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Reviews for five weeks

11-14-2019

I’m writing this on November 14, the day after Tom Spurgeon’s death. Tom was a friend of mine, and he was my ideal of what a comics critic should be. He read everything, and did so with great sympathy and generosity, and he cultivated personal friendships with hundreds of creators. I honestly often envied him. It’s sad to think that I’ll never again see him at a convention or academic conference.

A few more comics from the week of October 18:

STATIC #39 (DC, 1996) – “Half a Pint Will Do It,” [W] J.C. Ching, [A] Jeff Moore. Static fights a mad scientist named Dr. Kilgore who’s been using Static’s donated blood to give himself superpowers. Static also learns that his best friend Frieda is anorexic. This issue is okay, but forgettable.

KÀ BY CIRQUE DU SOLEIL #2 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Bryan L. Glass, [A] Wellington Alves. This free promotional comic is an adaptation of a Cirque du Soleil stage show. Unlike some of the other promotional comics I’ve read recently, Kà #2 is actually mildly interesting. The Kà stage show was vaguely based on Chinese and Egyptian cultural references, but because of its lack of a specific, well-defined cultural background, it feels universal. However, while Kà #2 isn’t terrible, interesting enough that I’d want to pay actual money for the rest of the series.

KINGS WATCH #1 (Dynamite, 2013) – untitled, [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Marc Laming. I believe this was the first comic set in Dynamite’s King Features shared universe. So it introduces Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician, the Phantom, and Lothar, and there’s a subplot in which an evil magician summons the demons of Mongo. This issue includes an entertaining fight scene between Lothar, Phantom and a giant dinosaur. But Jeff Parker’s most impressive achievement in the issue is to make Lothar an interesting and non-racist character, despite his origins as a colonialist stereotype.

STRAY BULLETS #29 (El Capitán, 2003) – “The Notebook,” [W/A] David Lapham. This issue begins with a three-page excerpt from a creepy, disturbing story about “Ronecles” and the “Bitch Queen.” We soon learn that this is from the notebook of Ron, a creepy murderer who kidnapped Virginia Applejack. Ron is already dead by this point, but Virginia was kidnapped again by an even worse character named Monster, and the rest of the issue depicts the police’s efforts to capture Monster and rescue his victims. This issue is a bit hard to follow, especially without prior knowledge of the Ron/Monster plotline, but it’s a great example of David Lapham’s gripping, brutal style.

SCARAB #3 (Vertigo, 1994) – “Moveable Feasts,” [W] John Smith, [A] Scot Eaton. John Smith is less famous than his contemporaries like Moore, Morrison or even Milligan, but he’s a unique and interesting writer. According to Wikipedia, Scarab started out as his proposal for a Dr. Fate series, but was deemed too radical and was changed to a miniseries starring a new character. In this issue, Scarab visits a town where all the women are mysteriously pregnant and almost all the men are gone. Scarab reminds me of Enigma because they’re both Vertigo superhero miniseries from almost the exact same time period, and so far I don’t like Scarab as much as Enigma, but I’d be willing to read more Scarab.

THE WAKE #3 (Vertigo, 2013) – “The Disaster,” [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Sean Murphy. The undersea base is invaded by some kind of fish monsters. These monsters communicate at the same frequency as the “52 whale,” a whale that sings at the frequency of 52 Hz. This creature really exists, and Snyder’s description of it is accurate. The Wake’s main appeal is Sean Murphy’s artwork, specifically his brilliant page layouts and his detailed depictions of machinery and undersea creatures. Unfortunately, Murphy’s faces are much less detailed or expressive than the other things he draws. If he could draw better faces, he’d be the perfect cartoonist.

AXE COP: THE AMERICAN CHOPPERS #2 (Dark Horse, 2014) – “The American Choppers, Chapter Two,” [W] Malachi Nicolle, [A] Ethan Nicolle. Axe Cop and his friends battle a horde of evil axes. There were moments in this issue that were mildly funny, and you can sort of see Malachi’s storytelling getting more sophisticated as he gets older. However, I still think this entire series is exploitative and unethical, and its gimmick (that an adult illustrates a kid’s stories) is only funny the first time.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #8 (Image, 2013) – “They Rule,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. This issue consists of two simultaneous fight scenes, one taking place in Star City and another on a space station. My problem with Manhattan Projects is that first, it’s poorly paced; it’s one shocking moment after another, with no time for the reader to absorb the shocks. But second and more importantly, it has no sympathetic characters. Every character in the series, even Albert Einstein, has selfish motivations and/or is too bizarre and superhuman to sympathize with. As a result, I have no reason to care what happens to any of them.

THE KENTS #7 (DC, 1998) – “Brother Against Brother Part 3,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tim Truman. I located my copies of the remaining issues of this series, and so I was able to finish reading it. In The Kents #7, Jeb meets his illegitimate son, then he meets Jesse James and participates in a massacre of unarmed Union troops. Meanwhile, Joshua saves Mary Glenowen from being raped by Jim Lane, and then meets a famous young actor named John Wilkes Booth.

On October 26, I went to the Heroes Pop Swap event. It ended up being disappointing. The last two times I went, there was one vendor who had a bunch of underground and alternative comics, but he wasn’t there this year. I ended up buying just a few things, most notably a collection of comics by Rian Hughes. The following two comics were among my purchases:

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #17 (Marvel, 2013) – “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Ryan Stegman. Spider-Man 2099 goes back in time to prevent his ancestor, Tiberius Stone, from being killed. Back in the present, Liz Allan’s chemical company – which will become Alchemax – buys out Peter Parker’s company and installs the very same Tiberius Stone as Peter’s boss. The issue ends with Spider-Man 2099 meeting the Superior Spider-Man. This is another excellent Dan Slott Spider-Man comic, and I really like how he writes Miguel O’Hara; he clearly knows that character’s original series very well.

FATIMA: THE BLOOD SPINNERS #3 (Dark Horse, 2012) – untitled, [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. This was one of a few different miniseries that Beto published at Dark Horse. It’s a science fiction/horror adventure story with a female protagonist. It has the same sort of body horror as Blubber, but with an actual plot. Fatima is exciting and well-drawn, and it’s essential for a Hernandez Brothers completist, but it’s not Beto’s best work.

Some new comics were waiting for me when I got home:

LUMBERJANES #67 (Boom!, 2019) – “It’s a Myth-tery Part 3,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha C. Bryant. Diane summons some cute dogs to track down Freya, and this leads to an epic confrontation between the two goddesses, which will be resolved next issue. Also, we get some background on Emily from the Zodiac cabin: she gets teased at school because her parents run an alien-themed restaurant, so she wants to prove that aliens really exist. When Diane shoots an arrow through Freya’s cape, Mackenzie says “Nice shot!” and Diane replies “Eh, I was aiming for her leg.” That may be a reference to a famous exchange from The Magnificent Seven: “That’s the greatest shot I’ve ever seen!” “The worst. I was aiming for the horse.”

SECOND COMING #4 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Jailbreak,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Richard Pace with Leonard Kirk. Jesus gets thrown in jail, where he reads the New Testament and is shocked to discover how his message has been distorted. Meanwhile, Sunstar and some other superheroes try to break Jesus out of jail, but it turns out to be unnecessary because Jesus gets released into their custody anyway. Here as elsewhere in this series, Jesus is presented as a truly compassionate man: the key line of the issue is when he says “To love those who offer you nothing in return is the only truly divine power you have.” In the letter column, a reader makes a good point when he says that Second Coming’s portrayal of God the father is extremely unflattering. However, this may be deliberate; God’s indifference and harshness are a powerful contrast to Jesus’s kindness. And the whole point of Jesus’s message, according to the New Testament, was to soften the cruel inflexibility of Moses’s laws.

DIAL H FOR HERO #8 (DC, 2019) – “The Many Transformations of Robby Reed,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Paulina Ganucheau & Joe Quinones. This issue is a brilliant experiment that reminds me of Watchmen #5 or Silver Surfer #11. It has two parallel stories, each drawn by a different artist. Robby Reed’s origin story, drawn by Paulina Ganucheau, is on the left-hand pages and reads front-to-back, while Mr. Thunderbolt’s origin story, drawn by Joe Quinones, is on the right-hand pages and is printed in reverse order. The idea is that you’re supposed to read the left-hand pages first until you get to the end, then read the right-hand pages backwards until you get back to the beginning. The trick is that adjacent pages also parallel each other; for example, pages 5 and 18 are next to each other, and they both end with two panels showing Robby and Mr. Thunderbolt (respectively) crying. And on pages 11 and 12, which are adjacent both physically and in narrative order, Robby/The Operator and Mr. Thunderbolt reach out their hands to each other across the page break. This issue is a spectacular use of the comic book format, and it wouldn’t work nearly as well in any other form. The only problem is that because of some unfortunate ad placement, page 14 is on the left when it should be on the right.

CRIMINAL #9 (Image, 2019) – “Restless Eyes,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue is narrated by Leo, who, as Brubaker notes at the end, has not starred in a story since #5 of the original series. Leo and Ricky make a brilliant plan to rob a video arcade, but Ricky almost ruins everything through his hotheadedness. This issue creates a fascinating contrast between Ricky’s impulsivity and Leo’s meticulous planning.

IMMORTAL HULK #25 (Marvel, 2019) – “Breaker of Worlds,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Germán García. In a total departure from the rest of the series, Immortal Hulk #25 takes place in the far future and is narrated by a nonhumanoid, nonbinary alien named Par%l. In a search for life anywhere else in the universe, Par%l and hir spouses encounter theBreaker of Worlds, i.e. the Hulk, and it doesn’t end well for them. With the last of hir energy, Par%l sends a “tiding-fly” back in time, where it’s recovered by the Leader. This is a fascinating and unique issue. I’ve never paid attention to Germán García’s art before, but he succeeds at making Par%l and her world look utterly alien. The most memorable line in the issue is “Par%l has never seen a face before.”

MIDDLEWEST #12 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. Fox goes back to the carnival to report that Abel and Bobby have been kidnapped. Abel and Bobby discover that they’ve been enslaved so they can work on Nicolas Raider’s ethol farms. Abel’s dad discovers that his son’s been abducted. This is a good issue, but it’s mostly just setup. Memorable moments in the issue include the first sight of the ethol farms, and Abel’s dad making an ass of himself while searching for his son.

ASCENDER #6 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. Another exciting issue. Andy is saved from drowning, only to be carted off as food for vampires. Mila and Telsa have a heart-to-heart talk. Mother realizes Mila’s importance and goes looking for her in person. At the end of the issue, Andy arrives at the vampire camp, where one of the vampires is none other than his “dead” wife Effie.

SERA AND THE ROYAL STARS #4 (Vault, 2019) -untitled, [W] Jon Tsuei, [A] Audrey Mok. I must have forgotten to order issue 3. In #4, Sera is traveling in the land of the dead with three of the four Royal Stars. They meet a council of underworld gods from various mythologies, including Osiris and Isis. Then the villains, Rastaban and Eltanin, show up, and Sera and the Bull have to flee together. Sera and the Royal Stars has some good dialogue and costume designs, but is otherwise a fairly average fantasy comc; however, as I’ve noted before, its use of Iranian mythology makes it fascinating.

FEARLESS #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Campfire Song Part 4,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Claire Roe, plus other stories. The heroes clean up after the alien invasion, and the camp session ends with a marshmallow roast. “Campfire Song” was a really sweet and subtle story, and it shows that Seanan McGuire has some real potential as a comics writer. Her writing somehow feels deeply human. There’s also a backup story starring Namorita, by Tini Howard and Rosi Kämpe. This story is most notable for some adorable seals. There’s another backup story by Trina Robbins and Marguerite Sauvage, which is less a story than an informational feature about Marvel’s female Golden Age creators. In general, Fearless was much more successful than previous “girl”-centered Marvel series, like Marvel Divas or Her-oes.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #11 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Zé Carlos & Ig Guara. At school, Miles has an uncomfortable encounter with Barbara, and then his racist dean puts him on academic probation. But Miles doesn’t have time to worry about that because he’s too busy hutning down some drug dealers. While doing so, he gets a text that the baby is coming early and there are complications. And then on the last page, he discovers that Uncle Aaron is hunting the same drug dealers. Oof. Poor Miles. The best moment of this issue is when one of the drug dealers speaks to another one in Spanish, and Miles says “Thanks for the lead,” then adds “¿No sabías que Spider-Man habla español?”

PRETTY VIOLENT #3 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [W] Jason Young. Gamma Rae teams up with another superhero to fight an underground monster, but she realizes that the monster is just trying to stop its food from being stolen, so she kills the other superhero instead. Then after some more unpleasant encounters with her new teammates, Gamma Rae returns home, where she finds that her brother Sludge has just captured and probably killed the underground creature she previously saved. This is a fun issue, but this series is already becoming rather repetitive. While writing this review, I spilled coffee on my stack of comic books. LLuckily only the top three comics were damaged.

WONDER WOMAN #81 (DC, 2019) – “Loveless Finale,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Tom Derenick. Atlantides becomes the new god(dess) of love, allowing them to empower Diana to defeat Cheetah. However, Diana and Steve still break up. Diana takes Cheetah to Themyscira and imprisons her, but in prison, Cheetah meets some other villains who I don’t recognize. That’s the end of Willow’s run. She was an excellent Wonder Woman writer, but I still feel that her Wonder Woman run could have been even better than it was. Even though she wrote more than 20 issues, her run wasn’t long enough. I’m not planning to continue reading this series after she leaves. I liked Steve Orlando’s Wonder Woman, but I’m not super excited about it.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #13 (Marvel, 2013) – “No Escape Part Three: The Slayers & the Slain,” [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Spidey/Doc Ock and a bunch of other people are trapped on the Raft with Alistair Smythe, Scorpion, Vulture and Boomerang. Spidey saves the hostages, but just when everything seems safe, Smythe shows up again and tries to transfer his mind into Spidey’s body. Of course, what he doesn’t know is that Doc Ock already did that. The issue ends with Mayor JJJ giving control of the Raft to Spidey so that he can turn it into Spider-Island II. This was another fun and cleverly plotted issue.

SHIPWRECK #1 (Aftershock, 2016) – “Augur,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Phil Hester. I had never heard of this series until I found this comic at Heroes Pop Swap. Shipwreck is about an astronaut who survives the crash of his spacecraft, only to discover that no one remembers his mission ever existed. He visits a restaurant where he meets a man who somehow knows about the mission, as well as a woman who’s cooking human flesh for some reason. This issue is an intriguing setup, but so far there’s not much to distinguish Shipwreck from any of Warren Ellis’s many other miniseries. I do like the combination of his writing with Phil Hester’s creepy art.

HELLBLAZER #60 (DC, 1992) – “Guys and Dolls Part Two: Nativity Infernal,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] William Simpson. Just before Christmas, John Constantine meets two young expectant parents, who turn out to be an angel and a demoness. While the demoness is giving birth, Constantine protects her and her boyfriend from being caught by demons. But he doesn’t realize that they’ve pissed off both heaven and hell, and that heaven’s vengeance is even worse. The demoness survives the birth, but the angel is killed, and the baby’s fate is left unrevealed. This issue used to be a target for speculation because it was considered the first appearance of Genesis from Preacher. However, Preacher is not set in the DC Universe, so the baby in this issue should be considered a prototype for Genesis, and not the same character.

DOCTOR MIRAGE #3 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Nick Robles. Shan Fong and Grace head into the underworld, which is illustrated with some really trippy art and coloring. Then a giant snake stabs Shan Fong with its tail. It’s weird that I’m suddenly down to just one Mags Visaggio comic a month (since I’m not reading Strangelands anymore).

IMMORTAL HULK DIRECTOR’S CUT #6 (Marvel, 2019) – “Action/Reaction,” [W] Holly Black, [A] Lee Garbett. Reginald Fortean continues to track the Hulk and his associates, and meanwhile, Captain Marvel organizes a new team of Hulkbusters. This is perhaps the least impressive of the first six issues, especially due to the lack of Joe Bennett art. However, one cool thing about this series is how Al Ewing seems to have taken into account every previous piece of Hulk continuity. This issue even includes a reference to Skaar, a character who seems to have nothing to do with this version of the Hulk.

GHOST-SPIDER #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Dog Days Are Over,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa. Gwen does some typical superhero stuff, and meanwhile Professor Guarinus (Warren) gives Benji a serum that turns her into a werewolf, but it wears off before anything fun happens. This is a rather low-intensity issue, but it’s full of good dialogue, and it just feels interesting even when not much is going on. Overall, I like Seanan McGuire’s writing. I had already read her novel Feed (published under another name) before I read any of her comics, and I want to read the sequel, Deadline, sometime soon.

THE TERRIFICS #21 (DC, 2019) – “If Me Could Turn Back Time Part 2,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Stephen Segovia. The Terrifics travel back to the ‘80s, where they pilot Voltron robots and fight a giant monster. Then they visit a disco and fight some Rocket Reds. This series isn’t anything great, but it’s fun enough that I’m willing to continue reading it.

MARVEL ACTION: SPIDER-MAN #10 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Delilah S. Dawson, [A] Davide Tinto. Amusingly, this issue’s artist and colorist are named Tinto and Pinto. This issue, the three Spider-people fight the Lizard and Venom. This series has never been very exciting, and #10 will be my last issue of it.

LITTLE BIRD #4 (Image, 2019) – “The Fight for Elder’s Hope Chapter Four,” [W] Darcy van Poelgeest, [A] Ian Bertram. I was surprised to see this on my DCBS shipping list. I forgot to order it when it was first solicited, but then it was solicited again, and I did order it that time. The main event of this issue is that Little Bird confronts her previously unknown brother. As throughout the series, Ian Bertram’s artwork in #4 is brilliant, but this comic would have had much more impact if I’d read it before #5.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR II #3 (Archie, 2019) – “A Kiss Before Dying,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Robert Hack. The Predators invade the high school dance, but the second version of Veronica sacrifices herself to save everyone else. There’s a truly disturbing panel where Veronica has a brilliant smile on her face even though her body is being torn apart by bullets. Robert Hack’s realistic, creepy artwork makes this series far scarier and darker than the previous Archie vs. Predator. The issue ends with Betty and Veronica making out in the shower, and probably satisfying lots of readers’ fantasies.

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Sacred and the Profane Part IV,” [W] Al Ewing & Jason Aaron, [A] Cafu. I guess this is an ongoing series, or as ongoing as any Marvel series is anymore. This issue, Mephisto hires the Grim Reaper to replace Jane Foster as the new Valkyrie. This is still possible since Jane hasn’t taken anyone to Valhalla yet, so she’s not officially a Valkyrie. Meanwhile, Jane’s roommate is unhappy to be sharing her apartment with a horse, but they put that discussion on hold to attend a lecture by Annabelle Riggs – who, by coincidence, previously served as the Valkyrie in the Fearless Defenders series. The lecture is interrupted when Annabelle accidentally summons Kaecilius, Adria and Demonicus, three inept villains who last appeared in Doctor Strange #56 in 1982. I was kind of delighted when I realized where I’d seen these characters before.

TOMMY GUN WIZARDS #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christian Ward, [A] Sami Kivelä. This series has been given a new title for its final issue, and no one knows what was wrong with its original title, but screw that. To me it’s always going to be Tommy Gun Wizards. It joins Tooth & Claw, Collider, and Hi Fi Fight Club in the club of comic books that were retitled midway through their run. Anyway, this issue the Untouchables have another battle with the mob, and meanwhile Elliot Ness’s home is invaded by wizards. Luckily it turns out that Elliot’s wife is capable of magically defending herself. Sami Kivelä’s artwork in this series is almost as impressive as if it were drawn by Christian Ward himself, and this may be because Christian Ward is responsible for the coloring.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Portal City of Pan Part 3,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Nico Leon. Luna Snow and Amadeus Cho are not happy at how their kiss has been monetized and broadcast worldwide. And they’re also unhappy that Isaac has been let into their headquarters. But at least they succeed in getting Mike Nguyen to admit the Madripoorean refugees. At the end of the issue, we discover that Isaac and the new Giant-Man are a potential couple. With so many other interesting comic books coming out, this series is kind of getting lost in the shuffle, but it’s quite good.

KING THOR #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “Gorr and the Last of the Gods,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Esad Ribic. King Thor is trying to create a new universe, but first he has to defeat Gorr, and it’s not going well. This comic isn’t bad, but as I already stated in my review of #1, I’ve never much liked Jason Aaron’s future Thor stories. I think the coolest thing in this issue is the giant space shark named Death Mouth, although I guess this character already existed.

BRASS SUN #1 (2000 AD, 2014) – untitled, [W] Ian Edginton, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. An exciting discovery from Heroes Pop Swap. Brass Sun is a comic-book-sized version of a story that was previously published in 2000 AD. It takes place on a clockwork-powered planet which is slowly running out of energy, causing an ice age. However, the planet’s tyrannical rulers are unwilling to admit this (note the analogy to climate change). The protagonist, Wren, is the granddaughter of a scientist who is arrested for spreading the truth about the loss of power. Wren escapes and finds herself outside her planet, which, as she discovers, is just one of the globes on a giant solar-system-sized orrery. The premise of Brass Sun is fascinating, and INJ Culbard’s artwork creates a powerful sense of wonder. I hope I can find more issues of this series.

DOCTOR STRANGE AND THE SORCERERS SUPREME #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Robbie Thompson, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This miniseries begins with a flashback in which Merlin imprisons an evil creature behind a giant door. Then in the present, Merlin summons Dr. Strange to join him and fight alongside a bunch of other Sorcerers Supreme against the same evil creature, or something allied to it. This series’ story is just average, but Javier Rodriguez’s artwork is incredible. Besides being an excellent visual storyteller, he also draws some great Ditkoesque and Lovecraftian creatures. And there’s one beautiful two-page spread that shows Doc and Merlin traveling through the “backroads of time,” walking past various other versions of themselves.

UNCANNY X-MEN #239 (Marvel, 1988) – “Vanities,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Marc Silvestri. This issue is a prelude to Inferno, and it’s full of weird stuff. Most of the issue is narrated by Mr. Sinister as he thinks about how to manipulate the X-Men. One notable occurrence in this issue is that Storm discovers Jean Grey has come back to life. It’s surprising that Storm didn’t discover this until at least three years (real time) after it happened. I guess she was busy with other things, but I wonder if there was some behind-the-scenes reason why Jean couldn’t appear or be mentioned in the pages of Uncanny X-Men. Later in the issue, Havok and Maddy Pryor sleep together for perhaps the only time.

THE KENTS #8 (DC, 1998) – “Brother Against Brother Conclusion,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tim Truman. In a rather cathartic scene, Mary Glenowen beats Jim Lane with a whip. Wild Bill Hickok encounters Jonah Hex and narrowly escapes being shot by him. Nathaniel Kent tracks down Jim Lane, but finds that Mary has left for parts unknown. Meanwhile, Jeb’s pal Bill Anderson is killed, and Jeb has to go into hiding. The war ends, but Nathaniel is still looking both for Mary and for Joshua Freeman’s father. The Jonah Hex scene in this issue is interesting, but feels tacked on. As repeatedly discussed in this series’ letter columns, The Kents’ DC Universe connections are not truly necessary to its plot, but the editors were afraid that no one would buy it without those connections.

THE KENTS #9 (DC, 1998) – “To the Stars by Hard Ways, Part 1,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tom Mandrake. For the last four issues, Tim Truman is replaced as artist by Ostrander’s second greatest collaborator, Tom Mandrake. In #9, Nathaniel finds the Delaware Indian village where Mary is living, but she hides from him. Nathaniel then witnesses Bill Hickok’s famous duel with Dave Tutt, and saves Hickok from an ambush. Meanwhile, Jeb joins the infamous James-Younger gang. At the end of the issue, Nathaniel Kent confronts Jim Lane again and refuses to be baited into killing him. Lane then kills himself, as he did in real life. It’s a nice coincidence that the historical Kansas politician Jim Lane has the same last name as Lois Lane, though it would have been better if he were named Lang, since Lois Lane didn’t grow up in Smallville.

MAGNUS, ROBOT FIGHTER #13 (Gold Key, 1966) – “The Evil Ark of Doctor Noel,” [W] Herb Kastle, [A] Russ Manning with Mike Royer. I’ve already read this because it was reprinted in Vintage Magnus Robot Fighter #3, which I have. However, that comic has some ugly recoloring, and it doesn’t include the Captain Johner and the Aliens backup feature from the original issue. In Magnus #13, the anti-robot crusader Dr. Noel kidnaps Leeja and a bunch of people and puts them on a spaceship, intending to take them to another planet and create a robot-free society. Of course, Magnus foils this plan and rescues Leeja. Manning’s artwork in this issue, as always, is incredible; he had a superhuman ability to draw realistic machinery and thrilling physical action sequences. Herb Kastle’s story expresses what must have been a very real anxiety about whether automation was compatible with human society. Dr. Noel wants to get rid of all robots, while Magnus, despite being a professional robot fighter, still believes that people and robots can learn to live together. (Neither of them seem to care what the robots think.) The weak link in this issue is Leeja, who acts like a useless hostage and can’t even help Magnus save her.

ELFQUEST: SHARDS #7 (WaRP, 1995) – “Heart,” [W] Wendy& Richard Pini, [A] Brandon McKinney. This issue’s plot is really complicated, but the main event is that the human Shuna tries to organize a revolt against the tyrannical Grohmul Djun, with the aid of the elves Strongbow, Krim and Skot. A surprising moment in this issue is when Krim and Skot both agree that they’ve lived too long and they don’t mind if they get killed on this mission. Since the elves almost all look very young, it’s easy to forget how old some of them are.

MIND THE GAP #2 (Image, 2012) – “Intimate Strangers Part 2: Two Nobodies,” [W] Jim McCann, [A] Rodin Esquejo. I didn’t quite understand this comic’s plot, but it seems to be about near-death experiences; the main character has the power to see ghosts, or something. The most notable thing about this issue is that it has full interior art by Rodin Esquejo, who is better known (at least to me) as the cover artist for Morning Glories. Reading this issue, I see why he’s mostly a cover artist. He draws beautiful faces, but his panel-to-panel continuity could be better.

HELLBOY: DARKNESS CALLS #6 (Dark Horse, 2007) – untitled, [W] Mike Mignola, [A] Duncan Fegredo. This issue is #32 in internal numbering. It has an incomprehensible plot involving Koshchei, the Dagda, etc. The letters page includes some interesting discussion of Fegredo’s art. Apparently some people were opposed to the main Hellboy series being drawn by anyone besides Mike, and he was also accused of being a Mignola clone. In a letter column response, Scott Allie points out that Fegredo had been using this style longer than Mignola had. However, for my part, I think Fegredo’s artwork is less interesting in this series than in Enigma. It kind of does feel like he’s imitating Mignola, rather than drawing in his natural style.

ATOMIC ROBO: DOGS OF WAR #4 (Red 5, 2008) – “Nemesis,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. Robo teams up with Sparrow to fight Helsingard and a bunch of Nazi zombies. The main appeal of this issue is the many funny interactions between Robo and Sparrow.

CONAN THE CIMMERIAN #22 (Dark Horse, 2010) – “The Island: Iron Shadows in the Moon, Part 1,” [W] Tim Truman, [A] Paul Lee & Tomas Giorello. Having just escaped the massacre of the Kozaks, Conan rescues a slave woman named Olivia, and they discover an island full of weird statues. Meanwhile, some Red Brotherhood pirates are headed for the same island. Tim Truman wrote Conan in a style based heavily on that of REH himself, and perhaps because of this, I think his Conan stories are less interesting than those of Roy Thomas, Kurt Busiek or Jason Aaron.

My next shipment arrived on October 31:

GIANT DAYS: AS TIME GOES BY #1 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. A few months after graduation, Daisy and Susan are still meeting regularly, but Esther never shows up because her time is monopolized by her two emotion-vampire coworkers. Daisy and Susan succeed in freeing Esther from her coworkers’ grip and reminding her what she really wants. Besides being the best humor comic of the decade, Giant Days was a deeply authentic depiction of college life – especially when it was being unrealistic on purpose, like in this issue’s climactic scene where the two coworkers clone themselves. It’s fitting that the final issue of Giant Days is about the letdown and the hollowness that you feel when the college years end. I’m going to miss this series.

RUNAWAYS #26 (Marvel, 2019) – “Cannon Fodder II,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andres Genolet. The Runaways move into Doc Justice’s mansion, and Victor becomes the new Kid Justice. Doc Justice and Matthew are fun new characters, but I suspect Doc Justice has some kind of dark secret. The highlight of the issue is the closing scene where the cat brings Gib a mouse, and then Old Lace brings Gib a dead cat.

STAR PIG #4 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Delilah S. Dawson, [A] Francesco Gaston. Vess manages to defeat Echozar the squid dude, but then to free herself, she has to guess his favorite song. Which, amusingly, turns out to be “Octopus’s Garden.” Vess and Theo escape, and Theo thinks he’s receiving a call from his home planet. That’s the end of the series. It ends in a way that clearly points toward a sequel, and I hope we get one.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #6 (Image, 2019) – “Edge of Everything Part One,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. The ship lands on Vess’s planet (not the same Vess from Star Pig), but they have to leave at once because Vess’s family is on the outs with her. Then the ship is boarded by a pirate, and the issue ends with the pirate holding Grix hostage. The most interesting thing about this issue is the revelation that Vess’s species has four genders: right, left, up and down. I wonder how that works.

FANTASTIC FOUR: GRAND DESIGN #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Four Astronauts Walk into a Rocket,” [W/A] Tom Scioli. Tom Scioli is the perfect artist for this series because he started out as a Kirby imitator (see my review of Image Firsts: Gødland #1), but his style has evolved into something unique to him. So in drawing the Fantastic Four, he’s returning to the material he started from, but he’s approaching that material through the lens of his new style. FF: Grand Design #1 is different from X-Men: Grand Design because it’s a retelling of stories that were all done by a single writer-artist team. Therefore, Scioli doesn’t have to knit all these stories into a single coherent narrative, like Piskor did, because they already are one. Instead, what’s interesting about FF: Grand Design is the way Scioli interprets Lee and Kirby’s original comics. One notable thing about Scioli’s version of the FF is that he depicts Reed Richards as a rather creepy and dangerous character. Reed already was kind of a creep in the original stories, but that may have been unintentional.

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #1 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. A psychological horror story taking place on Brody Island, Maine, starring a young cop in training and his girlfriend. This first issue has no explicit supernatural elements, except the unexplained opening scene with the titular basketful of talking heads. So far this is a scary and exciting comic, and it has some definite Stephen King influences, including the Maine setting and the Shawshank Prison. Leomacs is an Italian artist who previously worked for Bonelli, and I can see some Italian features in his style.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Children of the Great Red Doom,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. This issue explains the origin of the creepy kids who have been following Conan around for the entire series. A horrible old witch is trying to revive the demon Razazel, but for that she needs the blood of the world’s greatest adventurer. She becomes pregnant by a less great adventurer, who she subsequently kills, and gives birth to twin children, Razza and Zazella. When the kids are older, Conan nearly kills their mother, and then the kids follow him around until he’s old and his blood is as strong as possible. Finally, the kids succeed in killing Conan, or so it seems. Disturbingly, this issue almost makes me sympathize with Razza and Zazella: they were raised by an insane murderess, so they don’t understand that their actions are wrong.

SANDMAN UNIVERSE PRESENTS HELLBLAZER #1 (DC, 2019) – “The Best Version of You,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Marcio Takara. At some point in the near future, John Constantine watches helplessly as an evil grown-up Tim Hunter terrorizes the world. As he’s about to die, Constantine is approached by his own future self, who offers to save the day in exchange for Constantine’s soul. Constantine is forced to agree, and then he wakes up in a mental hospital. He gets out and finds himself in the dystopian London of 2019. I’m not sure where this story is going, but it’s interesting, and it feels like a classic Hellblazer comic. Si Spurrier seems to have an ability to inspire his artists to surpass themselves. Marcio Takara has never impressed me before, but in this issue his depictions of magical battles are breathtaking.

IRONHEART #11 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. This issue starts with a flashback to Riri’s childhood, when she was first told that her father was dead. This flashback scene is the high point of the issue. Little Riri reminds me a bit of Lunella Lafayette, but she’s not the same character at all. Then we pick up from the end of #10, with Riri watching her father’s conversation with the other Ten Rings. Riri and her allies fight the Ten Rings and lose, but Riri reveals herself to her father.

MY LITTLE PONY: FEATS OF FRIENDSHIP #2 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ian Flynn, [A] Tony Fleecs. Swift Foot continues to sabotage the Young Six’s efforts. This issue is pretty much a rehash of last issue. The best part is the bridge-building contest where each team is given only some of the necessary materials to build the bridge, and they’re supposed to team up and share materials. But they don’t figure that out because of Swift Foot’s meddling.

JOKER: KILLER SMILE #1 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. This prestige-format miniseries has a similar plot to Watchmen #6, the issue with the psychiatrist, except the client is the Joker instead of Rorschach. And it quickly becomes clear that the Joker has evil intentions toward the psychiatrist and his family. This issue has some gorgeous art. There are few if any of the radical page layouts Sorrentino uses in Gideon Falls, but he alternates between drawing in a coarse style and a much slicker, more colorful style. There’s even one sequence that’s drawn to look like a children’s book. The main problem with this comic is that I’m sick of the Joker. I think this character’s storytelling potential has been exhausted. There are only so many different stories you can tell about an insane lunatic who murders people for no reason. Also, it’s obvious that the psychiatrist’s wife and child are going to get killed, and I would just as soon not read about that.

ARCHIE 1955 #2 (Archie, 2019) – “Don’t Stop the Bop!”, [W] Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, [A] Tom Grummett & Rick Burchett. Archie’s first record is a hit, but Chuck Clayton is pissed at him for stealing his sound from a black musician. At Chuck’s behest, Archie apologizes to Big Earl and promises to pay any musician whose songs he uses. At first I was annoyed at this because it seemed overly simplistic, and also it was an example of how black people are always expected to forgive white people. But as it turns out, Mark and Brian anticipated that objection. When Hiram Lodge gives Archie a recording contract, he insists on a clause that enforces his promise to Big Earl, but Hiram tells his lawyer to write that clause in such a way that it’s unenforceable. So Archie 1955 is more complicated than it looks at first. It delves into rock music’s roots in exploitation – of black musicians by white musicians, and of ignorant young artists by record companies.

ETHER: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF VIOLET BELL #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. Boone fights a combat sarcophagus. Then Boone and Glum (the ape dude) get aboard a pirate ship and sail through a sea of hallucinations to the island of the Seven Lucky Gods. That plot summary sounds awesome, but this issue is fairly mundane compared to other issues of Ether. Again, the best part of this series is David Rubín’s art, with its brilliant linework and its visual creativity.

INVISIBLE WOMAN #4 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Mattia De Iulis. Sue tries to complete a spy mission to save some hostage children, but Maria Hill shows up and prevents her from retrieving the McGuffin. Despite some good artwork, this issue was tedious to read, and I can’t remember much about it. As I mentioned in my review of #2, because Sue, unlike the male members of the FF, is defined by her relationships to others, it’s not clear what an Invisible Woman solo story should look like. However, I don’t think it should look like this, because this Invisible Woman miniseries feels like any generic spy story with a female protagonist.

TEST #5 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Jen Hickman. I can’t describe what happens in this issue, except that Aleph Null is either stuck in a time loop, or he’s the latest in a series of other incarnations of himself. This series never made much sense to begin with, and each issue has been more opaque than the last. It feels like it has an important statement about identity or gender or something, but that message went straight over my head.

WARLORD OF MARS ATTACKS #5 (Dynamite, 2019) – “The Future of Worlds,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Dean Kotz. Edgar Norman is really dead, but John Carter’s Martians defeat the evil Martians and turn them into productive citizens, and everyone lives happily ever after. This was a fun miniseries. It’s also the last Dynamite comic I’ll be reading for the foreseeable future.

BLACK PANTHER #17 (Marvel, 2019) – “Two Thousand Seasons,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Daniel Acuña. Another issue with lots of talk, but little action or characterization. It’s strange that such a dialogue-heavy comic is lacking in characterization, but the characters mostly talk about plot-related and philosophical topics, in a way that reveals little about their personalities. I’ve decided I’ve had enough of this series. Its stories just go on and on indefinitely and never arrive anywhere. I’ve already ordered #18 and #19, but after that, I’m done.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #24 (DC, 2017) – “Out of This World,” [W] Sholly Fisch, [A] Dario Brizuela. The Scooby Gang team up with the Martian Manhunter and other alien superheroes (e.g. Starfire, Ultra the Multi-Alien and Mikaal Tomas) to protect them from the “Persons in Plaid,” i.e. Men in Black. This is a funny comic with an exciting and highly economical plot. I have a bunch of other issues of this series, and I should get around to reading them.

TOTALLY AWESOME HULK #19 (Marvel, 2017) – “Weapons of Mutant Destruction Prelude,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Robert Gil. Like TNC’s Black Panther, this series started out with a lot of hype, but gradually lost steam. This issue is part of some kind of crossover with Wolverine and Old Man Logan, and I don’t remember much about it at all.

LITTLE ARCHIE #165 (Archie, 1981) – “Here Comes the Jugarchie Mobile,” [W/A] Dexter Taylor. I bought this mistakenly thinking it had a Bob Bolling story. It does not, and as usual, Dexter Taylor is an inadequate replacement. Also, one of the stories in this issue includes some offensive Native American stereotypes, although it does end with Mr. Lodge helping the Native Americans recover their land.

THE KENTS #10 (DC, 1998) – “To the Stars by Hard Ways Part Two,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tom Mandrake. Jeb continues to make an ass of himself. Nathaniel Kent reunites Joshua Freeman with his father. Mary Glenowen and her people are forcibly relocated to Indian Territory. Nathaniel joins Custer’s cavalry and fights alongside Brian Savage, aka Scalphunter, but quits in disgust after the Washita Massacre. Much of this issue is devoted to summaries of post-Civil War history.

THE KENTS #11 (DC, 1998) – “To the Stars by Hard Ways Part Three,” as above. Jeb has some more adventures with other awful people, including John Welsey Hardin, and passes up a chance to murder Nathaniel in cold blood. With Scalphunter’s help, Nathaniel finally finds Mary Glenowen, and she agrees to marry him. One of my favorite moments in the series occurs when Mary tells Nathaniel that she’s so ignorant of her own culture, she thought the Delaware were one of the five Iroquois tribes – as she wrongly stated in issue 4. I think it’s very possible that this was not a deliberate error. Maybe Ostrander himself thought the Delaware were a member of the Iroquois Confederacy, and later discovered this was wrong. If so, he did a great job of turning a mistake into an opportunity for character development. Anyway, the issue ends with Nathaniel, now an expectant father, taking a job as the sheriff of a town called… Smallville.

THE KENTS #12 (DC, 1998) – “To the Stars by Hard Ways Finale,” as above. Several years after #11, Nathaniel and Mary have two children, who only appear in a couple panels; one of these must be the ancestor of Jonathan Kent. John Wesley Hardin murders Tobias Freeman. Jeb and his son, Taylor Beaumont, start their own gang, but when they plan a raid on the Smallville bank, Jeb realizes he can no longer control his son. He secretly warns Nathaniel about the raid in advance, and in the resulting gunfight, Taylor kills his own father, and Joshua Freeman kills Taylor. The series ends by describing the fates of some of the characters who really existed. Overall, this was an excellent series, perhaps DC’s best comic in the Western genre since the ‘70s. It would have been even better without all the DC Universe references, and its constant infodumps about Civil War history were sometimes tedious. However, in general, Ostrander, Truman and Mandrake succeeded in synthesizing actual Kansas history with a compelling story and well-realized characters. And I forgot to mention that Ostrander’s dialogue sounds like real 19th-century dialogue; his characters use words and speech patterns that seem historically authentic. It’s too bad this series never led to anything more. On the letters pages of the last few issues, there were suggestions that more Kents comics were forthcoming, but that proved to not be the case.

THE WEIRD WORLD OF JACK STAFF #6 (Image, 2011) – untitled, [W/A] Paul Grist. This issue has a complicated time-travel plot that revolves around something called the Mask of Destiny. As with #12 of the Dancing Elephant series, this issue’s story is told out of chronological order, making it even harder to follow than it already was. As usual, Grist’s storytelling and page layouts are excellent.

JON SABLE, FREELANCE #14 (First, 1984) – “The Wall,” [W/A] Mike Grell. This must be the oldest issue of Jon Sable that I hadn’t read already. It’s much better drawn than some of the late issues that I’ve read recently. It reminds me that at its peak, Jon Sable was a really fun series, and was certainly Grell’s masterpiece. In “The Wall,” Sable is approached by Misha Yurkovich, a Russian ballet dancer who has recently defected. Yurkovich hires Sable to help him rescue his wife, who is currently performing in East Berlin. Yurkovich must have been based on Mikhail Baryshnikov, although Baryshnikov was not married when he defected. Sable and Yurkovich manage to cross the Berlin Wall and get into the Berlin State Opera, but due to bad luck, Yurkovich has to perform alongside his wife in “Swan Lake’” before they can escape. The ballet sequence is the high point of the issue; it’s suspenseful and emotional at once, and it shows Grell’s skill with anatomy.

STATIC #12 (DC/Milestone, 1994) – “Getting Out,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Neil Vokes. I wonder if this is the only Milestone comic by an all-white creative team (edit: besides Xombi). (Kurt also wrote Icon #11, but it was drawn by Ron Wilson.) This issue isn’t terrible, but it’s effectively a Spider-Man story with Static substituted for Spider-Man. It doesn’t have the gritty realism or the distinctive characterization and dialogue of other issues of Static.

SUPERMAN #25 (DC, 2017) – “Fade to Black Chapter 6: Black Dawn,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [W/A] Patrick Gleason, [A] Doug Mahnke. Yet another issue that makes utterly no sense if you haven’t read the entire storyline in order. I guess I could get Superman #21-23 and then read the entire series at one sitting, but I don’t think it’s worth bothering. At least there are some cute moments in this issue; it sort of concludes the ongoing plotline about Jon’s friendship with Kathy Brennan, and there’s a funny cow-tipping scene at the end.

SAVAGE DRAGON #151 (Image, 2009) – “Shark Attack,” [W/A] Erik Larsen. Malcolm and Angel fight Mako and bicker a lot. This isn’t a standout issue, but it’s fun. I might start reading Savage Dragon again with #250, although I will be quick to drop it again if there’s any more exploitative sexual content.

THOR, GOD OF THUNDER #12 (Marvel, 2013) – “Once Upon a Time in Midgard,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Nic Klein. After a mission, Thor returns to Midgard and hangs out with a bunch of old friends. The centerpiece of the issue is the scene where Thor learns that Jane Foster has breast cancer. But this issue is full of great moments. Thor goes on a date with Roz Solomon and provides a last meal to a prisoner who’s about to be executed. And in a single two-page sequence, we see Thor feeding Brazilian orphans, talking with an old lama, scaring off Westboro Baptist Church protesters, and doing lots more stuff. This issue is very emotionally affecting, and it’s a good capsule summary of who Jason Aaron’s Thor is.

SUICIDE RISK #7 (Boom!, 2013) – untitled, [W] Mike Carey, [A] Elena Casagrande. Compared to #5, the only other issue of Suicide Risk that I’ve read, this issue is much more of a conventional superhero comic. Except that in the central scene of this issue, the “heroes” take over the city of Merida by simply murdering anyone who violates their curfew. This is a disturbing scene, but it also reminds me of lots of other superhero comics, e.g. The Authority or Squadron Supreme. I’m not sure what’s unique about this series. However, I’m becoming a Mike Carey completist – I just read his novel The Girl with All the Gifts – and I will plan on collecting more Suicide Risk.

WILD’S END: THE ENEMY WITHIN #1 (Boom!, 2015) – “Who Goes There?”, [W] Dan Abnett, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. I thought I’d already read this, but I actually read issue 1 of the first Wild’s End miniseries. The Enemy Within #1 introduces two new characters, the science fiction writers Runciman and Cornfelt, and establishes the setup for the rest of the series. Annoyingly, this issue ends with four pages of text in a faux-handwriting font that’s difficult to read. Other than that, this is a solid issue. I bought a lot of comics in 2015 that I shouldn’t have, but I don’t regret buying this miniseries, even though it took me four years to actually finish it.

CRITTERS #3 (Fantagraphics, 1986) – “Horse Thief,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Usagi rescues a horse from some bandits, but while trying to sell the horse, he runs into the person the bandits stole it from. Hijinks ensue. At the end, Usagi gives the horse to the two husband-and-wife woodcutters – I wonder if this issue is their first appearance. In this story Usagi acts more like a trickster than a noble samurai, and he does things that are more characteristic of Gen. Stan obviously hadn’t quite figured out who Usagi was yet. This issue also includes Gnuff and Birthright stories. I don’t understand how Birthright was even publishable. It had some interesting themes, I guess, but Steven Gallacci’s art is so crude that I can’t tell his characters from each other.

POWER PACK #4 (Marvel, 2000) – “Ascension,” [W] Shon Bury, [A] Colleen Doran. This isn’t the worst Power Pack comic ever, but it’s close. It’s just a mediocre superhero story with none of the spirit of the classic Power Pack stories. At least Colleen Doran draws realistic-looking children, although in my opinion, her characters tend to be excessively cute.

Y: THE LAST MAN #42 (Vertigo, 2006) – “1,000 Typewriters,” [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Goran Sudzuka. The first half of this issue is a flashback to Ampersand’s origin story. Then there’s another flashback where Yorick tracks down his old lab partner Kevin, thinking that Kevin might share Yorick’s immunity to the plague. But it turns out Kevin died and was eaten by his cats, a fate which probably awaits me as well. The rest of the issue is a bunch of plot that I don’t understand.

WOLVERINE #17 (Marvel, 1989) – “Basics!”, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] John Byrne. Since I started these reviews in 2013, this is the first comic I’ve read whose title was just “Wolverine.” This issue seems to lack a central theme, although most of it takes place in Madripoor, and its plot focuses on the villains Geist and Roughhouse. For some reason this issue includes a four-page sequence where Daredevil fights a man named Hammer Cody. This scene has nothing to do with Wolverine, and I can only assume that it started out as inventory material.

THE UNWRITTEN #51 (Vertigo, 2013) – “The Unwritten Fables Part 2: The Rescue,” [W] Mike Carey & Bill Willingham, [A] Peter Gross & Mark Buckingham. Although I can’t stand Bill Willingham, I have to admit that a crossover between Fables and The Unwritten is a logical and clever idea, and this issue is well-executed. The main plot is that Tommy Taylor and his two friends have to rescue the kidnapped Bigby Wolf. Bill Willingham really is a talented writer; it’s a pity that his politics and public persona are so toxic.

EAST OF WEST #10 (Image, 2014) – “A Sea of Bones,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Dragotta. This comic’s plot makes no sense, but it has some interesting characters and settings, and Nick Dragotta’s art is quietly effective. I’d be much more interested in reading more of this series, as opposed to The Manhattan Projects.

ELFQUEST: HIDDEN YEARS #9 (WaRP, 1993) – “The Enemy’s Face,” [W] Wendy Pini & Sarah Byam, [A] Paul Abrams. This issue is Rayek’s origin story. It narrates his birth, Leetah’s birth, and the origin of his hopeless passion for her. It helps the reader understand how Rayek got so screwed up, which is important because Rayek is the primary antagonist of the series, and his obsession with Leetah and then Winnowill is one of the central driving forces of Elfquest’s plot. Rayek’s obsession with Leetah seems even creepier, and quasi-incestuous,when you discover that he babysat her in her infancy.

INJECTION #3 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Declan Shalvey. Several different characters investigate a plague of spriggans and other mythological creatures. I guess the premise of this series is that something called the Injection is causing fictional and phenomena to become real. I don’t understand how all the plots and concepts in this issue are connected, but Warren’s writing is sophisticated and intriguing. Declan Shalvey makes the spriggan look really cool, and there’s an impressive two-page sequence in which this creature explodes.

VERTIGO VÉRITÉ: THE UNSEEN HAND #1 (Vertigo, 1996) – “The Party’s Over,” [W] Terry LaBan, [A] Ed Hillyer (as Ilya). Mike is an ordinary student of economics. On his deathbed, Mike’s supposed father confesses that Mike’s real father was an economist named Conrad Dank, a member of a secret banking cabal. This cabal actually controls the entire world economy, and they created the myth of the “invisible hand” to conceal their existence. Now that Mike knows this, he has to save himself from being assassinated so that he can reveal the truth. This comic’s premise (the banking cabal thing) sounds like a sophisticated critique of capitalism, but it also has echoes of the Q conspiracy theory or the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. And in its second half, the comic degenerates into a bunch of silly action sequences. Still, I would buy the other three issues of this miniseries if I came across them.

THE VISITOR: HOW & WHY HE STAYED #4 (Dark Horse, 2017) – untitled, [W] Mike Mignola & Chris Roberson, [A] Paul Grist. I’m mostly interested in this comic because of Paul Grist’s beautifully economical art. But this issue also has a very poignant story. It focuses on the Visitor’s relationship with his wife or girlfriend, Ruby, who suffers from dementia and then dies. Since the Visitor is an alien with a long lifespan, he has to watch Ruby’s slow decline while being in perfect health himself. Ruby is black, while the Visitor is an alien who can pass as white, and Mignola and Roberson make a reasonable effort to address the racial aspects of their relationship.

THE FURTHER FATTENING ADVENTURES OF PUDGE, GIRL BLIMP #2 (Star*Reach, 1975) – various segments, [W/A] Lee Marrs. Pudge runs out of money, so she has to take a series of disastrous jobs. The most memorable one is at a co-op store in Berkeley, where her bosses are all “groovy and mellow,” but she gets paid $20 a week and doesn’t get breaks. Reminds me of working at Whole Foods. And then the store goes out of business before her second shift. Meanwhile, Pudge’s attempts to lose her virginity are equally futile, though she does hit it off with a man who, inconveniently, is a cop. This comic has an epic scope, with 48 pages of cluttered panels (hence why it took me so long to read it), and it feels like an authentic depiction of life in San Francisco in the hippie era. Pudge is a lovable character. Overall, Pudge, Girl Blimp is probably my favorite feminist underground comic, and it’s a shame that it only lasted three issues. Lee Marrs is an underappreciated genius. Pudge, Girl Blimp is currently in print again, but in a print-on-demand edition. It would be nice if some other publisher, ideally Fantagraphics, would make this work available to a wider audience.

TARZAN #137 (Gold Key, 1963) – “Where Time Stood Still,” [W] Gaylord Du Bois, [A] Jesse Marsh. Tarzan visits a city of ancient Egyptians, and helps the local princess escape with her lower-class boyfriend. This story makes an attempt at historical accuracy, and Du Bois comes up with a plausible reason why these Egyptians have kept their traditional culture for thousands of years. I’ve never quite warmed to Jesse Marsh’s art, but his visual storytelling in this issue is effective. In the second story, Boy teams up with a Tuareg boy against some criminals. There’s also a short Brothers of the Spear story with art by Russ Manning.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #94 (Marvel, 1980) – “Darkness, Darkness…,” [W] Steven Grant, [A] Mike Zeck. Spider-Man and the Shroud fight Dansen Macabre. This villain later appeared in Avengers West Coast #78, one of the first comic books I ever owned. The Shroud and Dansen Macabre are priests of Kali and Shiva respectively, and this comic includes a lot of misinformation about Hindu religious beliefs, although it’s not as bad as Thor #301 (the one where Thor fights Shiva and wins). Other than that, this issue is forgettable.

SPIDER-MAN 2099 #5 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Peter David, [A] Rick Leonardi. This issue begins with a monologue by Lyla, Miguel O’Hara’s annoying holographic assistant. But besides that, there’s little in this issue that reminds me of the classic Spider-Man 2099 series. It’s mostly just a confusing and pointless installment of Edge of Spider-Verse.

ABE SAPIEN #13 (Dark Horse, 2014) – “The Healer,” [W] Mike Mignola & Scott Allie, [A] Sebastián Fiumara. Yet another Hellboyverse comic that makes no sense if you aren’t reading the other Hellboyverse comics. The cover says “starting point for new readers,” but that’s a lie. The writers make no attempt to ease new readers into the story. There’s also a backup story starring the BPRD, with art by Guy Davis.

MANHUNTER #12 (DC, 2005) – “Manhunted Part 3: Masks Upon Masks,” [W] Marc Andreyko, [A] Javier Pina. Chase and Josiah Power try to solve the murder of Kirk DePaul, the Paul Kirk clone from Power Company. The prime suspect is another former Manhunter, Mark Shaw. Meanwhile, Ramsey’s dad has a tense encounter with Ramsey’s grandfather on the other side.

UNCANNY X-MEN #531 (Marvel, 2011) – “Quarantine Part Two,” [W] Matt Fraction & Kieron Gillen, [A] Greg Land. In this story, the mutants on Utopia island are under quarantine due to a deadly flu virus. The main villain of the issue is Sebastian Shaw. This story is okay, but not nearly as impressive as you would expect from these writers.

New comics received on November 9:

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1 (DC, 2019) – “The Legion of Super-Heroes!,” [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] Ryan Sook. The Legion is my favorite comic book series ever, but my joy at its return is tempered by my frustration that the new Legion title is written by Bendis. The good news is that first, the Legion is the one comic where Bendis’s writing style is an actual asset. In a series with 30 main characters, the only way to give them all sufficient exposure is to include a ton of simultaneous dialogue. Second, Ryan Sook’s Legion designs are spectacular. I recently had an uncomfortable conversation that made me realize just how white the old Legion was, even though it had some token POC and alien characters. This series corrects that problem, presenting a Legion where every Legionnaire looks diverse and unique. The new versions of Triplicate Girl and Blok are especially stunning. The big problem is that so far, most of the Legionnaires have no individual personalities. I can’t even tell who some of them are. Bendis introduces the “Frichtman tags” (named after Matt Fraction) that give each character’s name and powers, but he doesn’t use them consistently. I hope Bendis is able to provide more character development for all of the Legionnaires, not just the prominent ones like Saturn Girl, Brainiac 5 and Ultra Boy. Annoyingly, the next issue is going to be two weeks late.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #9 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. This issue is a powerful depiction of the psychological toll of a family member’s illness. Just as Ammi is saying “I almost feel like things can get back to normal,” Abu collapses, and the next panel cuts to Kamala sitting in a chair at the hospital with her head down. Kamala turns to Bruno for comfort, and near the end of the issue, they kiss. Meanwhile, Mr. Hyde invades the hospital for some reason, and Dr. Strange and Iron Man have a possible cure for Abu’s condition. In my opinion, Saladin Ahmed has been writing this series brilliantly. It feels like he really understands Kamala Khan, and has a coherent plan for how to move her character forward.

FANTASTIC FOUR #16 (Marvel, 2019) – “Point of Origin Part Three: Fantastic Planet,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Sean Izaakse. Thankfully this issue has no dialogue that needs to be translated. The Overseer tells Reed and Sue that in order to meet the threat of the Fantastic Four, he used cosmic radiation on his own people. That produced the Unparalleled, i.e. the superheroes, but also a bunch of awful monsters. Meanwhile, Ben fights those very same monsters, and then convinces him to join him against the Overseer and the Unparallelled. At the same time, Johnny finds himself falling for Sky, his promised soulmate. “Point of Origin” has been an extremely fun story so far.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #1 (Ahoy, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Peter Krause. The sequel to The Wrong Earth is actually a prequel, so it takes place before the two Dragonflies got switched. This issue has two parallel storylines in which we see how the two Dragonflies approach similar problems very differently. It also focuses on the Dragonflies’ relationships with their respective sidekicks. Dragonflyman and his Stinger have a supportive relationship, but the other Stinger, who IIRC dies before The Wrong Earth begins, feels constantly abused and underappreciated by Dragonfly. The high point of this issue is when Dragonflyman uses a judo hold to defeat a boxing kangaroo.

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule & Scott Snyder, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Sometime in the fairly near future, the human race is at risk of extinction from a deadly plague. A team of adventurers is assembled to look for a cure to the plague in the only place where such a cure might exist: a mysterious country that’s cut itself off from the outside world. That country is the United States of America. This is a brilliant setup; like Manifest Destiny, Undiscovered Country is based on the idea that America is a huge, unknown country where literally anything might exist. I’ve had mixed feelings about both Soule and Spencer’s work in the past, but in this issue they succeed in exploiting the potential of their premise. Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art is perhaps the best of his career. I especially like the bandits who ride around the desert in cars pulled by various giant animals.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #12 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garrón. As if Miles doesn’t have enough to worry about already, he has to stop the Prowler, aka Uncle Aaron, from committing an assassination. Then they both have to fight Man-Mountain Marko, and next issue, they’re both going to have to get from Upper Manhattan to Red Hook while being chased by a giant horde of villains. This is an exciting setup, but in the middle of all this fighting, Miles seems to have forgotten that his mother is about to give birth. I think Miles would be completely justified in leaving Uncle Aaron behind to fend for himself. And this premise raises some larger questions, which will hopefully be addressed in issue 13: Why is Miles required to bail out Uncle Aaron from yet another mess that he got himself into? Shouldn’t Miles be more worried about himself and his mother, who hasn’t done anything wrong? What should a Spider-Man do when faced with multiple conflicting “great responsibilities” at once?

MANIFEST DESTINY #38 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. Lewis and Clark try to come up with a way to feed the orphaned giant baby mole rats, but Collins solves the problem the easy way by killing the babies himself. This experience awakens Sacagawea to her own failure as a mother, and she starts taking better care of her baby. Meanwhile, the Spanish ghost continues to sow dissent. I’m glad this series is back.

DIE #9 (Image, 2019) – “Self-Insert,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Stephanie Hans. The imprisoned party members meet their jailor, who turns out to be Charlotte Brontë, and she explains the origin of Angria. I noticed the references to the Brontës in earlier issues, but this issue develops those references in great detail. It includes a lengthy account of the Brontës’ youth and their invention of the fictional realms of Glass Town, Angria and Gondol (usually spelled Gondal). I’m not quite sure how all this relates to Die’s overall plot, but it’s definitely relevant to the series’ themes. A key point of Die, and of Kieron’s work in general, is that storytelling is dangerous: when you tell a story, it has the power to get away from you and evolve in ways you don’t expect. The Brontë siblings’ storytelling experiment is an example of that, as is the role-playing game that sparked this series’ plot. This issue should be essential reading for anyone interested in the contemporary legacy of the Brontës. It also makes me want to read the Brontë juvenilia.

B.B. FREE #1 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Gabby Rivera, [A] Royal Dunlap. I hated Gabby Rivera’s previous comic, America. It was well-intentioned, but its plot was completely incoherent. Therefore, I was nervous about this series, but so far b.b. free is a tremendous improvement over America. It takes place in the flooded islands of Gainesville, Florida in 2232. The main character, b.b., runs a pirate radio station while trying to decide what to do when she turns 15 and becomes independent. Unfortunately, her domineering father refuses to let her leave the swamp for the outside world. This comic has a unique and fascinating setting, an interesting protagonist, and a compelling plot, most of which America lacked. I especially love how the artwork and coloring help to emulate the wet, sticky atmosphere of north Florida. The color scheme of this comic is unusual but effective because it’s dominated by yellow. I look forward to seeing wheret his seriesgoes.

IMMORTAL HULK #26 (Marvel, 2019) – “Status Quo Ante,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. Bruce announces Shadow Base’s existence to the world, then he and Amadeus Cho have a conversation in a diner over some clam chowder. The chef turns out to be Namor. Then we learn that Bruce’s broadcast ended with a declaration of war on the corporations responsible for climate change. And Dario Agger, the minotaur CEO of Roxxon, is not happy about that. This is another excellent issue that suggests intriguing new directions for the plot. I especially like the clever reveal of Namor. I was sorry to hear about Joe Bennett’s tragic loss of his child.

HEIST #1 (Vault, 2019) – “Or How to Steal a Planet,” [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Arjuna Susini. Paul Tobin is an excellent and underrated writer, so I was excited to see that he had a new original series. Heist is a science fiction comic in which the entire civilized universe was owned by the evil Dignity Corporation, except for the eponymous planet, Heist. That is, until fifteen years ago, when the protagonist, Glane Breld, betrayed Heist to the Dignity Corporation. Now Glane Breld is back on Heist, and he wants to steal the planet back. This comic isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s fun so far, and I want to read more of it. Arjuna Susini’s art reminds me of that of Neal Adams.

SPIDER-MAN & VENOM: DOUBLE TROUBLE #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] GuriHiru. This is about as simple a Spider-Man comic as you can get. It’s a very quick read, and its plot is so streamlined that Spider-Man doesn’t even have a secret identity; he just wears his costume all the time. Oh, and Venom is his roommate. Despite all that, this is a really fun comic, and the creators seem to have enjoyed themselves producing it. It includes multiple different versions of the Spider-Man theme song, as well as a two-page spread that’s formatted like a board game.

EVERYTHING #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “See Everything as a Dream,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. This series is almost as difficult as Test. It has a total lack of recognizable characters: every scene focuses on a different character, and none of them seems to be the protagonist. And I still don’t get what this series is about, except that all its plotlines focus in some way on the Everything shopping mall. The writer seems more interested in creating an eerie, oppressive mood than telling a story. I’m going to keep reading this comic for now, but I wish it would start going somewhere.

GREEN LANTERN: BLACKSTARS #1 (DC, 2019) – “Under the Sun at Midnight,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Xermanico. Now a member of the Blackstars, Hal meets some demons from Ysmault and leads an assault on Warworld. This issue is exciting, but not as clever or unique as the best issues of the previous volume. I’ve come to associate this series with Liam Sharp’s art, so his sudden absence is jarring.

WONDER TWINS #9 (DC, 2019) – “AfterMath,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. In order to help get Philo Math out of the Phantom Zone, Zan and Jayna have to reveal the black mark on their family’s history: their grandfather was responsible for exiling thousands of people to that same Phantom Zone. Meanwhile, the Scrambler makes another attempt at executing the Great Scramble, but instead he wakes up an evil AI that Philo Math created in the ‘80s. This is kind of a low-key issue, but next issue should be much more epic.

COPRA #2 (Image, 2019) – “Escape from A.R.M.,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. This issue is mostly a long fight between the Copra members and the A.R.M. villains. Michel’s art is more exciting than it was last issue; besides his amazing graphic techniques, he’s also very good at drawing action sequences. Gracie, whose body is just a solid black mass with white highlights, is especially striking.

BERSERKER UNBOUND #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Mike Deodato Jr. The Mongrel King and the old homeless man defeat the invaders from the past, then they return through the portal to the Mongrel King’s time period. This series was a severe disappointment and a big step down in quality from all of Jeff’s other recent work. It seems to have been intended as a showcase for Mike Deodato Jr’s art, but I don’t think his art is all that great to begin with.

THE DREAMING #15 (DC, 2019) – “The Crown, Part One,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. This issue follows Matthew as he visits the other inhabitants of the Dreaming, surveying their views on the new Lord of Dreams. It soon becomes clear that Wan is destroying everything that made the Dreaming worthwile. A particularly poignant moment is when Wan digitizes Lucien’s library and gets rid of all the books. This scene helps demonstrate why I think the “bookless library” is a stupid idea.

LOIS LANE #5 (DC, 2019) –“Enemyof the People Part Five,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. This issue is mostly plot. I must have been pretty tired when I read it, and it didn’t particularly impress me. Given the amount of panel time that Renee Montoya occupies, this series should have been called Lois Lane and the Question. One thing that does stand out about this issue is the opening scene, where Lois is on a plane, and her asshole seatmate claims that journalists just make stuff up. This scene is an effective response to Trump supporters’ constant assaults on journalism.

MARVEL ACTION: BLACK PANTHER #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Arianna Florean. Shuri accuses a traditional healer of being a quack. In response, the old lady curses her, and Shuri has to go on a quest to break the curse. This could easily have been a My Little Pony comic, with Twilight Sparkle and Zecora instead of Shuri and the old lady, except that comic would have been more fun. The only thing I like about this issue is the last page, with T’Challa and Shuri throwing water balloons at each other.

NO ONE LEFT TO FIGHT #5 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Aubrey Sitterson, [A] Fico Ossio. After a giant issue-long fight scene, Vâle defeats Bruton, but suffers life-threatening injuries. The miniseries ends on a cliffhanger, with a note telling the reader to ask for more No One Left to Fight. That’s very annoying; I wish Aubrey Sitterson had ended this series in a more satisfying way. Given the current state of the market, I’ll be surprised if there is a second volume of No One Left to Fight. (And even if there is, it might not be published in comic book format. I’m still annoyed that the second volume of Spell on Wheels was made trade paperback-only.)

DOOM PATROL: WEIGHT OF THE WORLDS #5 (DC, 2019) – “Ask Doom Patrol!”, [W/A] Becky Cloonan, [W] Michael Conrad. This issue introduces a new character, a kid who uses Doom Patrol comics for bibliomancy – i.e. he makes decisions by opening a Doom Patrol comic to a random page. While doing so, he accidentally falls inside a Doom Patrol comic, where he meets Robotman and Dorothy Spinner. Despite not being written by Gerard Way, this issue is faithful to the spirit of Gerard Way’s Doom Patrol. It’s also a clever piece of metafiction, and it has excellent art. It’s too bad that such a creative and entertaining series is getting cancelled, but I think its chronic lateness is partly to blame.

BATMAN #444 (DC, 1990) – “Crimesmith and Punishment,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Jim Aparo. Batman encounters a new villain called the Crimesmith, who is actually Bruce Wayne’s new employee Jeffrey Fraser. This issue is entertaining and has some nice Jim Aparo art, but it’s not especially memorable.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #9 (Image, 2013) – “Brave New World,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. The scientists assassinate Harry Truman and the other members of his secret cabal that rules the world. John F. Kennedy becomes the new president (which is odd, since he was not Eisenhower’s VP) and gives the “we choose to go to the moon” speech. This issue is full of bizarre plot twists and new characters, but none of them have any impact, because the protagonists are all totally unsympathetic and I don’t care what happens to them. This is the same problem as with God Hates Astronauts.

HELLBLAZER #3 (DC, 1987) – “Going For It,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] John Ridgway. On the eve of a British election, a demon-run company called Mammon Investments is getting rich by swindling people out of their souls. John Constantine saves the day by telling the CEO of Mammon that Labor is going to win the election, and that as a result the value of British souls is going to drop. This prediction actually does cause the soul market to collapse, and Mammon is closed down, saving the day. However, the Conservatives still win the election. I’m not sure I’ve summarized this plot correctly, but it made sense while I was reading it. This is perhaps the best Jamie Delano Hellblazer I’ve read, because it’s a straightforward and powerful satire of the unrestrained greed of Thatcher’s Britain.

DETECTIVE COMICS #633 (DC, 1991) – “Identity Crisis,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Tom Mandrake. Bruce Wayne wakes up one morning in the middle of the Gotham River. On his return to Wayne Manor, he can’t find the Batcave, and Alfred and Tim Drake don’t believe he’s Batman. Also, there’s another Batman running around Gotham, and it’s not him. At the end of the issue, we learn that the “Bruce Wayne” we’ve just been reading about is not Batman. He’s a young psychic called the Synaptic Kid, and in trying to discover Batman’s secret identity, he drove himself crazy and became a mental vegetable. This is an effective twist ending, although it’s not a new one. This trope, where the character we thought was the protagonist turns out to be an impostor, was also used in the Deep Space Nine episode “Whispers,” and, long before that, in Philip K. Dick’s short story “Impostor.” In fact, TVTropes has an entire page of examples of this plot, which they call Tomato in the Mirror.

ELFQUEST: HIDDEN YEARS #1 (WaRP, 1992)- “Wolfwood,” [W/A] Wendy Pini, [W] Richard Pini. Strongbow goes on a dangerous quest to rescue his wolf-friend, who was expelled from the pack. “Wolfwood”’s plot is effective but very simple; however, its art is perhaps the best of Wendy’s career. Wendy’s coloring in this issue is so lush that her art looks painted rather than drawn, and her storytelling is clear and powerful. According to the inside front cover, Wendy was trying to do something new this issue, and she succeeded.

FBP #6 (Vertigo, 2014) – “There’s Something About Rosa Part One of Two,” [W] Simon Oliver, [A] Robbi Rodriguez. Two FBP agents visit an apartment building where time is passing at a different rate than outside. The premise of this issue is funny, and I love the general idea of an agency that enforces the laws of physics. However, this comic’s plot is not suited to Robbi Rodriguez’s strengths. He’s really good at drawing action sequences, but this comic mostly consists of static scenes of dialogue.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #10 (Image, 2013) –“Finite Oppenheimers,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Ryan Browne. Speaking of God Hates Astronauts… Robert Oppenheimer is killed and eaten by his evil twin Joseph, but he wakes up inside his own mind, and starts making his way out. This comic has some striking artwork, and it makes effective use of coloring for narrative purposes: anything red is Joseph, and anything blue is Robert. But other than that, this is yet another issue that doesn’t grab me.

HELLBLAZER #4 (DC, 1988) – “Waiting for the Man,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] John Ridgway. This issue introduces John Constantine’s niece Gemma Masters, who appears sporadically throughout the series. When we meet her, Gemma’s parents have joined a bizarre pyramid-scheme cult. Feeling lonely, Gemma runs away and is kidnapped by someone even worse, a kidnapper who “marries” little girls and then murders them. John rescues her with the aid of a new love interest, Zed. In the past I’ve thought that Jamie Delano’s Hellblazer was confusing and inconsistent with later depictions of Constantine. However, Hellblazer #4 is entertaining, straightforward, and scary.

ACTION COMICS #541 (DC, 1983) – “Once Again — Superman,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Gil Kane. Superman fights Lord Satanis, who has stolen half his powers. Meanwhile, Lois Lane and Lana Lang are competing for Clark Kent’s affections. This issue has some excellent action sequences, as one would expect from Gil Kane, but otherwise it’s just average.

HELLBLAZER #188 (DC, 2003) – “Bred in the Bone 2 of 2,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Doug Alexander Gregory. Gemma appears again in this issue; in fact, the entire issue is about her, and John only appears on the last page. The plot of “Bred in the Bone” doesn’t make sense if you haven’t read part one, but the premise seems to be that Gemma is trapped on an island with a bunch of demons. D. Alexander Gregory’s artwork is heavily based on that of Mike Mignola.

LASER ERASER AND PRESSBUTTON #5 (Eclipse, 1986) – “The Gates of Hell,” [W] Steve Moore (as Pedro Henry), [A] Mike Collins. Eclipse’s first Axel Pressbutton series consisted of reprinted material that had appeared in Warrior, but the stories in Laser Eraser and Pressbutton are original. Although Steve Moore’s career might seem like just a footnote to that of Alan Moore’s, Steve Moore was a notable writer himself, and “The Gates of Hell” is a fairly clever piece of SF. The most memorable thing about the characters is that they’re shagging each other in their spare time, and they’re very outspoken about it. This issue also includes a backup story about some barbarians, by Steve Moore and Cam Kennedy.

SUICIDE SQUAD #46 (DC, 1990) – “Choice of Evils,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] Luke McDonnell. Kobra is plotting to take over the world from his prison cell in Jerusalem. The third Atom, Adam Cray, infiltrates Kobra’s prison to find out what’s going on. He learns that Kobra’s plot is to corrupt Dybbuk, the Israeli government’s new artificial intelligence, and convince it to destroy the Dome of the Rock so that the third Temple can be built. There are also a bunch of subplots involving other Suicide Squad members. As usual, this issue is full of fascinating characters, and it shows understanding of Israeli culture and Middle Eastern politics. I don’t know if John Ostrander is Jewish himself, or if Kim Yale was, but their depictions of Jewish people feel authentic.

OUTLAW NATION #1 (Vertigo, 2000) – “The End,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] Goran Sudzuka. A difficult and complicated debut issue. This issue’s first few pages are about an American soldier and a deaf, mentally disabled Vietnamese woman, living alone in the jungle. Then we’re introduced to a white American ATF agent, Sonny, who suffers from PTSD after being involved in a siege on a paramilitary compound, and his pregnant Vietnamese-American girlfriend. It seems like Sonny must be the son of the soldier at the start of the issue, but other than that, it’s not clear how the two stories are related. There’s also some business about stories that become real. This series is an ambitious attempt to engage with the long-term effects of the Vietnam war, but it may be too ambitious; its story doesn’t hold together. Goran Sudzuka’s artwork is really good. It has the same distinctively Croatian style that one finds in the work of Edvin Biukovic.

THE MYSTERIOUS STRANGERS #1 (Oni, 2013) – “The Purloined Leader Part 1 of 2,” [W] Chris Roberson, [A] Scott Kowalchuk. A superhero/spy story set in the early 1960s. It reminds me of the original Secret Six, except with some added superhero and SF elements. Its plot isn’t especially groundbreaking or surprising, but Scott Kowalchuk’s art is a pleasant surprise. His storytelling is very clear, and he’s good at spotting blacks. His art reminds me of Chris Samnee’s. It seems like he only worked in comic books briefly, and is now doing a webcomic called Lucha Liberty.

THE MIGHTY THOR #12 (Marvel, 2012) – “The Mighty Tanarus 5: The Return,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. This issue is mostly a bunch of fight scenes, though there’s a touching moment at the end where Bill and Kelda are reunited in Valhalla. Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art in this issue is much worse than in Undiscovered Country #1, mostly because he only did the breakdowns. The finishes are by Klaus Janson, whose style is not a match for Camuncoli’s.

THE UNWRITTEN #46 (Vertigo, 2013) – “The Corpse Harvest Reiteration Part 2,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. Savoy investigates a series of bizarre murders, for which a child named Jason Ponticello is somehow responsible. A ghost named Miri explains that the murders are the result of a canker, like in issue 11. This issue is much more horror-tinged than is usual for The Unwritten. It’s about vampires and zombies, and its art and coloring are very grim and bloody.

New comics received on November 15, my birthday:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #50 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. Squirrel Girl’s biggest friend, Galactus, shows up and saves the day, and then Doreen and her friends prepare to start a new chapter in their lives. And thus ends one of the two best Marvel comics of the decade (along with Ms. Marvel). Even if Ryan North’s prose style sometimes rubbed me the wrong way, Squirrel Girl was an incredible series, and it was also important. It showed that kids are still willing to buy Marvel comics, and that a comic book can be appropriate for kids while also being intelligent. Ryan never underestimated his readers’ intelligence, and he used his stories to explain difficult scientific concepts in an engaging way. I’m sorry this series is over, but I think (hope) it will have a lasting impact on the industry.

FAR SECTOR #1 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] N.K. Jemisin, [A] Jamal Campbell. I was really excited about this because it‘s the comics debut of the best SFF writer in America. It doesn’t disappoint. I fell in love with NK Jemisin’s novels because first, they constantly feel tense and exciting. There’s always a sense that things could explode at a moment’s notice. Second, they take place in worlds which are truly bizarre, but which also mimic the social problems of the real world. Jemisin’s work is not explicitly about real-world racial issues, but race is always a subtext lurking behind her plots. All of that is also true of Far Sector. It takes place on a world with three different races that have achieved an uneasy coexistence by getting rid of their emotions. Now an inexperienced Green Lantern has to solve a series of murders that threaten to upset that precarious balance. The City Enduring is a weird place; the characters have names like “@Blaze-of-Glory” or “Lumir of the Cliffs, By the Wavering Dark.”And Mullein is an interesting new protagonist. I’m not familiar with Jamal Campbell, but he does a fantastic job of bringing the City Enduring to life. The one moment that stands out to me from this issue is when Mullein calls someone a “siddity ass,” because I’ve honestly never heard this word before; it seems to be exclusive to African-American English. But Jemisin trusts her readers to be willing to look it up or figure it out from context, if they don’t know what it means.

RUNAWAYS #27 (Marvel, 2019) – “Canon Fodder Pt. III,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andres Genolet. The Runaways become the new J-Team and go off on their first mission. But the mission is too dangerous for a girlGert, so she has to stay home, and she’s not happy about it. The best thing in this issue is Gert’s disappointment at not being able to fight, but I also love all the jokes about superhero costumes.

FAMILY TREE #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Phil Hester. A postapocalyptic story in which the apocalypse is caused by plants growing out of people’s bodies. The main characters are a single mother and her two children. This is an exciting debut issue, and Phil Hester’s eerie Mignola-esque artwork is appropriate for Lemire’s story. However, this series’ premise is quite similar to that of Farmhand.

FOLKLORDS #1 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Matt Smith. Ansel lives in a fairy-tale village where every teenager has to go on a quest as a rite of passage. As his quest, Ansel wants to look for the Folklords, who know the way to the real world, i.e. the world I live in. But before Ansel can announce his quest, the mysterious Librarians cancel all quests for the year, and Ansel and their troll friend have to run off and look for the Folklords on their own. This is a fascinating setup that makes clever use of fairy tale tropes, and I’m excited to read more of this series.

USAGI YOJIMBO #6 (IDW, 2019) – “Adachi,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. A heavily expanded and revised version of the first Usagi story, “The Goblin of Adachigahara.” This story includes the fullest depiction of Lord Mifune’s death at the battle of Adachigahara, which was the pivotal event in Usagi’s life. Its twist ending is predictable to a reader who’s familiar with Stan’s plotting. It would have been nice if this issue had included the original version of “The Goblin of Adachigahara,” so that the reader could see how Stan’s style had evolved over the 35 years between the two versions.

RONIN ISLAND #8 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. Kenichi and Hana have finally agreed to team up to protect the island, but that doesn’t make their task any easier, because now the zombie plague is going airborne. This has been a really dark and grim series, and just when I thought the trajectory of the plot was changing, things are getting even worse. However, it does look like this storyline is headed for some kind of climax.

GIDEON FALLS #18 (Image, 2019) – “The Pentoculus Part 2: All of His Kingdoms,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. This is perhaps the clearest and least confusing issue yet. We finally learn why Danny thinks his name is Norton Sinclair, and also it turns out that his dad didn’t really commit murder, which is a relief. Meanwhile, the bishop tells Father Fred that he needs to reach the “center” of Gideon Falls, along with four fellow travelers: the doctor, the soldier, the prophet and the farmer. The doctor is Angela Xiu, of course, and I wonder if the other three are Danny, Clara and their dad. The issue ends with Danny’s dad saying that it’s time to gather the ploughmen, who may or may not be the same as the five travelers.

FUTURE FOUNDATION #4 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Alti Firmansyah. It’s hard to feel any enthusiasm for this series when it’s already been cancelled. Jeremy is a fantastic and important writer, but the direct market has shown a frustrating unwillingness to embrace his work. His recent career is an example of why we need a better system for selling comics. This issue includes some more cute Phyllis moments, and also we finally get to see Vil and Wu. And it’s funny when Tong plays football with the piece of the Molecule Man.

THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY #1 (DC, 2019) – “One by One Go Down,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. The creative team of The Unwritten reunites for a series that reminds me a lot of Locke & Key. Little Alice and her parents move into a house that includes a giant, super-detailed dollhouse. As she grows older, she uses the dollhouse as a refuge from her brutal, abusive father. The dolls in the dollhouse turn out to be alive, and they shrink Alice down so she can enter the dollhouse. Inside, she goes through a mysterious door, and a voice offers to save her mother from her father, if she agrees to stay in the dollhouse permanently. The issue ends with Alice whacking her dad on the head with a hammer, which is no less than he deserves, and I hope he dies. The Dollhouse Family #1 is a very creepy piece of horror fiction, and I’m intrigued to read more of it.

BLACK HAMMER/JUSTICE LEAGUE: HAMMER OF JUSTICE #5 (DC/Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Michael Walsh. Golden Gail agrees to go back to the farm, and the Justice Leaguers and Black Hammer heroes have Thanksgiving dinner together before parting. Colonel Weird ends up trapped in the Para-Zone, while Mr. Mxyzptlk is unleashed into the Black Hammer universe. I’m disappointed that the series didn’t end with Mxy being forced to say his name backwards. I hope this isn’t the end of the Black Hammer saga; I thought the ending of Age of Doom was disappointing, and I think there are lots more stories Jeff can tell with these characters and their world.

SEA OF STARS #5 (Image, 2019) – “Lost in the Wild Heavens,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Stephen Green. Gil and Kaden are finally reunited, just as Dalla is about to sacrifice Kaden. She has a change of heart at the last minute, but the Zzaztek priest gets Kaden to manifest his war club, then steals it and uses it to summon a giant whale. I assume this is the same creature from issue 1. This storyline is headed for an exciting finish.

GINSENG ROOTS #2 (Uncivilized, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Craig Thompson. Craig and his siblings go home to Wisconsin to visit their parents. This creates a rare opportunity for an autobiographical cartoonist to revisit his own past work and examine its impact on the people depicted in it. I was a bit surprised to learn that Craig is still in contact with his parents, because in Blankets, he depicted them as awful, intolerant bigots. I’m also surprised that they’ve been willing to forgive himfor the way he presented them. But an even bigger surprise is that Craig has a sister who doesn’t appear in Blankets at all. How does it change our reading of Blankets if we know that Craig excluded his sister from it, while prominently featuring his brother? Ginseng Roots #2 also includes a section where Craig talks to a ginseng farmer about the ginseng market. This section is interesting, but an unstated elephant in the room here is that the farmer, as well as Craig’s parents, probably voted for Trump and are planning to do so again.

X-MEN #2 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Other Island,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men has been getting so much hype that I decided to see if the hype is justified. This issue includes a lot of Hickman’s typical incomprehensible obfuscation, but the main plot is interesting and funny: Krakoa, the X-Men’s sentient island, falls in love with another island called Arakko. Like most of Hickman’s comics, this issue is full of elaborate title pages and infographics. I assume Hickman must be taking some role in designing these pages. His design sense is one of his most striking qualities as an artist.

TREES: THREE FATES #3 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. A man named Oleg gets shot and hides out in a garage. I had trouble following this issue, even though it’s a very quick read, and I wish the trees would play a more prominent role in the series’ plot. So far this comic is mostly a crime drama, and the trees have served as mere window dressing.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #5 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. Daphne’s best friend comes to LA to look for her. Ronnie and Bernard the ghost become a potential couple. Daphne tries to help Zola ease into her afterlife. In the basement, Zola discovers a mysterious door that she can’t phase through. This is a pretty low-key issue.

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR #2 (Ahoy, 2019) – “The Conqueror Worm,” [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Greg Scott, and “The Leprechaun King,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Peter Snejbjerg. The first story in this issue, about a scientist who turns himself into a worm, is forgettable. But the second story is hilarious. “The Leprechaun King” stars the leprechaun from the Lucky Charms commercials, and it’s full of cereal-related characters and puns. It’s been years since I watched breakfast cereal commercials, and I’m sure I missed a lot of the references in this story, but I loved the references I did get.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #84 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christina Rice, [A] Toni Kuusisto. For a School of Friendship assignment, the changeling, Ocellus, decides to do an interpretive dance where she changes into many different historical figures. This project proves to be far too ambitious, and Twilight has to tell Ocellus to be kinder to herself. This is something that I myself often struggle with, but other than that, this issue was just standard MLP material.

BATTLEPUG #3 (Image, 2019) – “War on Christmas Part III,” [W/A] Mike Norton. “Mrs. Claus” fights the Last Kinmundian and stabs him with a candy cane. Meanwhile, the other characters defeat the herd of pastel punk ponies and force the ponies to transport them north. This was a funny issue, especially the scenes with the ponies (one of whom is named Dankmeme), but it was somewhat forgettable.

FOR REAL #1 (Uncivilized, 2019) – “The Oven,” [W/A] James Romberger. An elderly Jack Kirby goes for an MRI. While doing so, he remembers an incident during the war when he hid inside an oven to escape from pursuing Nazis, and barely escaped being discovered and killed. “The Oven” is a sophisticated, lyrical examination of how Kirby’s life intersected with his art. There’s also an essay in which Romberger explains how this story was inspired by Kirby’s war comics. I’ve interacted with James Romberger online and on the Comix-Scholars list, and I don’t always agree with his opinions on comics, but he did a great job on this issue. I also appreciate that it was published in the moribund single-issue format.

HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This issue covers everything from Thunderbolts #1 to Age of Ultron, so about 1997 to 2013. Like the last issue, this issue is mostly just summaries of old stories, with nothing new except the Franklin/Galactus scenes. During the period covered in this issue, Marvel was publishing a new giant universe-spanning crossover every few months. Just in this issue we have summaries of Heroes Reborn, Avengers Disassembled, House of M, Civil War, World War Hulk, Annihilation, Secret Invasion, Siege, Messiah Complex, AvX, and Age of Ultron. There’s no way to make all these stories feel like they belong to a single overarching narrative, and Mark doesn’t really try.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #15 (DC, 2019) – “The Doors of His Face,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson, [A] Dan Watters. This issue left me wondering if I’d missed an issue, because it doesn’t continue the story of Djuna and her firebreathing chicken. Instead, the first half of this issue is about the Corinthian’s discovery of the House of Watchers. In the second half, a little girl is enslaved and forced to work at a food truck for no pay, and Erzulie possesses the girl’s cat. John Constantine also makes a cameo appearance. Poquita’s story is very painful, and, sadly, very plausible, but this series has suffered from a certain lack of direction since the Ananse story ended.

WONDER WOMAN #82 (DC, 2019) – “The Wild Hunt Part 1,” [W] Steve Orlando, [A] Kieran McKeown. I only ordered this because I didn’t realize it wasn’t written by Willow. This issue isn’t bad, but I barely remember anything about it at all. Steve Orlando has already had his chance to write Wonder Woman, and although he did a good job, I wish DC would give someone else a chance.

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #11 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Alan Davis. I think this is the only time these two great creators have collaborated. This issue is a pretty typical Conan story that could easily have appeared in Roy’s original 1970s run, but it shows that Roy hasn’t lost any of his writing skill.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Portal City of Pan Part 4,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Nico Leon & Pop Mhan. This issue continues most of the plots from last issue, without adding much that’s new, except that we learn that Jimmy Woo is in league with Mike Nguyen. This series is really cute and offers some great examples of Asian and Asian-American representation, and I wish it would be upgraded to an ongoing series. I guess these characters are going to appear in Atlantis Attacks, but I only just learned that by searching for “Agents of Atlas” on Twitter.

CATWOMAN #17 (DC, 2019) – “The Hard Option,” [W/A] Joëlle Jones. Selina is on her way back to Gotham, but Lex Luthor appears and tells her that Raina Creel is trying to find a Lazarus Pit. So Selina decides to track her down, with the help of Zatanna, who appears on the last couple pages. This is a pretty fun. I like how Joëlle Jones writes Selina as being like a cat herself. For example, early in the issue she says “Once I catch my prey, I always lose interest.”

DOCTOR MIRAGE #4 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Nick Robles. Shan and Grace continue their adventure in the underworld. I must have been tired when I read this comic, because I barely remember anything about it.

ALL-TIME COMICS: ZEROSIS DEATHSCAPE #5 (All-Time Comics, 2019) – “The End of Forever,” [W] Josh Bayer & Josh Simmons, [A] Trevor von Eeden. This issue’s main story is entirely by von Eeden, and it’s a bit too close to the ‘70s superhero comics it’s based on. There’s also a backup story by Jeff Test. I haven’t heard of this artist before, but his art is extremely cluttered and busy, in a good way. All-Time Comics is another good example of the “Panter meets Liefeld” school of comics, although in this case it’s more Adams than Liefeld.

TOMB OF DRACULA #10 FACSIMILE EDITION (Marvel, 2019) – “His Name is… Blade!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Gene Colan. Yay, another facsimile edition of a comic whose original edition is beyond my price range. This issue is Blade’s first appearance, but he wasn’t a particularly well-defined character yet; I don’t think there’s any reference to his vendetta against Deacon Frost. The story is a fairly conventional one in which Blade fights Dracula aboard a ship. The series’ usual protagonists, Frank Drake and Rachel Van Helsing, don’t appear in this issue.

STUMPTOWN #1 (Oni, 2012) – “The Case of the Baby in the Velvet Case,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Matthew Southworth. The “baby” in the title is not a human, but a valuable guitar owned  by the lead guitarist of the band Tailhook. The guitar has been stolen, and the guitarist hires Dex Parios to find it. This is a really fun issue that shows nontrivial knowledge of Portland’s music scene. Stumptown is probably the most fun comic Greg Rucka has written. Also, I love Tailhook as a band name.

THE CAPE #2 (IDW, 2011) – untitled, [W] Jason Ciaramella, [A] Zach Howard. Eric threatens to kill his mother and his much more successful brother. The Cape might be the single worst comic of the entire decade; it’s an offensive, brutal piece of torture porn. I can’t quite explain how this works, but somehow Ciaramella and Howard encourage the reader to identify with and root for Eric, even though he’s an immature manbaby and a murderer. Somehow, when a character in a comic wears a cape and appears in almost every panel, the reader ends up sympathizing with him even if he doesn’t deserve it. And I get the sense that Ciaramella wants us to sympathize with Howard; he wants us to see him as the good guy. And that’s actively harmful.

QUEEN & COUNTRY #29 (Oni, 2006) – “Red Panda Prologue,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Chris Samnee. I read most of Queen & Country when it came out, so I don’t know why I didn’t have this issue already. I think by this point in the series, I was getting kind of bored with it. However, now that I haven’t read Queen & Country in a while, I can appreciate it more. In “Red Panda,” Tara Chace is going through rehab after a mission that left her completely shattered and that led to her lover Tom Wallace’s death. However, Tara’s boss Paul is pushing for her to return to work long before she’s ready. All of Greg Rucka’s major works have female protagonists, but his characters are more than just incarnations of a single woman. For example, Tara Chace is an obsessive workaholic who is deeply screwed up and has no interests outside her job. Dex Parios is also deeply screwed up, but she’s caring in a way that Tara isn’t, and her job is just a small part of her life.

ALL-TIME COMICS: ATLAS #1 (Fantagraphics, 2017) – “Solitary Confinement!”, [W] Josh Bayer, [A] Benjamin Marra. Atlas is a Superman-esque character whose only weakness is fear. In this issue he battles a giant colony of spiders. Benjamin Marra’s artwork in this issue resembles that of Sal Buscema or any other generic Big Two artist. Compared to contemporaries like Ed Piskor or Michel Fiffe, he’s much closer to the indie than the mainstream end of the spectrum. His work feels more like a brutal parody of superhero comics than an affectionate tribute. I just read his graphic novel Terror Assaulter: OMWOT, and it was really weird and disturbing.

JONAH HEX: TWO-GUN MOJO #1 (Vertigo, 1993) – “Slow Go Smith,” [W] Joe R. Lansdale, [A] Tim Truman. I read one previous issue of Lansdale and Truman’s Jonah Hex, and I was only mildly impressed, but this issue is a far better introduction. Two-Gun Mojo begins as Jonah is about to be hanged by some bandits. An old gunman named Slow Go Smith appears and saves him, and Jonah and Smith kill the bandits and go to collect the bounty on them. When they try to collect the bounty on the bandits, they encounter a series of odd situations, and the issue ends with Slow Go apparently being killed by zombies. This issue is incredibly fun because of Joe Lansdale’s raucous, black humor. Lansdale’s Jonah Hex is set in a wacky, blackly humorous world reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah or Cormac McCarthy. In this story, things constantly go wrong, in the most ridiculous way possible. The inking in this issue is by Sam Glanzman, and this results in an artwork that’s a curious but effective combination of Glanzman and Truman.

HOWTOONS: REIGNITION #4 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Fred Van Lente, [A] Tom Fowler. An exciting adventure story that also includes instructions for various craft projects, such as a potato battery. This comic is fun and attractively designed, and it’s far better than some of Van Lente’s  other solo work. I don’t know why it wasn’t more successful.

NEXTWAVE: AGENTS OF H.A.T.E. #9 (Marvel, 2006) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Stuart Immonen. A team of silly joke superheroes fight several different teams of even sillier joke villians. This issue includes various parodies of other comics. For example, on the last page, Elsa Bloodstone asks “Do you think this letter on my chest [the euro symbol] stands for America?” – a reference toCaptain America’s infamous “Do you think this A stands for France?” Nextwave got a lot of hype when it came out, but I don’t think it’s my kind of humor. It’s too sarcastic and lacking in heart.

ACTION COMICS #760 (DC, 1999) – “…Never-Ending Battle…”, [W] Joe Kelly, [A] Germán García. If I didn’t know that this comic had the same artist as Immortal Hulk #25, I wouldn’t have guessed. This issue, Superman fights a villain named La Encantadora who’s been distributing Kryptonite to other villains. It’s an entertaining but lightweight story. This issue includes a scene set in the Spanish city of Gijón, which I suspect is where García is from.

SUPERMAN #31 (DC, 2017) – “Breaking Point Part One,” [W] James Bonny, [A] Tyler Kirkham. This is better than #32, but it’s still a pointless story full of trite dialogue. (“Is he a monster? Or a man with a conscience? Or maybe something in between?”) This writer was not ready for such a high-profile assignment as this.

New comics received last Thursday, October 21:

ONCE AND FUTURE #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen & Dan Mora. This is the best comics adaptation of Arthurian mythology, except for Prince Valiant. It’s such an intelligent and well-researched use of the Arthurian mythos, and it connects Arthurian narratives to contemporary society. Lots of medievalists have been sounding the alarm recently about how medievalist discourse is used to justify white supremacy, and this comic is very relevant to that conversation. It’s also a good example of Kieron Gillen’s central theme: that stories are both powerful and dangerous, because they shape how we see the world. The key moment in this issue is when we learn which knight Duncan is: Percival. That makes perfect sense and is also a brilliant use of Arthurian myth, because Percival is the well-intentioned but naïve knight. In this issue we also meet the Fisher King, who turns out to be Bridgette’s husband, but he shoots himself so he can’t  lead Duncan to the Grail.

DIAL H FOR HERO #9 (DC, 2019) – “Hustle Buddies,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. I went OH MY GOD when I reached page three of this issue. On this page and later in the issue, Quinones does a perfect imitation of Chris Ware. Unlike the other places in this  series where he imitates another artist, there’s no narrative explanation for why he’s drawing like Chris Ware – it doesn’t happen because a character uses one of the dials. But oh well. The rest of the issue is rather conventional, but there are pages laterin the issue where Quinones imitates Alex Toth’s Hanna-Barbera cartoons, and then the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #5 (DC, 2019) – “Fun, Sexy, Cool Date Night!”, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. There is so much fantastic stuff in this issue that it’s hard to know where to start. Batman plays a prominent role in the first half of this issue, and Matt Fraction viciously satirizes Batman’s grim, humorless attitude. I’ve already seen people sharing the sequence where Batman docks Alfred’s pay by the amount that Alfred paid other people to laugh at Bruce Wayne’s jokes. According to Steve Lieber on Twitter, I was the first person to notice that the giant penny on that page says LIEBERTY instead of Liberty.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #3 (Boom!, 2019) – “The Angel of Archer’s Peak Part Three,” [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. Erica is hauled in by the cops on suspicion of being the murderer, but she manages to convince them that she’s not. Erica may be the best thing about this series; she’s just so weird and offputting. And her interplay with James is interesting. So far this comic is a fun piece of horror.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Life & Death of Conan Part Eleven: By Crom,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. Conan dies and goes to the afterlife, where he’s a child again in his Cimmerian village. Unhappy with this, he climbs the nearby mountain until he’s confronted by the god Crom himself. I always visualized Crom as an old white-bearded man; that’s what he looked like in King Conan #8, which I think  is his only on-panel appearance in a Roy Thomas story. But in Conan #11, Crom is a giant rock monster. His encounter with Conan is pretty much what you’d expect: they can’t stand each other, and when Crom tells Conan to go back to his afterlife, Conan fights Crom until Crom gets pissed enough to return him to life. But like the jerk we know he is, Crom adds a poison pill: he curses Conan, saying that Conan will become a pale shadow of himself, and that he’ll wish he’d stayed dead. This is another great issue of a great Conan run. I’m sorry that he’s leaving the series after this issue; the new writer is Jim Zub, and I don’t expect him to be nearly as good.

CROWDED #10 (Image, 2019) – “If We’re Still Alive,” [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Ro Stein & Ted Brandt. Charlie and Vita have a lot of sex, and then they arrive in Arizona, which is supposed to be safe because it’s off-limits to everyone. Meanwhile, Circe’s origin story is delivered through a series of pages formatted like social media posts. These pages are a great example of a narrative technique which is perhaps unique to comics, where the images offer an ironic commentary on the text. For example, Circe writes that s he  emancipated herself from her parents, but the panel shows her parents’ car driving off a cliff. There’s no common name for this technique, but it’s exemplified by the panel in Understanding Comics where the caption “After college I pursued a career in high finance,” and the image shows some burglars  cracking a safe. In general, Crowded is an extremely fun series, and I hope it’s winning Christopher Sebela’s work a bigger audience.

OUTER DARKNESS #12 (Image, 2019) – “Castrophany of Hate Pt. 12: Grand Theft Starship,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. Rigg’s plan to steal his own ship goes awry at once when he discovers that Elox, Prakash, Hydzek and Sister Magdalena are still aboard. Meanwhile, Prakash’s dad puts Satalis in command of his own ship and sends him to recapture the Charon. I had assumed that Rigg was acting on Admiral Prakash’s orders when he stole the ship, but I guess not. Overall, this series is like one of the Star Trek movies with the original crew, except all the crew members are evil, and things constantly go wrong. The best moment in this issue is when Elox says his species doesn’t have fun.

STEEPLE #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Not in My Backyard,” [W/A] John Allison. This issue doesn’t continue the plot thread about the priest fighting sea monsters. Instead, this issue is about an evangelical church’s plot to build a wind farm and use it to trigger the Rapture. This issue reminds me somehow of the monorail episode of the Simpsons. Like Giant Days, it has a lot of intersecting plots that all come together at the end, and it’s full of funny moments. For example, there’s a reference to the controversy between the Cornwall and Devon styles of preparing cream tea.

FARMHAND #11 (Image, 2019) – “Rootwork,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. The main event of this issue is that a very old woman tells Jedidiah the history of Freetown. This history is deeply intertwined with racial politics, because Freetown started out as a post-Civil War settlement of freed blacks, but its founder was murdered by the KKK. Racism is a figurative blight on Freetown, which is now expressing itself as the corruption that’s plaguing everyone who got Jedidiah’s artificial body parts. Up until this issue, Farmhand has rarely if ever engaged with the topic of racism, and I was fine with that; not every story about black people needs to also be about racial struggle. But in #11, Guillory confronts the issue of racism explicitly, and shows how the fantasy/horror premise of this series is also a metaphor for race. With this issue, Guillory shows that while he’s a brilliant humor artist, humor is not the only thing he can do.

THE IMMORTAL HULK #27 (Marvel, 2019) – “This is the Day,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. The Hulk invades the Roxxon headquarters. Dario Agger has anticipated this and has assembled a team of BERSERKER units: people as powerful as the Hulk, but without gamma-related powers. But the Hulk makes short work of them. This issue wasn’t as impressive as the last two; it’s mostly a lot of fight scenes.

ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE 10TH ANNIVERSARY #4 (Archie, 2019) – two stories, [W] Michael Uslan, [A] Dan Parent. Both Archies’ marriages start to crumble thanks to career issues and interference from various third parties. In the second story, it’s implied that Dilton Doiley is aware of the existence of both realities, and that he’s intentionally trying to break up both Archies’ marriages. Something that struck me about this issue is the subtlety of Dan Parent’s facial expressions. You wouldn’t think that faces drawn in such a cartoony style could be so expressive, but for example, on the last panel of page one, the look on Betty’s face is perfect. At the end of the second story, Archie is browbeaten into signing a recording contract without consulting a lawyer first. That’s an awful idea. It’s obvious that the record executive is just trying to intimidate Archie into signing away his rights. Archie has more power in this transaction than he realizes, because he has something the recording company wants. If Archie does ever consult a lawyer, he’ll be able to claim that the contract is invalid because it was signed under duress.

MARVEL ACTION: BLACK PANTHER #6 (Marvel, 2019) –  untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Arianna Florean. T’Challa and Shuri fight some crooks who are trying to disrupt a peace summit. This issue includes two different lines of dialogue that come straight from the movie (“colonizer” and “is this your king”), and it’s just not particularly interesting. The Marvel Action comics are not nearly as creative or complex as the Marvel Adventures comics; they don’t provide much that’s not available elsewhere. After this, the only other Marvel Action comic I plan to read is the Avengers story that Katie Cook will be writing.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #12 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Last Avenger Part One,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Lee Garbett. Carol fights Thor, cuts his head off, and delivers it to a villain named Vox Supreme, who tells her that she now has to kill five other Avengers in sixteen hours. This is an interesting setup, but this entire issue consists of a long fight scene, and there are very few panels on each page. As a result, this issue is an excessively quick read. This series still lacks a coherent theme; Kelly hasn’t defined who her Captain Marvel is, or how her take on this character is different from anyone else’s.

STRAYED #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Bull in the Heather,” [W] Carlos Giffoni, [A] Juan Doe. Lou and Kiara try to stop Premier Peely’s plot by interrupting his broadcast to the empire. But Kiara’s boss, Robert, shows up and shoots her. The villains in this series are such hateful, smug, lying bastards, and that makes Kiara and Lou’s pure, loving relationship seem even more precious. Reading this comic made me want to hug my own cat.

LOCKE & KEY: DOG DAYS #1 (IDW, 2019) – “Nailed It” and “Dog Days,” [W] Joe Hill, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. Not worth the cover price. This issue’s first story is about three boys, one of whom is actually a dog. It’s cute and funny, but not that great. For some reason, each page consists of a strip of four vertical panels, with wide margins on either side. In the second story, an older Tyler Locke builds a giant key and uses it to raise the house from the ground. The two-page splash where Tyler turns the key, causing the house to rotate out of the ground, is the best thing in the issue. But despite that, this comic feels like just an afterthought, not a necessary coda to the Locke & Key saga.

BIG QUESTIONS #13 (Drawn & Quarterly, 2019) – “A House That Floats,” [W/A] Anders  Nilsen. I loved Nilsen’s Tongues #1 (and I’m supposed to have received Tongues #2 back in May, but I’m not sure where it is). However, Big Questions #13 is baffling to me. It’s about a bunch of talking birds who investigate a crashed plane, and then one of them talks to a snake. Nilsen’s draftsmanship is beautiful, and Big Questions #13 is a very handsome artifact, with jacket flaps on the inside covers. However, I have no idea what’s going on in this comic’s story, and I can’t tell any of the birds apart.

AQUAMAN #54 (DC, 2019) – “Amnesty, Part 5: Lessons Learned,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha & Jesús Merino. In a series of flashbacks, we learn about Black Manta’s tortured past, and we also realize that Black Manta is Aqualad’s dad. Though maybe I was already supposed to know this. Then Mera summons a giant sea monster to fight Black  Manta’s giant robot. This is a fun issue, and “Amnesty” has been a much better storyline than “Unspoken Water.”

MY LITTLE PONY: FEATS OF FRIENDSHIP #3 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ian Flynn, [A]  Tony Fleecs. A flashback reveals that Swift Foot is the princess of Thrace, the home of the fourth tribe of ponies: the ones who rejected friendship. But of course the Young Six manage to solve their own friendship problems, which shows Swift Foot that friendship really is  worth it. The issue ends on a cliffhanger, with Swift Foot returning to Thrace in order to either convince her people of the value of friendship, or fight them on behalf of Equestria. I assume she’ll be coming back in the main MLP title.

SPIDER-VERSE #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Spectacular Spider-Ma’am,” [W] Ryan North, [A] Pere Pérez. This story is set in a universe where Aunt May is Spider-Man, and Uncle Ben is still alive. Their reality is invaded by evil versions of themselves, but they manage to save the day  through the power of love – as well as by creative scientific thinking. Just like in Squirrel Girl, the scientific speculation in this issue is very clever, and I love the page with many different spider-people simultaneously shooting webs at the same place. And Ryan’s depiction of the Parkers’ love for each other is very touching.

IMAGE FIRSTS: ICE CREAM MAN #1 (Image, 2019) – “Raspberry Surprise,” [W] W. Maxwell Prince, [A] Martín Morazzo. Its title notwithstanding, this is a horror comic. A little boy is living alone because his parents have been killed by a venomous spider. The boy goes wandering in the woods, where he’s attacked by an ice cream man turned into a werewolf. Luckily, the spider bites the werewolf, saving the boy. I don’t quite understand what this comic is about, but I’m curious to learn more. Based on some of the reviews I’ve just read while writing this review, I might actually start ordering this series. The art is by the same artist who did She Could Fly.

KING THOR #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “A Storm of Prayers,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Esad Ribić. I liked this issue a lot more than the last two. Thor’s fight with Gorr is going badly, but his granddaughters show up to save him, with a bunch of weird gods in tow. These include “the Meat Mother, the Goddess of Gristle” and a choir of gods who fight Gorr by singing at him. But just when the tide seems to be turning, Gorr consumes the entire universe, and now to save everything, Thor has to kill everything.

PRETTY VIOLENT #4 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [W] Jason Young. Gamma Rae makes a deal with her brother where he gives her inside information on all his fellow villains’ weaknesses. This enables Gamma Rae to defeat the villains and earn Misty Meadows’s respect. But then Gamma Rae’s brother calls in his end of the deal, sending a villain against her who knows her weakness. This was another fun issue, with much less gratuitous violence than usual, but I occasionally had trouble following Derek Hunter’s visual storytelling. On page 9, especially, I was confused as to what was going on.

GREEN LANTERN #85 FACSIMILE EDITION (DC, 1971/2019) – “Snowbirds Don’t Fly,” [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Neal Adams. This is one of the most important Big Two comics of the ‘70s, the issue that reveals that Speedy is a drug addict. It still holds up really well today. Neal Adams’s art looks as modern and dynamic today as it did almost fifty years ago. Besides the big reveal at the end, the high point of this issue is the nearly silent sequence where Ollie is shot with an arrow, but no one is willing to help him. Two bystanders ignore him, a phone booth is out of service, a taxi won’t stop for him, etc. Sadly, the only dated thing about this scene is the phone booth. This issue also includes a backup story reprinted from Green Lantern #11.

EVE STRANGER #4 (IDW, 2019) – “In the Midnight Hour,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Philip Bond. As with Future Foundation, it’s hard to care about this comic when I know that it’s the second-to-last Black Crown comic. Almost all the Black Crown comics were excellent, but according to what I heard, the line was cancelled because it was too expensive. That’s a real shame, and I hope that any projects that were being developed for Black Crown can be published elsewhere. In Eve Stranger #4, Eve is hired to kill a baby girl who will grow up to be a dictator, but instead she finds a better solution: she kills the baby’s abusive dad.

CANTO #6 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] David M. Booher, [A] Drew Zucker. Canto confronts the Shrouded Man and discovers that his people’s hearts no longer exist, but he realizes that they don’t need hearts to feel emotions. Sadly, Canto returns home and discovers that his girlfriend is already dead. This comic would have had more impact if I hadn’t missed issues 2 and 3, but Canto is still quite a powerful story. According to the inside back cover, there will be a sequel next year.

JONAH HEX: TWO-GUN MOJO #2 (Vertigo, 1993) – “Invitation to a Hanging,” [W] Joe R. Lansdale, [A] Tim Truman. The “zombies” from last issue turn out to be outlaws using corpses as cover, but they manage to kill Slow Go Smith anyway. Jonah is wrongly convicted of the murder and sentenced to be hanged, for the second time in as many issues. But the Native American woman who he helped out last issue returns and saves him, though at the cost of her own life. The townspeople form a posse, led by an old lady in a bonnet, and ride off after Jonah. This is another great issue. I have issues #4 and #5 of this miniseries, but not #3. I will have to look for it.

DEMON KNIGHTS #3 (DC, 2012) – “First Sacrifices,” [W] Paul Cornell, [A] Diógenes Neves. This series takes place in medieval times, and stars Etrigan, Madame Xanadu, Shining Knight (Sir Ystin), Vandal Savage, Exoristos the Amazon, and other characters. This issue, all the protagonists are trapped in a besieged town. Exoristos convinces a little girl to leave town and seek help, but she is tragically captured and killed. That summary sounds a bit boring, but this is an excellent issue. It’s a thrilling fantasy narrative with a bunch of distinctive and interesting characters.

AMERICAN LEGENDS #1 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Bill Schwartz & Zachary Schwartz, [A] Studio Hive. A sort of Americanized version of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which Jean Lafitte, Davy Crockett and Sally Ann Thunder team up to save the Lewis and Clark expedition. This is a potentially non-terrible premise, but the writers seem to have done no research at all, and their characters talk in 21st-century English. And their treatment of racial and political issues is as deep as a puddle. American Legends covers some of the same historical territory as Manifest Destiny, but is so much simpler and shallower that to compare the two is an insult to Manifest Destiny. Also, American Legends’s art is done in a painterly style, but the coloring is so dark that it’s impossible to tell the characters apart. Overall, this comic is embarrassing.

DETECTIVE COMICS #683 (DC, 1995) – “Odds Against,” [W] Chuck Dixon, [A] Graham Nolan. I just noticed that this comic’s title comes from a Dick Francis novel. This issue is from the period after the Azrael epic, when DC temporarily avoided doing any big crossovers. This issue, the Penguin teams up with the Actuary, a villain who calculates probabilities and likelihoods. The Actuary has the brilliant idea of staging a robbery in daylight, when Batman is never around. As much as I detest Chuck Dixon, he could write very readable Batman stories. Graham Nolan’s art in this issue resembles that of his mentor Joe Kubert, especially the Penguin’s face on page 7.

TEEN TITANS #7 (DC, 2004) – “Wednesday,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Tom Grummett. I read this series when it was first coming out, but I quickly gave up on it because Johns wasn’t focusing enough on the adult Titans, especially Starfire. Johns’s Titans was much more of a sequel to Young Justice than to the Wolfman/Perez Titans, and I didn’t get into Young Justice until much later. However, the biggest problem with Johns’s Titans is not that it focuses on the wrong characters, but that it’s unfun. Johns has no sense of humor, and he fails to make the reader feel affection for his characters. “Wednesday” is mostly a day-in-the-life issue, in which the major plot event is that Deathstroke is reunited with his daughter Rose.

KA-ZAR #15 (Marvel, 1998) – “Jungle Book,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] Kenny Martinez. in New York, Ka-Zar has been temporarily blinded while saving a girl named Jameka. Back in the Savage Land, Shanna is  encountering resistance to her leadership from the natives. I bought this issue mistakenly thinking it was written by Mark Waid, but Christopher Priest’s Ka-Zar turns out to also be quite good. He writes excellent dialogue, and  Ka-Zar and Jameka are an interesting pair. The problem with this issue is that Kenny Martinez’s artwork is hideous. Ka-Zar seems to be the last monthly comic he ever did, and no wonder. He does have a minor claim to fame because he co-created Everett K. Ross. In fact, Priest’s entire Ka-Zar run is probably worth reading as a prologue to his Black Panther.

SUPERMAN #399 (DC, 1984) – “The Man Who Saw Superman Die!”, [W] Paul Kupperberg, [A] Eduardo Barreto. Edmond Hamilton, aka Colonel Future, has a precognitive vision of Sueprman being shot. He comes up with a bizarre plan to stop the vision from coming true, but it turns out that the Superman in the vision was himself, dressed in a Superman costume. This story’s plot makes no sense; I have no idea why Colonel Future’s plot required him to set of a nuclear meltdown. The backup story, by Joey Cavalieri and Curt Swan, is marginally better. The difference in quality between Superman #399 and #400 is colossal; Superman #399 is just mediocre, but #400 featured probably the greatest collection of talent ever assembled in a single comic book.

DEMON KNIGHTS #6 (DC, 2012) – “The Balance,” [W] Paul Cornell, [A] Diógenes Neves. This was easy to understand even though I haven’t read #4 or #5. By this point, Vandal Savage has defected to the enemy, and the siege is getting desperate. And Madame Xanadu is about to die if she can’t absorb someone’s lifeforce. This issue is exciting and intense, and its characters are fascinating. Besides Lemire and Foreman’s Animal Man, Demon Knights may have been the best of the New 52 launch titles. I need to collect more of it.

THE QUESTION: THE DEATHS OF VIC SAGE #1 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Denys Cowan. This is in a prestige format similar to that of Batman: Killer Smile. Denys Cowan’s artwork is fairly conventional, and does not benefit from this comic’s larger size. However, Jeff Lemire takes advantage of this comic’s length to tell an epic story. His Vic Sage is a tribute to Ditko’s original version of the character, and has the same black-and-white morality. However, as the story goes on, Vic discovers that his understanding of the world and of his own identity is incomplete. In its depiction of not knowing who or where you are, this series is reminiscent of Gideon Falls. I plan to read the rest of this miniseries.

U.S.AVENGERS #7 (Marvel, 2017) – “Wake Up the Kraken, Unleash the Heat,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Paco Medina. This isn’t as innovative as other issues of the series, but it’s still good. To save Enigma and Squirrel Girl from being blown up, Iron Patriot phases them through the planet, and they wind up in Paris. There they fight some AIM agents, and Squirrel Girl gets to shout “Je suis la fille écureuille!”

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #11 (Image, 2013) – “Building,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. I was expecting to dislike this as much as I disliked #6 through #10, but in fact I enjoyed it, mostly because it moves the series’ timeline forward and takes us beyond the Manhattan Project’s actual history. A few years after #10, humans have colonized the moon and are on their way to the other planets. I’m curious to see how the series’ universe develops further and continues to diverge from the real world. This issue also focuses on the friendship  between Enrico Fermi, an alien, and Harry Daghlian, an irradiated skeleton in a suit. Their scenes together represent the first time I’ve felt real sympathy for any of the characters in the series. Harry Daghlian was a real Manhattan Project scientist who was killed by an accidental nuclear reaction, although his death didn’t happen in the way that’s depicted in this issue.

Whew! Finally done for now.

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