historical portrait of ‘70s feminism, as well as an effective piece of autobiography. It lacks the raucous humor of Naughty Bits, and feels closer to Dykes to Watch Out For (which I need to read more of). I don’t know if this comic has ever been reprinted; if not, it should be.

TITS & CLITS #4 (Last Gasp, 1977) – various stories, [E] Lyn Chevli & Joyce Farmer. After buying this issue at Comic-Con, I got Lee Marrs to sign it. Meeting her was a thrill. This issue begins with her story “My Deaf Groin,” and another notable story is Roberta Gregory’s “Free Enterprise,” about women who insert subliminal feminist messages in porn films. The other highlight of the issue is Karen Feinberg and Joyce Farmer’s “The Two Sisters of Barrow,” an original fairy tale with an anti-rape message. Farmer’s artwork in this story is hyper-detailed and gorgeous.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR II #1 (Archie, 2019) – “The Darkness at the End of the Lane,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Robert Hack. The fact that Robert Hack is drawing this comic, and not Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, is another sign that the latter series is never coming back. At the end of the previous Archie vs. Predator series, all the characters except Betty and Veronica got killed. And a Predator’s mind got transplanted into Archie’s body, so now he can only communicate in emojis. This issue, Betty, Veronica and “Archie” leave Riverdale only to find themselves in a different version of Riverdale, because it turns out that Dilton Doiley has found a way to connect different dimensions together. Like the original AvP, this series is a lot of fun, but Robert Hack’s grim, gritty art makes it less blatantly silly than the first series was.

SPIDER-MAN: LIFE STORY #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “Civic Engagement,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Mark Bagley. The ‘00s issue of Life Story focuses on Civil War and J. Michael Straczynski’s Morlun story arc. In the midst of a war between heroes, Morlun kills Ben Reilly and then goes after Peter’s family. Life Story has been a really fun and original series, but it’s also very creepy. It’s weird seeing how old all the heroes and supporting cast members have gotten. This issue even casually mentions JJJ’s funeral. As I’ve mentioned before, Life Story demonstrates why Marvel characters can never be allowed to get older.

LOVE & ROCKETS #7 (Fantagraphics, 2019) – various stories, [W/A] Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. The most memorable story in this issue is the one where Tonta goes to a convention, and then visits her weird mother’s house with a friend. I don’t understand how Tonta is related to Maggie or anyone else, and it took me a while to get that she’s also named Anoush. I ought to get the Love & Rockets Companion so I can figure out who all these characters are. Gilbert’s story “And Another Punk Rock Reunion” includes an appearance by the band Love & Rockets, but not the real-world one.

WARLORD OF MARS ATTACKS #2 (Dynamite, 2019) – “The Lost Hero,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Dean Kotz. The funniest moment in this issue is when the Martians kill a bunch of annoying people, including an Airbnb-owning woman who demands to speak to a manager. In terms of the plot, the main event is that the protagonists make their way to John Carter’s tomb, where Carter comes back to life and saves them from the Martians. So far this is a very entertaining series.

CLUE CANDLESTICK #3 (IDW, 2019) – “Shaw in the Studio with the Candlestick,” [W/A] Dash Shaw. I felt guilty for reading this without having tried to solve the mystery myself, but there are only so many hours in the day. Also, solving some of the puzzles in the previous issues would have required defacing them. This issue, the mystery is solved in a fairly satisfying way, and there are lots more weird page layouts and bizarre formal tricks. Overall, Clue Candlestick was one of the best miniseries of the year.

COLLAPSER #1 (DC, 2019) – “Constellation Prize,” [W] Mikey Way & Shaun Simon, [A] Ilias Kyriazis. Liam James, a twentysomething DJ and nursing home worker, gets a black hole embedded in his chest. Ilias Kyriazis’s artwork here is brilliant, and is the main reason to read this comic. The story didn’t grab me as much as the art. I thought Liam was an annoying protagonist, and it’s weird how he gets a mysterious package and then never bothers to open it.

HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Javier Rodriguez. A retelling of the entire history of the Marvel Universe, from the Big Bang to the 19th century. This comic is mostly a showcase for Javier Rodriguez’s artistic genius. He’s the best artist at Marvel right now, and this comic’s nonlinear narrative gives him a chance to demonstrate his unconventional page layouts. As for the writing, this comic is just a summary of thousands of years of history, and it’s not intended to tell a linear story, but to untangle Marvel’s continuity. It does that fairly well, and Mark Waid is well qualified to write this comic, since Mark Gruenwald is sadly not available.

MARVELS EPILOGUE #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Marvels Epilogue,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Alex Ross. On Facebook, I called this comic a shameless cash grab. Several people disagreed with that, so I concede that Kurt and Alex probably did do this out of a genuine desire to revisit Marvels after 25 years. However, that doesn’t justify this comic’s $4.99 price tag. The new story in Marvels Epilogue #1 is only 16 pages, and nothing really happens in it. The rest of the comic consists of preview pages and interviews. I would rather that this comic had been just 16 pages for just $2 or even $3, without all the filler material. Also, Alex Ross only knows how to draw one kind of comic, and that kind of comic is not very interesting, not if you’ve seen it before. And his style has not evolved one bit in the past 25 years.

SMOOTH CRIMINALS #7 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kurt Lustgarten, Kiwi Smith & Amy Roy, [A] Leisha Riddel. Brenda confesses in exchange for immunity for Mia. But Mia intentionally gets sent back to the same prison, and she and Brenda engineer a plan to capture the people who really did steal the Net of Indra. There’s a funny line in this issue about how Blockbuster will be around forever and ever.

THE TERRIFICS #18 (DC, 2019) – “The God Game Conclusion,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Stephen Segovia. The Terrifics defeat the Noosphere and save the day. Disappointingly, we never get to the tenth plague, so the Chekhov’s gun with Plastic Man’s firstborn is never fired. This is a reasonably good series, but I’m not sure it’s still worth buying.

GHOST TREE #4 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Bobby Curnow, [A] Simon Gane. I wanted to talk to Bobby Curnow at Comic-Con, but he was signing with Kevin Eastman, so there was a prohibitively long line for him. This issue is a pretty boring conclusion, although there’s a refreshing twist, in that the protagonist doesn’t get back together with his wife in the end. Simon Gane’s artwork in this miniseries isn’t as good as in They’re Not Like Us, and in general, this minieries was not a success.

RAGNAROK #7 (IDW, 2015) – “The Games of the Gods,” [W/A] Walt Simonson. I spoke to Uncle Walt at Comic-Con, and also passed by Louise a few times, but never got to talk to her. I quit reading this miniseries after issue 6, perhaps because it wasn’t all that fun, but I continued buying it anyway. When the new Ragnarok series came out in July, it gave me an excuse to get caught up on Ragnarok. In issue 7, Thor fights Regn, then inexplicably murders Drifa.

RAGNAROK #8 (IDW, 2016) – “The Games of Fire,” [W/A] Walter Simonson. Thor and Regn fight a giant horde of zombies, then Thor gives Regn a “clear shot” at killing him. The fight scenes in Ragnarok #7 and #8 are amazing, but both issues suffer from monotony. They’re just pure cosmic Kirbyesque action, with no humor and minimal character interaction. Simonson’s Thor was a classic because along with cosmic epics, it also had stories like “The Frog of Thunder” and comic relief characters like Volstagg. The lack of humor and optimism is probably why I got bored with Ragnarok back in 2015.

INNER CITY ROMANCE #5 (Last Gasp, 1978) – “Good for You” and other stories, [W/A] Guy Colwell. A bunch of dealers at Comic-Con had comics by Guy Colwell. He’s an intriguing artist because although he himself was white, much of his work consists of sympathetic depictions of black people. Fantagraphics has been bringing his work back into print. Inner City Romance #5 begins with a wordless story that depicts two black people having sex. It’s very tender and lyrical, and offers a nice contrast to the bleak tone of the rest of the issue. The next story is kind of a non sequitur, but the one after that, “Interkids,” is a rather grim story about an inner-city black kid who watches a fire and then runs from bullies. In 1978, the Bronx was in the midst of an arson epidemic. The next story, “Sex Crime,” is even bleaker. A white woman is almost raped by a white man, then a second white man “rescues” her, only to rape her himself. She shoots the rapist, and then when a black man shows up and asks if she’s okay, she shoots him too. The issue ends with another idyllic sex scene. Throughout the issue, Guy Colwell demonstrates solid draftsmanship and a wide variety of representational styles.

RAGNAROK #9 (IDW, 2016) – “The Games of Life and Death…,” [W/A] Walt Simonson. Thor uses Mjolnir to resurrect Drifa, the same way he resurrects his goats. Then Thor finds that Drifa has killed Ratatosk, and a squirrel funeral is held. This moment is a nice change of pace; it’s sad, but in a pathetic way. Thor turns his two giant lizard steeds, Lady and Fury, into goats, and Thor, Regn and Drifa head off to confront Angantyr. The issue ends with Ratatosk waking up inside his grave. This issue is much more fun than the last two.

TRANSFORMERS #66 (Marvel, 1990) – “All Fall Down,” [W] Simon Furman, [A] Geoff Senior. I bought this and three other Transformers comics at the San Diego public library, where the events for educators and librarians were held. They were selling a bunch of comics at the library bookstore. Getting from the convention center to the library and back was very annoying. Marvel’s Transformers was one of the first comic books I ever read, but I haven’t returned to it since it was cancelled in 1991. Reading this issue, I realized with surprise that it’s basically a British science fiction comic. It has the characteristic tone and art style of Judge Dredd or some other 2000 AD series. “All Fall Down” is the conclusion to a story in which Optimus Prime battles Thunderwing and the demon that’s corrupted the Matrix.

FEARLESS #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Campfire Song,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Claire Roe, plus two other stories. This issue’s main story is part one of a serial, in which a summer camp is trying to get Storm, Captain Marvel and Invisible Woman to show up for an event. There are also two one-shot stories. “Style High Club” by Leah Williams and Nina Vakueva is a rare modern story starring Millie the Model. It even includes some paper dolls. “Unusual Suspects” by Kelly Thompson and Carmen Carnero is a silly gag. Overall, Fearless #1 is impressive, and much better than some of Marvel’s past attempts at all-female anthology titles.

LOVE & ROCKETS #28 (Fantagraphics, 1988) – various stories, [W/A] Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. Until now I haven’t been collecting Love & Rockets vol. 1, because I already have all the Maggie and Hopey stories in other formats. But original Love & Rockets issues are not hard to find, and I’m a completist, so I will plan on getting more of them when I can. This issue begins with three short Jaime stories. “Boxer, Bikini, or Brief” is the one where Ray tries to paint a picture of Maggie. “Tear It Up, Terry Downe” provides essential information on Hopey’s history before meeting Maggie, and “Li’l Ray and the Gang” is a sort of preview of later Jaime stories like “Home School.” The centerpiece of the issue is Beto’s classic “Frida”: a biography of Frida Kahlo, illustrated with surrealist, symbolist art. It’s a powerful tribute by one great artist to another. The issue ends with another Jaime story, “Lar’Dog: Boy’s Night Out #1398,” in which Ray and Doyle hang out with an asshole “friend.”

RAGNAROK #10 (IDW, 2016) – “The Game of the Hammer…,” [W/A] Walt Simonson. Thor and Regn defeat the jotun that’s been appearing throughout the last few issues, then they head to Angantyr’s lair. This is a straightforward issue in which not much happens.

RAGNAROK #11 (IDW, 2016) – “The Game of the Sword,” [W/A] Walt Simonson. Thor and Regn finally get to Angantyr. He apparently kills Regn, and meanwhile, Thor collapses because his divine apples aren’t enough to sustain him. By now I was starting to enjoy this series more.

RAGNAROK #12 (IDW, 2017) – “The Games of Death and Magic,” [W/A] Walt Simonson. Ratatosk  comes back to life and saves Thor and Drifa. Regn and Angantyr are killed fighting each other, and Thor leaves Drifa with some friendly villagers before going off on his next adventure. The star of this issue is Ratatosk; his cuteness and funny dialogue provide some much-needed comic relief in a very bleak series.

HEPCATS #12 (Double Diamond, 1994) – “Snowblind Chapter X: Exorcism (b),” [W/A] Martin Wagner. This issue focuses on an anthropomorphic young woman named Erica. The first half of the issue is a dream sequence, and in the second half,  she tries to escape from an abusive relationship. Martin Wagner’s style is blatantly derivative of Dave Sim’s; he uses the same style of page layouts as Sim, the same style of linework, the same combination of a nonhuman protagonist and a realistic world, etc. Hepcats even has a four-page letter column with lengthy replies, just like Cerebus. Unfortunately, Martin Wagner imitated Dave Sim not only in his art but also in his public persona. If anything, he was even pricklier than Dave Sim. The one thing he couldn’t match was Sim’s consistency. Although Hepcats was briefly very popular, it was never profitable, and Wagner never released any more issues before he quit the comic industry in 1998. Hepcats is mostly just of historical interest. I saw another issue in a cheap box at last weekend’s con (more on this later) and I didn’t buy it.

THE MUPPET SHOW #2 (Boom!, 2010) – “On the Road Part 2: His Wackiness, Clint Wacky!”, [W/A] Roger Langridge. Fozzie is replaced on the Muppet Show by a terrible comedian named Clint Wacky, and the Muppets travel to a town where everyone is related to Statler and Waldorf. This issue is another brilliant demonstration of Langridge’s humor.

WEIRDO #19 (Last Gasp, 1986) – various stories, [E] Aline Kominsky-Crumb. A bunch of Weirdo artists (including the aforementioned Mary Fleener and Kristine Kryttre) were in San Diego to celebrate my friend Jon B. Cooke’s new Book of Weirdo. I bought this issue of Weirdo at Quimby’s in Chicago during MLA, but never got around to reading it. Embarrassingly, the main reason I don’t read more magazine-size comics is because they didn’t fit in the box I was using to store comics waiting to be reviewed. I found a solution to that, and I’ve been reading a lot more magazines lately. The new Crumb story in Weirdo #19 is “Mother Hulda,” a Brothers Grimm adaptation. It’s not overtly sexist, but the women are all drawn in Crumb’s trademark zaftig style. Mark Zingarelli’s “The Talker” is an autobio story about being beaten up by an asshole in a diner. I haven’t seen any Zingarelli comics before, and he’s an interesting discovery. Dennis Eichhorn and Michael Dougan’s “Dennis the Sullen Menace” is a gripping if somewhat implausible autobio story about life in prison. Then there’s a Kim Deitch story that was later reprinted in Shadowland #1, and Aline’s “Sex-Crazed Housewife.” Other contributors to this issue include Peter Bagge, Frank Stack, Penny Moran, and Scott Nickel. Regrettably, this issue also includes S. Clay Wilson’s disgusting and racist “Captain Pissgums.”

WEIRDO #20 (Last Gasp, 1987) – various stories, [E] Aline Kominsky-Crumb. This is the best of the three issues of Weirdo I’ve read so far. After short stories by Dori Seda and Mary Fleener, it starts out with Aline’s meditation on Jewish food. This story made me nostalgic for the food I grew up with. Next is Crumb’s “Footsy,” about the origins of his foot fetish. It’s an incisive piece of self-examination, though it suffers from Crumb’s usual sexism. It’s drawn in the same style as “Hypothetical Quandary,” with heavy spotting of blacks. Next, Mark Zingarelli’s “The ‘Cockeyed’ Cook” is a grim true crime story about a brutal serial killer. The best thing in the issue is Carol Tyler’s “Uncovered Property,” in which the young Carol learns that she can never go outside with her shirt off, and no one can explain why. Besides being beautifully drawn, it’s a gentle indictment of sexist double standards. The last long story is Michael Dougan’s “TV Evangelist,” in which he tries and fails to save his grandmother from being fleeced by a televangelist. I’ve heard that in the ‘80s there was a sort of conflict between the Raw and Weirdo schools, and both these issues of Weirdo include some not entirely flattering references to Raw. I think I prefer Raw to Weirdo, but I definitely need to read more of both.

WIMMEN’S COMIX #16 (Rip Off, 1990) – various stories, [E] Rebecka Wright. This is the final issue of Wimmen’s Comix, and it focuses on men. Half the issue consists of a Desert Peach story depicting a sexual encounter between Pfirsch and his boyfriend. The other stories are all short. The stories by Phoebe Gloeckner and Angela Bocage are beautifully drawn; the latter is also the centerfold of the issue, and it’s a male version of a Playboy centerfold. Roberta Gregory’s one-pager “Men and Women” is funny: it’s about the annual councils where men and women decide things that are universally true of each gender.

RAGNAROK: THE BREAKING OF HELHEIM #1 (IDW, 2019) – “The Doom of the Powers,” [W/A] Walt Simonson. This new series has an even more epic scope than the previous one; it begins by introducing a whole bunch of villains Thor will have to fight. Then there’s a retelling of what happened during Ragnarok while Thor wasn’t there. Ratatosk acts as Thor’s sidekick or pet for the whole issue, so this volume of Ragnarok is already more fun than the first volume was.

THE QUIET KIND #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Chuck Brown, [A] Jeremy Treece. A one-shot that introduces a bunch of teen superheroes. I did not enjoy this comic. There’s nothing in this new superhero universe that we haven’t seen many times before, and none of the characters were interesting or original. Also, at 48 pages, this comic is too long, and it fails to adequately explain its premise. If there’s an ongoing Quiet Kind series, I won’t plan on reading it.

LITTLE BIRD #5 (Image, 2019) – “The Fight for Elder’s Hope Chapter Five,” [W] Darcy van Poelgeest, [A] Ian Bertram. I didn’t order issue 4. Little Bird #5 depicts an epic confrontation in which most of the main characters get killed, but there’s still some room for a sequel. Little Bird’s story is fairly average, but Ian Bertram’s artwork is amazing, and based on that alone, this miniseries deserves an Eisner nomination.

YOUNG LUST #1 (Last Gasp, 1971) – various stories, [W/A] Bill Griffith and Jay Kinney. This was Bill Griffith’s first comic book, and it’s rather crude compared to his later work. All the stories in this issue are mildly pornographic parodies of romance comics. This issue is most notable because it also includes Art Spiegelman’s one-pager “Love’s Body,” one of his earliest and least impressive works. It’s not nearly as innovative or visually impressive as his two stories in Short Order Comix #2, which appeared just three years later.

ALL-NEW HAWKEYE #4 (Marvel, 2015) – “Wunderkammer,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Ramón Pérez. This issue has an interesting gimmick where the top 3/4 of each page are a flashback, depicting how the young Clint Barton became a criminal. The bottom 1/4 take place in the present day, and depict a roof party that’s invaded by terrorists. The present-day sequence is drawn in a normal style, while the flashback sequence is drawn to look painted. Jeff Lemire’s Hawkeye is one of his less accomplished works, because it’s too derivative of Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye, but at least this issue is original.

VAMPIRELLA #88 (Warren, 1980) – “Night of the Hell Dream,” [W] Will Richardson, [A] Rudy Nebres, plus two other stories. This issue’s Vampirella story is mediocre, though Rudy Nebres’s draftsmanship is good. The two other stories are credited to Archie Goodwin and Bruce Jones, but it’s not clear which is which, because the writers for the issue are listed in alphabetical order. “Nightwalk” is a dumb EC-esque story in which a woman named Lucenda drowns, and her lover, Bob, thinks he’s seen her ghost. It turns out that Lucenda is plotting with Bob’s best friend Rick to have Bob murder her husband, a cemetery guard. In the end, all the characters but Bob end up dead. Lucenda and Rick’s murder plot is ridiculously complicated, and there’s no explanation for why she couldn’t have just divorced her husband. Finally “The Talent of Michael Crawley” is actually good. It’s about a telekinetic boy who suffers from child abuse, but is recruited by some wealthy power brokers, and ends up using his power to kill them as well as himself. I’m guessing this story is the one written by Archie Goodwin, because several years later, in Psi-Force #1, he created a different telekinetic boy named Michael Crawley.

VÖGELEIN #5 (Fiery Studios, 2002) – “Book Five,” [W/A] Jane Irwin. I remember hearing about this when it came out, probably through my friend Greg Hatcher, but I haven’t thought about it in years. It turns out Vögelein is not just a random curiosity but is genuinely good. The protagonist is a miniature “clockwork faerie” who is immortal, but is dependent on other people to wind her mechanism. Jane Irwin’s tender writing and subtle facial expressions effectively convey the pathos of Vögelein’s life. She also demonstrates effective research and historical knowledge, telling us exactly where Vögelein came from and how. Somehow this comic reminded me of Charles de Lint’s books, and he does seem to have been an influence on Irwin. In addition to this five-issue miniseries, there was also a standalone Vögelein graphic novel. I need to track that down.

THE HORROR OF COLLIER COUNTY #2 (Dark Horse, 1999) – untitled, [W/A] Rich Tommaso. The protagonist, Fran, goes for a walk and encounters a creepy stalkerish dude. But it turns out he’s not that bad; he thought she was following him, because there’s another worse dude who’s been stalking them both. Not much else happens in this issue, but Tommaso continues to powerfully evoke the atmosphere of Florida. I hope I can find the rest of this series.

REAL DEAL #8 (Fantagraphics, 2018) – “The Psyop,” [W/A] Lawrence Hubbard. I met Lawrence Hubbard at Comic-Con, while he was signing at the Fantagraphics booth. In this issue’s main story, the gangster protagonist, G.C., is recruited by a criminal mastermind who claims to have been controlling G.C.’s life. Hubbard’s art and lettering are rather crude, but they’re crude in the same way as some of Gary Panter’s work, and so I enjoyed this story. Hubbard is also a rare example of a black artist working in an underground comics idiom. The second story in the issue, by William Clausen, isn’t nearly as good.

PAKKINS’ LAND #1 (Tapestry, 1996) – untitled, [W/A] Gary Shipman, [W] Rhoda Shipman. A young boy travels through a cave into a land of talking animals. Gary Shipman’s art is quite good, but this comic has a boring plot and hideous lettering, and it feels like a ripoff of Bone.

THE HIGHEST HOUSE #2 (IDW, 2018) – “Obsidian’s Bargain, Part 2,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. In the second issue of this fantasy series, the young slave protagonist, Moth, starts working as a roofer alongside his mentor Fless. Moth and Fless are both tyrannized by an evil cook. Moth makes a bargain with a mysterious being trapped inside a rock, enabling him to get rid of the cook. This series has a fascinating story and gorgeous art. It reminds me a lot of Gormenghast, thanks to being set in a giant ancient castle with a hidebound, hierarchical society. The evil cook dude is very similar to Swelter.

MELODY #8 (Kitchen Sink, 1993) – “Big City Welcome,” [W] Sylvie Rancourt, [A] Gabriel Morrissette. Mellody and her boyfriend Nick move from Abitibi to Montreal. Nick gets a job dealing drugs. Melody has a tense encounter with her awful mother. This series is an interesting slice-of-life story, but it suffers from an awkward translation. And it feels as if it’s more Gabrile Morrissette and Jacques Boivin than Sylvie Rancourt. I’d like to read the other version of Melody that Rancourt drew herself. (Confusingly, Drawn & Quarterly has published one volume of Melody with another one coming next year, but neither of them is a collection of the Kitchen Sink series.)

LITTLE ARCHIE #163 (Archie, 1981) – “The Christmas Ducks or Yule Quack Up Over Time,” [W/A] Bob Bolling, plus other stories. This issue’s only Bob Bolling story stars Little Veronica and Sue Stringly. For Christmas, Sue Stringly wants to install a light on the watertower near her house, so as to prevent bird strikes. (Which are a real danger; the new Minnesota Vikings stadium was widely criticized for not being bird-friendly.) Veronica decides to help her keep the birds safe, but they both get stuck on top of the tower. This is an impressive work by Bolling, one of his few stories in which Little Archie doesn’t appear. This issue also includes some inferior stories by Dexter Taylor.

GOOD GIRLS #3 (Fantagraphics, 1988) – “Beauty and the Beast with Two Heads,” [W/A] Carol Lay. Irene van de Kamp is kidnapped by a rich man who collects strange women, including a three-breasted woman and a Padaung woman with neck rings. It turns out her kidnapper has two heads, one of which is evil. Mayhem ensues. There’s also a subplot about Irene’s blind stalker Kurt. This issue has hilarious writing and exciting artwork. At one point in the issue, another character mentions that Irene is beautiful when wearing her lip disk, and that’s actually true.

JACK STAFF #1 (Dancing Elephant, 2000) – “Good Morning, Castletown!”, [W/A] Paul Grist. When I bought this at Heroes Con in 2018, I thought it was the same story as the Image Jack Staff #1, which I already owned. It turns out that the Image Jack Staff series had totally different stories from the self-published series. In this debut issue, we’re introduced to Jack Staff himself and the major characters in his universe, including Becky Burdock, Helen Morgan, and Tom Tom the Robot Man. Most of these characters are based on preexisting British superheroes, some of which are obscure; for example, Tom Tom is based on a character called Robot Archie (no relation to Archie Andrews). As always, Paul Grist’s artwork in this comic is excellent.

SUPERMAN #13 (DC, 2017) – “Supermonster Part Two,” [W] Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, [A] Doug Mahnke. This series started off very well, but quickly jumped the shark because of excessive involvement in crossovers. This issue is really confusing at first, but gets better as it goes on. The guest stars, Frankenstein (the Grant Morrison version) and his wife, are interesting characters, and their tortured relationship with their son is an interesting foil to Clark and Lois’s relationship with Jon. The issue ends with a touching scene where Clark and Lois watch Jon sleeping.

SUPURBIA #4 (Boom!, 2013) – untitled, [W] Grace Randolph, [A] Russell Dauterman. A confusing issue with an unclear plot. The issue mostly revolves around the murder of a journalist named Hayley Harper. There’s also a subplot where the Wonder Woman character has been imprisoned for trying to kill her son, or save him from being killed, I’m not sure which. I still think this series is fascinating, and its artwork is good.

HAUNTED LOVE #6 (Charlton, 1974) – “Sleep, My Love,” [W] Joe Gill, [A] Tom Sutton, plus another story. Although this issue begins with a story by Fred Himes, it’s mostly a showcase for Tom Sutton’s brilliant art. In “Sleep, My Love,” a Paris doctor is hired to care for a hideous old lady, but falls in love with her young companion. Alas, the old woman turns out to be a witch, and she tries to possess the companion’s body and seduce the doctor. Tom Sutton’s draftsmanship is crude at times, but the best pages in this issue, as well as the cover, are intricate and psychedelic.

THE HIGHEST HOUSE #3 (IDW, 2018) – “Obsidian’s Bargain, Part 3,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. In this issue, Moth starts to play the role of Steerpike. He falls in love with the young daughter of the castle’s lord, and Obsidian engineers a situation in which Moth saves the daughter’s life. As a result, Moth is offered his freedom, but chooses to ask for Fless’s freedom instead. He then becomes the personal servant to the lord. The issue ends with Moth discovering the daughter having sex with her maidservant. This series is amazing so far, and I need to read the last three issues soon.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #561 (Marvel, 2008) – “Peter Parker: Paparazzi Part 3: Photo Finished,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Marcos Martin. Early in the Brand New Day era, Peter Parker is assigned to track down the new girlfriend of a star named Bobby Carr. It turns out that girlfriend is Mary Jane, though Peter never finds that out. Also, a two-dimensional villain named Paper Doll is obsessed with Bobby, and Peter has to save him from her. This is a thrilling and well-plotted issue, and I love the idea of a paper-thin villain.

New comics received on Friday, August 2:

PAPER GIRLS #30 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Cliff Chiang. An affectionate finale to the series. The issue starts with a shared dream sequence, and then the papergirls head out for their last paper route, but they decide to remain friends even after they’re no longer working together. So even though the girls don’t remember any of their time-traveling adventures, they’re still friends. Kudos to BKV and Cliff on the conclusion of an excellent if very confusing series.

FANTASTIC FOUR #12 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Honeymoon Crasher,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Sean Izaakse. Ben’s once-a-year return to human form is coming up, so he and Alicia finally go on their honeymoon, but of course the Hulk shows up to interrupt them. Or rather, a Hulk puppet controlled by the Puppet Master. This issue also includes a preview of Jeremy Whitley and Will Robson’s new Future Foundation title. In this story, Alex Power recruits his sister Julie to help him teach the FF kids. This story is really cute, and develops the two older Powers’ relationship in an interesting way. I’m eagerly looking forward to the ongoing FF title. According to Jeremy on Twitter, Alex is now in his mid-twenties.

RUNAWAYS #23 (Marvel, 2019) – “But You Can’t Hide Pt V,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andrés Genolet. I went to Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks’s panel at Comic-Con, and later met Rainbow briefly at the Eisners. This issue, Victor tries to convince Doombot to assume its old nice personality again, while back in the real world, the other Runaways are having all kinds of relationship drama. I like the splash page where Molly’s stuffed animals are arranged in a circle around Doombot’s bed, and the cat is sitting between them as if it’s an additional stuffed animal.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #8 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Life & Death of Conan Part Eight: Homecoming,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Gerardo Zaffino. Conan goes back to Cimmeria for a visit, but finds that all his fellow tribespeople have been turned into zombies by Thoth-Amon. Just as Conan is about to die, his grandmother breaks out of her trance and saves him. The clear high point of this issue is Granny Conan, a giant old battleaxe who reminds me of a brawnier Granny Weatherwax. She’s exactly what you would expect Conan’s grandma to be.

MONSTRESS #24 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. I’ve never really been able to follow the political machinations and intrigues in this comic, but this issue has a lot of nice character interactions. Maika is finally reuinted with Ren and Kippa, but then they have to air their dirty laundry. The other major event this issue is that a city gets blown up by some kind of atom bomb, which sparks a major war between the various factions.

GREEN LANTERN ANNUAL #1 (DC, 2019) – “The Wireless Ones,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. During a family reunion, Hal and his cousin Air-Wave battle a bunch of creatures from a radio dimension. The art in this issue is only average, but the story is thrilling, and the radio creatures are a really cool idea. Grant never explains who Air-Wave actually is, so this comic will likely be confusing to new readers.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #4 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Clint McElroy, [A] Ig Guara. Kamala Khan teams up with Carol Danvers to fight some Kree villains, and it turns out that one of them is Mar-Vell. I’m sorry that Eve Ewing isn’t the permanent writer on this series, but Clint McElroy’s dialogue is impressive. I especially like the scene where Carol and Kamala awkwardly convince Kamala’s parents to let Kamala accept an internship.

RAT QUEENS #17 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan Ferrier, [A] Priscilla Petraites. This series has jumped the shark. In this issue, Ryan Ferrier writes Violet out of the series due to pregnancy, and he assassinates Hannah and Betty’s characters: he makes Hannah act horrible to her friends for no reason, and he turns Betty into a hopeless alcoholic. Ferrier doesn’t accomplish anything by destroying his characters in this way, because his Rat Queens is not even remotely fun. This series was excellent for its first year or so, but it should probably have been cancelled when Roc Upchurch was fired. Since then it’s been a mere shadow of what it originally was. Issue 17 will be my last.

HEATHEN #8 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Natasha Alterici. Aydis gets thrown off the ship, but makes it to Heimdall island anyway with the aid of one of the mermaids. Meanwhile, back in Asgard or wherever, there’s some political stuff going on that I don’t understand. This issue ends with an ad for Heathen #9, but I don’t think that issue has been solicited yet.

AMERICAN CARNAGE #9 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Sacrifice,” [W] Bryan Hill, [A] Leandro Fernandez. Richard forces Sheila to kill him, which somehow results in Wynn’s senatorial campaign being discredited. This was a gripping and extremely well-drawn comic, but it suffered from a total lack of sympathetic characters. Indeed, the most sympathetically portrayed character in the series is the white nationalist patriarch’s daughter. Hill also fails to offer any real hope that white nationalist fascism can be defeated. And by focusing so much on Richard and Sheila’s flaws, he may even be suggesting a “both sides” approach to the problem of white nationalism.

On August 3, I went to yet another local convention. I felt kind of ashamed of spending more money on comics after having just been to two major conventions, but what was I going to do, ignore an opportunity to buy comics? Besides, after this, the next convention isn’t until December.

For the second year in a row, the August Charlotte Comic Con was a two-day event. I went on the first day. It was held in a bigger room than usual, or rather, a bigger configuration of the same room. I enjoyed this con a lot more than last year’s August event; there were a lot more dealers, and some excellent cheap boxes. Some of the comics I bought were:

JIM #6 – oops, it turns out I already had this, even though it wasn’t listed in my database. I liked it a lot better than the previous time I read it, though it’s not the best issue of Jim.

CRIMINAL #1 (Marvel, 2007) – “Coward, Part One of Five,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. The debut issue of Criminal is about Leo, a thief who’s really good at running away. It’s a well-executed piece of crime fiction, but it lacks the complexity or depth of later Criminal stories. Curiously, a character in this issue says that Leo’s late father Tommy killed Teeg Lawless. I guess that’s a clue to what’ll happen in the current Criminal story arc. I had assumed that Dan Farraday was going to kill Teeg. This issue also includes one of Jacob’s Frank Kafka strips.

IRON MAN #20 (Marvel, 1969) – “Who Serves Lucifer?”, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] George Tuska. Charlie, a poor white security guard, is pissed that he’s not as rich as Tony Stark. So when Lucifer, an alien supervillain, recruits Charlie as a pawn in his world domination scheme, Charlie eagerly goes along with him. So basically, this story depicts how Donald Trump got elected President. The only difference between Charlie and a Trump voter is that Charlie comes to his senses when his wife appeals to his humanity. Its political implications aside, this is a well-written and entertaining comic.

WOLFF & BYRD, COUNSELORS OF THE MACABRE’S SECRETARY MAVIS #1 (Exhibit A, 1998) – “The World’s Greatest Secretary!”, [W/A] Batton Lash. Batton Lash was the kindest and friendliest comics professional I ever met. It sucked that he wasn’t there to greet everyone at Comic-Con this year. He was also a brilliant storyteller. In Mavis #1, Wolff & Byrd’s secretary Mavis has just received a marriage proposal from her boyfriend Toby Bascoe. She goes home to her parents to think it over, but finds that Toby has beaten her there. Also, some of her younger relatives have just discovered a ghost that kidnaps eligible bachelors. The romantic and supernatural subplots come together in a clever and plausible way, and Batton portrays Mavis’s emotions with subtlety and realism. Toby ends up retracting his proposal because Mavis isn’t ready yet, which is a satisfying outcome.

THE SAGA OF THE MAN-ELF #3 (Trident, 1990) – “Book One: Reigns of Power,” [W] Guy Lawley, [A] Richard Weston. I met Guy Lawley at last year’s UF comics conference, and had some interesting conversations with him. He told me that Saga of the Man-Elf was intended to tell an actual story about Jerry Cornelius, since Moorcock’s Cornelius novels mostly didn’t have plots. This issue, the title character, Janus Carpenter, meets Jerry Cornelius, and we discover that they’re not the same character – though I guess they’re both incarnations of the Eternal Champion. Meanwhile, there’s a parallel plot thread involving the machinations of Miss Brunner (one of the many avatars of Margaret Thatcher in British comics) and other villains. This series is hard to find, but it’s fascinating; it deserves to be remembered alongside Luther Arkwright. Too bad there were only five issues.

HERO FOR HIRE #4 (Marvel, 1972) – “Cry Fear… Cry Phantom!”, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] Billy Graham. The Gem Theater seems to be haunted by a ghost. Luke investigates and discovers a complex plot involving a secret passage, a dead theatre impresario, and a big guy and a little person with a giant friend. Hero for Hire #4 is a complicated but exciting mystery, with a gritty sense of realism. It feels like an accurate depiction of pre-gentrification Times Square – it feels like it’s about the same place described in Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #22 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Humberto Ramos. Peter/Doc Ock gives a hilarious speech where he uses standard super-villain rhetoric to motivate his employees. He also quotes a line from Watchmen. There’s an awkward moment where Aunt May assumes Peter/Otto only hired Anna Marie for affirmative action reasons. In the main event of the issue, Spidey intervenes in a fight between Agent Venom and the Crime-Master, and is more interested in fighting the former than the latter. Agent Venom unmasks himself as Flash Thompson, not knowing that the current Spider-Man has no idea who that is. This issue is just as entertaining as Dan Slott’s regular Amazing Spider-Man series. Since I’m already collecting that series, I also want to start collecting Superior Spider-Man.

SABRINA #4 (Archie, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Veronica Fish. Sabrina’s aunts are missing, but before looking for them, she has to deal with some cute high school drama. Sabrina walks out on both of her love interests when they start fighting over her. Salem claims that as a cat, lying comes naturally to him. Sabrina uses some magical items to “upgrade” herself as well as turning Salem into a giant panther. This Sabrina series is less original than the previous one, but it’s just as good in its own way.

YUMMY FUR #10 (Vortex, 1988) – “Destroy All Vampires,” [W/A] Chester Brown. Unlike most installments of Ed the Happy Clown, the one in this issue has a coherent plot, albeit an absurdist one. Ed is barricaded inside a museum with Josie, a vampire, and some dead pygmies. The police hire a pygmy hunter to capture them, but then some vampire hunters show up and offer to assist. But the vampire hunters kill the pygmy hunter by mistake, allowing Ed and Josie to escape. I did say it was an absurdist plot. This issue also includes Chester’s adaptation of part of chapters 8 and 9 of Mark. The letters page, which is hand-lettered by Chester, provides some interesting information about Yummy Fur’s distribution and publicity.

MURDER ME DEAD #1 (El Capitán, 2000) – “Murder Me Dead,” [W/A] David Lapham. The co-owner of a restaurant is found hanged. Her husband, Steven, emerges as a prime suspect. David Lapham did this series as a side project so he wouldn’t get bored with Stray Bullets. It’s different from Stray Bullets only in that it’s more of a conventional murder mystery. So far it doesn’t include Lapham’s brutally realistic depictions of violence, but otherwise it’s well-executed and intriguing.

AGE OF BRONZE #6 (Image, 2000) – untitled (A Thousand Ships 6), [W/A] Eric Shanower. I found Age of Bronze #6-8 in a 50-cent box. I already have the trade paperback with these issues, but I’m a completist, and I wasn’t going to turn them down for just 50 cents each. In this issue, Menelaus rushes to Agamemnon with the news of Paris’s consensual kidnapping of Helen. Agamemnon’s initial attempt to get her back is unsuccessful, so he comes up with a grand plan to besiege Troy. Meanwhile on Skyros, Achilles is getting sick of pretending to be a girl. The issue ends with Achilles’s rape of Deidamia. The next issue begins with Deidamia giving birth to the resulting child. This sequence reads differently in the trade paperback, where the rape and the childbirth occur on adjacent pages. One of this series’ greatest strengths is its distinctive and three-dimensional characters. For example, Eric writes Achilles as a confused little boy who is also capable of terrifying violence.

PLANETARY/BATMAN: NIGHT ON EARTH (DC, 2003) – “Night on Earth,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] John Cassaday. Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner and the Drummer visit Gotham City, where they encounter John Black, an insane villain with reality-shifting powers. They chase John Black across a bunch of parallel realities, encountering a different version of Batman in each reality. “Night on Earth” is a thrilling epic adventure which is mercifully free of the confusing continuity of the regular Planetary series. It’s also a showcase for John Cassaday’s incredible art. He draws Batman extremely well, and in a bunch of different styles. And this is a weird thing to point out, but I really like Cassaday’s realistic drapery.

CAPTAIN VICTORY AND THE GALACTIC RANGERS #3 (Pacific, 1982) – “Encounters of a Savage Kind,” [W/A] Jack Kirby. This comic has some impressive art, but its plot makes no sense, and it feels like a rehash of New Gods. It’s also hindered by Mike Thibodeaux’s ugly inking and lettering. But it’s still Kirby at least. The best part of this comic is the floating head dude, one of Kirby’s typical comic relief characters. This issue includes a Ms. Mystic backup story by Neal Adams. As always, Neal’s writing here is terrible, though at least he has a serious point to make about the impending extinction of the bald eagle.

SHOWCASE #86 (DC, 1969) – “River of Gold!”, [W/A] Joe Kubert. Firehair, a white boy raised by Indians, saves a white prospector from Crow Indians. He ends up having to fight the Crow chief’s son. Meanwhile, the prospector has found gold on the Crow’s land, which is exactly what the Crow were afraid of. Compared to other contemporaneous comics (e.g. Rawhide Kid #61), Showcase #86 makes a better effort to portray Indians sympathetically. The white prospector is the villain of the story, and the Crow chief is a kind man, while his son is a rash hothead. Kubert also did enough research to know, for example, that the Crow call themselves Absaroke (now spelled Apsáalooke). As usual, his artwork in this issue is stunning.

OCEAN #1 (Wildstorm, 2004) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Chris Sprouse. One hundred years in the future, Inspector Nathan Kane visits the moon to investigate a murder mystery. Based on this first issue, I’m not sure yet what Ocean is about, but what makes it interesting is Ellis and Sprouse’s depictions of near-future technology. The opening scene in New York is especially interesting: there are taxis and bagel shops, but also a street grating that automatically disintegrates trash. Nelson gets to the moon using a disc-shaped rocket shuttle, and to get there he passes through a space station named Arthur C. Clarke, possibly in reference to The Fountains of Paradise.

IMAGE FIRSTS: GODLAND #1 (Image, 2010) – “Cosmic Wheels in Motion,” [W] Joe Casey, [A] Tom Scioli. This debut issue introduces a bunch of different Kirbyesque characters. Tom Scioli’s artwork is stunning, and he imitates Kirby very well; however, in this issue he doesn’t do much more than that. There’s not much in Godland #1 that’s unique to Scioli rather than Kirby. In more recent works, Tom has developed a more personal style. I also don’t like Joe Casey’s writing. However, I still do plan on collecting more Godland when I find it at low prices.

TEST #2 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Jen Hickman. Aleph Null discovers that the entire town of Laurelwood is a testing ground for new products. This issue is really confusing, and I had difficulty following it. Also, Aleph Null is such an abject, hopeless character that it’s hard to sympathize with them. Some of the confusion in this comic is deliberate: we’re not supposed to know yet who the good guys are, if anyone.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY AND NICKELODEON AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER/STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (Dark Horse, 2011) – “Relics,” [W/A] Johane Matte, plus other stories. The main story in this FCBD comic takes place during season one of Avatar. Aang finds an Air Nomad relic, but it turns out to be part of a trap set by Admiral Zhao. This story lacks the complexity or originality of the Avatar graphic novels, but Johane Matte does a good job of mimicking the TV show’s style. This comic also includes a four-page vignette by J. Torres and GuriHiru, taking place after the Gaang has met Toph, and a Star Wars story that I couldn’t understand at all.

DOCTOR STRANGE #172 (Marvel, 1972) – “…I, Dormammu!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Gene Colan. Disappointing given the talent involved. It’s mostly just a long fight between Dr. Strange and Dormammu, and there’s little genuine weirdness, nor is there much characterization. It feels like an inferior rehash of Ditko’s Dr. Strange. At least the art is good.

SWEET TOOTH #10 (Vertigo, 2010) – “In Captivity Interlude: Back Woods,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. I also saw Sweet Tooth #3 at the convention, but didn’t realize I was missing that issue. In #10, Gus is at the research facility, and his captors hypnotize him and make him remember his childhood. As a result we learn a lot of information about Gus’s childhood, and the researchers eventually find the location of Gus’s father’s secret hideout, which was what they were looking for. There’s one memorable two-page spread in this issue which depicts Gus and the hypnotist walking over Gus’s antlers.

A.D.: AFTER DEATH BOOK TWO (Image, 2016) – “The Goodbye Suit,” [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Jeff Lemire. A frustrating waste of Jeff’s artistic talent. Jeff’s artwork in A.D. is beautiful, and he uses a watercolor technique which is rare in his other work. The problem with this comic is Snyder. A.D. Book Two is about 70 pages, but about one-third of those pages are illustrated prose rather than comics. Now first, when I read a comic book, I want to read comics. I already spend enough time reading prose. Second, I don’t want to be a prescriptive critic, but I think that including lengthy prose passages in a comic book is a severe mistake. It’s a waste of the potential of comics. What’s the point of writing “He lifts the suit from its case. He does this carefully, respectfully,” when you could instead draw him lifting the suit out – perhaps with a caption stating that he does so respectfully? Worse than that, Snyder sometimes wastes our time telling us things we can already see in the art. Right after the line I just quoted, Snyder gives us an extensive ekphrastic description of the suit – but the previous two pages were a two-page spread depicting that exact same suit. I can’t see any excuse for such redundancy. In addition to all that, the story of A.D. is terrible. Snyder fails to adequately explain the comic’s premise or to make the reader care about the characters, and his prose is histrionic and pompous; it’s as if he’s trying to make the story seem more compelling than it is. I have rarely if ever read a good Scott Snyder comic, and I get the impression that he’s one of the more overrated writers in the industry.

ALL-TIME COMICS: ZEROSIS DEATHSCAPE #2 (All-Time Comics, 2019) – “Birth of the Nightmare,” [W] Josh Bayer & Josh Simmons, [A] Trevor von Eeden with Benjamin Marra. This is very similar to the previous issue, but I liked it better. I like how the creators combine superheroes with an alternative, Panter- and Fort Thunder-influenced aesthetic. The rather crude lettering actually helps, because it fits that aesthetic better than slick lettering would have done. Trevor von Eeden’s art is still heavily influenced by Neal Adams, but he uses some nicely experimental page layouts.

BLACK PANTHER #14 (Marvel, 2019) – “Two Thousand Seasons,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Daniel Acuña. Some more fight scenes, plus some negotiations between the characters on Earth and in space. Like “Avengers of the New World,” “The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda” is getting way too long. I’d like to teach a Black Panther comic next semester, but TNC’s Black Panther is not a good candidate because it would bore the students.

JOE HILL’S THE CAPE: FALLEN #4 (IDW, 2019) – “One by One They Were Consumed,” [W] Jason Ciaramella, [A] Zach Howard. I suppose this comic would make more sense if I had read any previous issues of The Cape. But to me it just seems like a gruesome horror story, in which a psychopathic supervillain murders some innocent people and acts extremely smug about it. It’s like a worse version of Miracleman #15. I shouldn’t have ordered this comic.

EXCALIBUR #96 (Marvel, 1996) – “Fireback,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Carlos Pacheco. Excalibur investigates the Hellfire Club’s plots, and there’s also some okay characterization. I haven’t read much of Warren Ellis’s Excalibur, and I need to look into it more. Unfortunately it often suffered from bad art, and even Pacheco’s artwork in this issue is not very good.

AIRBOY #24 (Eclipse, 1987) – “Bio-Hazard!”, [W] Chuck Dixon, [A] Ron Randall. Airboy encounters the Heap, who is written to be indistinguishable from Man-Thing. There’s also a backup story depicting a Korean War battle. This story makes Dixon’s anticommunist politics really obvious.

JADEMAN KUNG FU SPECIAL #1 (Jademan, 1990) – various stories, [W/A] Tony Wong et al. A series of excerpts from and summaries of various Jademan comics, together with a bunch of text articles that lionize Tony Wong’s achievements. This comic has little if any original content, but it makes me want to read more Jademan comics. At one point the translator, Mike Baron, makes fun of the massive number of characters by saying that there’ll be a test later.

GLOW #4 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tini Howard, [A] Hannah Templer. The battle royale never happens for lack of time, but the two groups of wrestlers agree on a rematch. I like the art in this comic, but it seems designed for readers who already know the Netflix show and can remember all the characters (see previous review). I was never able to tell any of the characters apart.

ALEX NINO’S NIGHTMARE #1 (Innovation, 1989) – “Nightmare,” [W/A] Alex Niño. This comic has a vapid story, but also has mind-expanding, radical artwork by the most underrated of the Filipino artists. It’s full of page after page of bizarre, abstract, Lovecraftian compositions. It shows that Alex Niño is a genius of draftsmanship and page composition. It’s too bad that he rarely if ever worked with a writer worthy of his talents. A lot of his best work was wasted on terrible comics like God the Dyslexic Dog. Nightmare #1 includes a next-issue blurb, but no other issues ever appeared.

FANTASTIC FOUR #99 (Marvel, 1970) – “The Torch Goes Wild!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. Johnny has a temper tantrum because he misses Crystal, so he flies off and invades the Great Refuge. This issue’s story is pretty straightforward and unoriginal, but the art is far better than in Captain Victory #3, largely because of Joe Sinnott’s inking. There’s one cute page where the FF visit some Himalayan nomads. On the splash page, the Thing calls himself a “boomshusher.” From context, this must mean a good skier, but I can’t find any Google results for this word, other than references to this same page.

TALES OF SUSPENSE #99 (Marvel, 1967) – “At the Mercy of the Maggia,” [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] Gene Colan, and “The Man Who Lived Twice!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. In the Iron Man story, Tony is kidnapped by Whiplash. The best part of the story is a sequence in which Jasper Sitwell bullies his way into an airport. In the Iron Man story, Cap teams up with T’Challa to fight Baron Zemo, who is somehow alive. This “Zemo” turned out to be an impostor. After this issue, Tales of Suspense became Captain America, and Iron Man was briefly left homeless.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #789 (Marvel, 2017) – “Fall of Parker Part 1 – Top to Bottom,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Stuart Immonen. Prior to this storyline, Peter was the CEO of Parker Industries, but he had to dissolve the company and destroy all its technology in order to avoid an even worse disaster. This issue, Peter is couchsurfing with Mockingbird, while trying to avoid angry mobs that want his blood. Peter decompresses by getting into costume and fighting the Griffin. This issue is thrilling and funny, though it’s sad to see Peter engaging in self-destructive behavior. Dan Slott was a brilliant Spider-Man writer. I regret that I wasn’t reading his Spider-Man when it was coming out, but I was deterred by all the controversies it sparked. (And also, I rarely follow top-tier Marvel and DC titles; I’m not even reading Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men now.)

NEW MUTANTS #72 (Marvel, 1989) – “Demon Reign,” [W] Louise Simonson, [A] Bret Blevins. An Inferno crossover, with one plotline about Magik’s battle with N’astirh (Marvel’s most unpronounceable villain) and another plotline focusing on the other New Mutants. Because this issue is an Inferno installment, it includes some bizarre and surrealistic art. Louise’s writing could be crude at times, but she’s good at crafting interesting characters and creating emotional intensity.

UNICORN ISLE #2 (WaRP, 1986) – untitled, [W] Lee Marrs, [A] Nicholas Koenig. The twins, Nils and Nola, recover from the death of their mother, while the villains execute their plan to steal one of the Sacred Unicorns. I think the best thing about this series is the two spunky young protagonists, and it’s a charming and entertaining fantasy title overall. There’s just one more issue left that I don’t have.

WEST COAST AVENGERS #24 (Marvel, 1987) – “Before We Were So Rudely Interrupted!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Al Milgrom. The WCA battle Dominus, a member of the same species as Lucifer (see Iron Man #20 review above), and his desert-themed minions. Englehart’s West Coast Avengers was his last great work, though it’s inferior to his Avengers or Justice League. He’s good at combining fight scenes with characterization; for example, throughout the Avengers’ fight with Dominus, it becomes clear that Tony Stark and Simon Williams can’t stand each other. Though of course my favorite West Coast Avenger is Tigra.

THUNDERBOLTS #158 (Marvel, 2011) – untitled, [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Kev Walker. In a Fear Itself crossover, the Thunderbolts B-team fights some zombies in Najaf, Iraq, site of the world’s largest graveyard (which I hadn’t known until I read this issue). Meanwhile, Juggernaut turns into an avatar of Cytorrak and starts causing mayhem. Like John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad, this comic is interesting because its characters are all weird and unique, and their interactions are fascinating. The best character in the issue is Centurius, who cares more about scientific experimentation than saving his teammates’ lives.

Reading West Coast Avengers #24 and Thunderbolts #158 made me realize something. As I explained on Facebook: “An effective superhero team comic needs epic fight scenes and action sequences, because these are a requirement of the genre. But it also needs to have distinctive characters whose personalities mesh or clash in interesting ways. The second requirement is more important than the first, at least according to my personal tastes. I tend to prefer the Avengers to the Justice League because Avengers comics usually have better character interactions.”

BEWARE THE CREEPER #3 (Vertigo, 2003) – “Prenez Garde au Creeper,” [W] Jason Hall, [A] Cliff Chiang. In interwar Paris, a female Creeper causes mass panic, while a bunch of subplots play out among Paris’s citizens. It’s not clear which of the characters in this issue is the Creeper, but there are several candidates. I bought this issue because of Cliff Chiang’s art, which is brilliant. He demonstrates extensive research, and creates a realistic and creepy version of ‘20s or ‘30s Paris. But Jason Hall’s writing is also impressive. His characters are intriguing, and he shows an understanding of the cultural climate of the era he’s writing about. I especially love the scene where some Surrealists praise the Creeper as surrealism incarnate. I’ll be looking for the rest of this miniseries.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #14 (Marvel, 1969) – “When a Galaxy Beckons…,” [W] Gary Friedrich, [A] Frank Springer. Captain Mar-Vell battles Iron Man, who is being mind-controlled by the Puppet Master. This issue is part of a crossover with Avengers and Sub-Mariner, and includes an early Carol Danvers appearance. Other than that, it’s pretty boring, and it’s plagued by awful inking by the inker who must not be named. At one point in this issue, Mar-Vell mentions having gotten his powers from an entity called Zo. There have been multiple different explanations of who Zo was; see https://www.cbr.com/captain-mar-vell-god-zo/.

QUANTUM & WOODY #13 (Valiant, 1998) – “Enough Already,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] M.D. Bright. Quantum and Woody have had their bodies switched. After a lot of mayhem, they get their original bodies back, but even more mayhem results from that. Also, their young protégé Taylor is murdered by a villain. In typical Priest fashion, this issue is narrated in a nonlinear order, contains multiple flashbacks, and is generally confusing, so my summary is very incomplete. Nonetheless, this is a brilliant and hilarious comic. According to the credits page, some of the technobabble in this issue was written by my Facebook friends Dave van Domelen and Greg Morrow.

SUPURBIA #2 (Boom!, 2013) – untitled, [W] Grace Randolph, [A] Russell Dauterman. This issue contains part of the Hella Heart/Hayley Harper plot from issue 4. I don’t understand this plotline, but there’s also a plot thread where Batu (Wonder Woman) and her son have been kidnapped by Amazons. Batu wins her son’s freedom, but only on the condition that he immediately start “seeding” the other Amazons! Also, there’s some relationship drama between the Batman and Robin characters. Supurbia is an entertaining series, though it’s difficult to follow when read out of order.

FANTASTIC FOUR #311 (Marvel, 1988) – “I Want to Die!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Keith Pollard. Unlike Englehart’s West Coast Avengers, his Fantastic Four is not a major work because its plots are too stupid. Sharon Ventura spends half of this issue trying to commit suicide because she hates her new She-Thing body. The image of a giant, rock-skinned woman weeping and attempting suicide is more funny than tragic, partly because Keith Pollard draws Sharon to look ridiculous. This issue also continues the subplot where Crystal has an affair with a real estate agent from New Jersey. I don’t know why Englehart decided to throw Crystal under the bus in this way. Englehart’s dialogue and plotting are still good enough that I enjoyed this issue despite its objective lack of quality.

BIRTHRIGHT #11 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. In a flashback, Mikey narrates how he first encountered the Nevermind when, in violation of Rook’s orders, he saved a little girl kidnapped by Kallista. This is an exciting issue with excellent art. I just realized that the Kallista in this issue is the same character from #38; see below.

SILVER SURFER #11 (Marvel, 1968/2003) – “O, Bitter Victory!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] John Buscema. I don’t have any issues of the original Silver Surfer series. I need to change that. This issue is a reprint. In “O, Bitter Victory,” the Surfer intervenes in a civil war in one of Marvel’s innumerable fictional Latin American countries. As usual, the Surfer takes a “both sides” approach, condemning both the government and the rebels for their indiscriminate fighting. There’s also a subplot involving Shalla Bal and another Zenn-Lavian, Yarro Gort. (Do all Zenn-Lavians have a two-syllable first name and a one-syllable surname?) While the story of Silver Surfer #11 is trite, the artwork is brilliant. John Buscema is a master of simple, stark compositions, and his draftsmanship in this issue is some of his best.

MICKEY MOUSE #223 (Gladstone, 1987) – “Editor-in-Grief Chapter Two,” [W/A] Floyd Gottfredson, [W] Ted Osborne. As the editor of a newspaper, Mickey finds evidence of a corrupt garbage contract between Peg-Leg Pete and the city government. Mickey sneaks into Pete’s office to steal the contract, then foils Pete’s plot to destroy his printing press before the contract can be published. This is a thrilling adventure story that reveals Gottfredson’s mastery of comic strip narrative. On the letters page, the editor gives an interesting account of how John Clark converted Gottfredson’s daily strips into comic book pages. Throughout the issue Goofy is called by his original name of Dippy.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #790 (Marvel, 2019) – “Fall of Parker Part 2 – Breaking Point,” [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Stuart Immonen. Peter Parker gets sick of apologizing to his laid-off employees, so he gets into costume. But as Spider-Man, he ends up fighting Johnny Storm, who’s pissed that Peter has bought the Baxter Building and is now selling it. At the same time, a villain named Clash has broken into the Baxter Building to steal stuff. This is another highly entertaining issue that shows Slott (and Gage)’s deep understanding of Peter’s personality. Immonen is pretty good at drawing the Kirbyesque machinery inside Reed’s labs. The issue ends with Joe Robertson hiring Peter as a science writer for the Bugle.

JACK STAFF #10 (Dancing Elephant, 2002) – “Open the Box! Take the Money!”, [W/A] Paul Grist. Becky Burdock’s editor holds a contest to guess the contents of a mystery box. The contest is interrupted by the Claw, based on the classic British supervillain the Steel Claw. Then the box turns out to contain Charlie Raven, based on Janus Stark – the protagonist of a classic British comic that’s totally unavailable today. There’s one funny sequence in this issue where Becky Burdock is talking to a horoscope writer, and his dialogue seems nonsensical, but he’s actually responding to what she’s about to say. See https://www.instagram.com/p/B05AoJCBaR6/.

Comics received yesterday, August 8:

GIANT DAYS #53 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. Daisy spends her entire last week of school waiting for Coralie to pull off a disastrous prank. It turns out that was Coralie’s plan, to make Daisy waste her time. There’s a hilarious moment when Daisy sits down on a counter and it collapses. This issue reminds me of how sad and nostalgic I felt when I was about to graduate from undergrad.

FUTURE FOUNDATION #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Will Robson. Julie Power breaks into a prison to rescue a girl named Rebecca. We’re not supposed to know yet who she is. Meanwhile, the other FF members rescue someone who they think is Reed Richards, but it’s really a villain who looks just like Reed. This is an exciting comic full of great characterization, and I can’t wait for the next issue. Curiously, Vil and Wu are mentioned on the title page but don’t appear in the issue.

SEA OF STARS #2 (Image, 2019) – “Lost in the Wild Heavens,” [W] Jason Aaron & Dennis Hallum, [A] Stephen Green. Gil escapes from the giant space monster that ate him, then finds his way to a space freighter that’s full of carnivorous plants and hostile robots. Kadyn only appears briefly at the end of the issue, and there’s a flashback depicting his earlier years and his mother’s death. I like how Aaron and Hallum write Gil as a regular working-class dude who’s bewildered by all the stuff that’s happening to him. Stephen Green’s art is quite good.

GREEN LANTERN #10 (DC, 2019) – “Guardians of the Multiverse,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. Hal teams up with a bunch of other-dimensional Green Lanterns to fight Athmoora, and perhaps some even worse villains. One cool thing about Grant’s Green Lantern is how every issue has felt different. This issue is perhaps the most Kirbyesque and mind-expanding yet; it’s full of weird new characters and worlds. I especially like the hippie pothead Green Lantern.

RONIN ISLAND #5 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. Hana finds herself forced to serve the idiotic fake Shogun, while Kenichi is kidnapped by bandits who use him as zombie bait. Ronin Island is one of the top new titles of the year, but it’s really depressing. As Sato points out in this issue, the characters in this series all care only about their own survival and have little regard for anyone else, and it’s hard to imagine how Kenichi or Hana’s situation could get better.

DIE #6 (Image, 2019) – “The Grind,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Stephanie Hans. The bigger half of the split party – Ash, Matt, Angela and Sol – are stuck in Glass Town. To get out, they need to collect enough money in a single day to power their equipment, but they can’t. So in a heartbreaking scene, Angela has to euthanize her dog in order to save the money needed to power him. There are also some flashbacks in which Angela compares her current situation to her career as a game developer, especially the part where she has to work nonstop for no reward. Labor conditions in the gaming industry are a severe problem, as Kotaku has documented at length. The issue ends with the party reaching Angria, where they’re welcomed by a person who calls Ash “mother.” Die #6 is a powerful, emotionally wrenching comic, and this whole series is a tremendous achievement. It may well become the equal of The Wicked + The Divine.

THE DREAMING #12 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Wisdom,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. Emissaries from other realms gather at the gates of the Dreaming, just like at the start of Season of Mists – in fact, Bast, Thor, Odin, Kilderkin and Jemmy are all visible in the crowd. Inside the Dreaming, the Moth realizes that Daniel has abandoned his realm for a totally new reality, and that it itself is doomed. Also, Abel realizes that the Moth is dangerous. Lots of stuff happens in this issue, but what’s most impressive about it is Bilquis Evely’s art. Drawing all those alien creatures and bizarre dreamscapes was a Herculean task, and she achieved it brilliantly.

CROWDED #8 (Image, 2019) – “Jump into the Fire,” [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Ro Stein & Ted Brandt. In Las Vegas, Charlie and Vita come up with a plan to get help from Charlie’s old friend, but first they have to do some shopping. Also, that one quiet assassin from the last story arc has tracked them down to Vegas. This is another thrilling issue with lots of cute stuff, such as the “Corleone’s” casino whose name is lettered in the Godfather font. Reading this issue, I realized that this comic is about a serious, hypercompetent black woman who works to save a carefree, entitled white woman from getting herself killed. Charlie and Vita are perfect foils for each other, and their relationship is at the heart of this series, but the racial politics of that relationship are worth mentioning.

NO ONE LEFT TO FIGHT #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Aubrey Sitterson, [A] Fico Ossio. I met both Sitterson and Ossio at Comic-Con, and they seemed a bit surprised when I said that I was enjoying this series even though I didn’t grow up with Dragon Ball. This issue, Vâle, Timor and Krysta visit the old orphanage where Vâle and Krysta grew up. Vâle encounters his old friend Windy, but is oblivious of her massive crush on him, at least until she sneaks into his bedroom. Meanwhile, it becomes clear that Timor is massively jealous of Vâle. I think that even for a non-fan of Dragon Ball, this comic is interesting because of its depiction of adults revisiting their childhood memories.

BIRTHRIGHT #38 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Mikey, Rya and friends fight their way into Mastema’s lair, only to realize that she’s given up on both Earth and Terrenos. Meanwhile, Brennan uses his new astral projection powers to visit Kallista in prison. I feel like I have a fairly good handle on what’s going on in this series, even though I’m coming into it so late.

MY LITTLE PONY: FEATS OF FRIENDSHIP #1 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ian Flynn, [A] Tony Fleecs. This is Ian Flynn’s first pony comic, although he has extensive experience writing other licensed-property comics for kids. It’s also the first pony comic starring the Young Six. The school is hosting a “Feats of Friendship” competition, and Twilight asks the Young Six to form a team along with a new transfer student named Swift Foot. It soon becomes clear that Swift Foot is another Cozy Glow, and she intentionally ruins the Young Six’s friendship by exploiting their racial tensions – for example, the fact that Smolder’s friends haven’t helped her get food she can eat, or that Yona’s friends haven’t learned to speak yak. This is a really smart plot, and despite his lack of prior experience, Ian Flynn shows a solid understanding of the pony aesthetic.

DOOM PATROL: WEIGHT OF THE WORLDS #2 (DC, 2019) – “Space Divorce,” [W] Gerard Way, [A] Jeremy Lambert. The highlight of this issue is a giant double-page map of Danny the Planet. Also, Negative Man gives birth to three eggs, Lotion eats one of them, the Doom Patrol resolves a “space divorce” between two planets, and then the egg Lotion ate combines with Negative Man to turn him into Positive Man. So this is another bizarre and brilliant issue. Jeremy Lambert’s art in this issue is phenomenal, especially the two-page splash at the end with Lotion embracing the two planets. He’s going to be a star artist.

HASHTAG: DANGER #4 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Three on a Bulls-Eye! Part 1,” [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Chris Giarrusso. The Hashtag Danger crew go back in time to visit a “World Fiduciary Council” party, because photos show that they were already there. When they get to the event, they discover that the people in the photos were impostors who had a plan to destroy the world’s monetary supply. This is another funny issue, though Hashtag Danger is still my least favorite Ahoy title.

IMMORTAL HULK #22 (Marvel, 2019) – “Who’s There,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. Doc Samson, Absorbing Man, Titania and Puck (just noticed that those are both Shakespearean fairy names) teleport into Fortean’s base for a surprise attack. But it turns out Fortean predicted they were coming. What he didn’t predict was that Hulk and Betty are also invading the same base at the same time. This is another strong issue.

LOIS LANE #2 (DC, 2019) – “Enemy of the People Part Two,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. Lois investigates a scandal involving a businessman named Agger (a reference to Dario Agger from Marvel?), but before he can tell her anything, he’s murdered. Meanwhile, the Question continues investigating a mysterious plot that involves Russian agents. This is a pretty standard Greg Rucka comic. I like how Perry White prints out Lois’s story because he can only edit on paper. I’m the opposite.

BERSERKER UNBOUND #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Mike Deodato Jr. The Mongrel King, who is basically Conan, returns from an adventure to find his wife and daughter murdered. In his grief, he wanders into a time portal to the 21st century. Berserker Unbound #1 is a below-average Jeff Lemire comic. The main emphasis is on the artwork rather than the writing, and Mike Deodato’s art is good, but not good enough to carry the entire comic by itself. Also, the idea of Conan visiting the modern era is no longer original.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Portal City of Pan Part 1,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Nico Leon. A businessman named Mike Nguyen uses portals to connect all of Asia’s biggest cities into a single super-metropolis, Pan. The city of Pan even has its own new superhero. The name Pan is a nice pun on the term “pan-Asian,” and this comic has a lot of fun moments, including some references to food. I wish this series was an ongoing and not a miniseries. Marvel’s Asian and Asian-American characters deserve more than just nine issues.

ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE – 10TH ANNIVERSARY #1 (Archie, 2019) – two untitled stories, [W] Michael Uslan, [A] Dan Parent. I did not like the “Archie Marries Veronica” story in this issue. In the first place, Veronica and Hiram Lodge are horrible people, and Hiram forces his son-in-law to overwork himself, at the expense of his marriage and family life. In the second place, Dan Parent’s artwork and facial expressions aren’t suited to this story. When Archie asks Veronica if she’s leaving him, he just looks mildly surprised, not terrified. The “Archie Marries Becky” story is much better. Somehow Dan Parent is able to convincingly convey the emotion Archie feels when he has to put his father in a nursing home, even though he couldn’t convince the reader that Archie was worried about his marriage.

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