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December reviews

12-23-19

DESPERADOES #1 (Image, 1997) – untitled, [W] Jeff Marriotte, [A] John Cassaday. This is probably John Cassaday’s first major work. His art here is more detailed and less epic and widescreen than in Planetary or Astonishing X-Men, but you can still tell it’s him. As for the story, Desperadoes is a Western comic with some supernatural elements. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. I’d buy more issues of this but only if they were cheap.

CHEW #26 (Image, 2012) – “Space Cakes,” [W] John Layman, [A] Rob Guillory. Chow Chu enlists Toni’s aid to prevent a rival chef from destroying some priceless paintings in an insurance fraud scheme. The paintings are all food-themed, of course, and they’re the visual highlight of the issue. In the end it turns out that the insurance fraud scheme was a lie, and Chow was really trying to recover a recipe book that the other chef stole. Also, Toni has an affair with Paneer that ends abruptly when she bites him. Tony Chu spends the whole issue in a coma.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #12 (Image, 2013) – “The Fermi Paradox,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. At the end of last issue, Harry Daghlian revealed that Fermi was an alien. This issue, the alien Fermi goes on a rampage and makes a failed attempt to to take over the project. We also get a flashback to Fermi’s past history, and we revisit a scene in an earlier issue where the Manhattan Projects team encountered an alien government; however, this time the scene is narrated from the aliens’ perspective. I had no idea what was going on in this scene until I went back and read the previous issue. At the end, Einstein kills “Fermi” with a chainsaw. Sadly, this ends the only genuine friendship in the series (that of Fermi and Daghlian).

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #13 (Image, 2013) – “Piece by Piece,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. This issue advances a number of subplots about the cast’s various missions. Notably, Laika goes on a long-term space mission, leaving Gagarin heartbroken. Nothing else about this issue particularly stands out to me.

STORMWATCH #44 (DC, 1997) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Tom Raney. This issue narrates Jenny Sparks’s entire century-spanning life. It consists of a series of segments taking place in different decades, and each segment is written and drawn in the style of a different old comic.  Thus, over the course of the issue Tom Raney imitates Joe Shuster, Will Eisner, Crumb, Kirby, and Gibbons. He doesn’t quite have the versatility to pull off all these imitations perfectly, but it’s a clever experiment anyway. The best segment is probably the one that’s based on Watchmen, and the issue’s cover is also an homage to Watchmen’s cover designs.

SUICIDE SQUAD #47 (DC, 1990) – “Choice of Dooms,” [W] John Ostrander & Kim Yale, [A] Geof Isherwood. This completes the story where Kobra tries to take over Israel using the Dybbuk computer. As usual, it’s action-packed and thrilling and full of fascinating and distinctive characters. The confusing part is that there are two similar-looking characters named Ravan and Rambam, and at first I thought they were the same character. Rambam is an effective depiction of a superhero who’s motivated by his Jewish faith. Like some of Ostrander’s other characters from Suicide Squad, Ramban later appeared in Spectre.

KNIGHT AND SQUIRE #3 (DC, 2011) – “For Six,” [W] Paul Cornell, [A] Jimmy Broxton. A scientist uses cloning technology to resurrect King Richard III. Modern portrayals of Richard III (e.g. Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time) tend to treat him sympathetically, but Cornell bucks this trend by depicting a Richard III who’s just as evil as Shakespeare’s version. Also, he speaks in correct iambic pentameter. Richard goes on to resurrect a bunch of other English kings, including Charles I, who carries around his severed head. Knight and Squire almost take a back seat to Richard, though they ultimately do defeat him. This was a really fun issue.

COLDER: THE BAD SEED #2 (Dark Horse, 2014) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Juan Ferreyra. A very creepy horror story about a villain, Swivel, who seems to be made entirely of fingers. The protagonist of this series is a detective named Declan, but this issue focuses mostly on Swivel. Most of Paul Tobin’s other works are lighthearted adventure stories, but Colder shows that he also has the ability to write in a grimmer and more serious mode. Juan Ferreyra’s painted art reminds me of Jill Thompson’s art in Beasts of Burden.

SINERGY #1 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Michael Avon Oeming, [W] Taki Soma. A teenage girl loses her virginity and gains the ability to see the monsters that are everywhere around her. Despite how that sounds, Synergy is a superhero comic and not a horror comic. It has an okay premise, but I never much liked Oeming’s art, and his story doesn’t grab me enough to make me want to read more.

ABE SAPIEN: THE HAUNTED BOY #1 (Dark Horse, 2009) – “The Haunted Boy,” [W] Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, [A] Patric Reynolds. Two boys fall through the ice while skating on a pond. One boy dies, and the other is severely traumatized, so his mother calls Abe Sapien to talk to him. Abe discovers that the surviving boy is actually dead and possessed by a demon. This is one of the better Hellboyverse comics I’ve read lately; it’s a brutal tale about an unimaginable trauma.

ANGELA: ASGARD’S ASSASSIN #4 (Marvel, 2015) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen & Marguerite Bennet, [A] Phil Jimenez & Stephanie Hans. Angela and the Guardians of the Galaxy fight the Disir. In a flashback, Angela confronts her friend Sera. This issue has some good dialogue – I especially like the way Kieron depicts Marvel’s heaven as terrifying. The angels sing a version of “Scarborough Fair” about villages of fire and harps of bone. But otherwise, this comic isn’t up to the quality of Gillen’s other Thor stories.

ZERO #4 (Image, 2013) – “Vision Impairment,” [W] Ales Kot, [A] Morgan Jeske. This comic has reasonably effective art, but I couldn’t follow its story. It’s some kind of a secret agent thriller, but otherwise I don’t understand what its premise is.

CONAN: ROAD OF KINGS #8 (Dark Horse, 2011) – “The Horrors Beneath the Stones,” [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Mike Hawthorne. In the midst of a palace conspiracy, Conan has to return a noblewoman’s little daughter to her mother. It’s a lot of fun to see Conan interacting with a little girl. His interactions with Albiona remind me of Wolverine’s relationship with Katie Power. Roy’s only other character who had a similar relationship with Conan was Tara of Hanumar, though she was a lot older.

ANIMOSITY #12 (AfterShock, 2018) – “Wasp’s Nest,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Rafael De Latorre. In this chapter of the hive storyline, Jesse goes inside the hive and sees the society the wasps have built. As I’ve written in other reviews, the wasp storyline was the only time the series lived up to its potential and fully explored the implications of its premise. The bees are almost the only animals in the series who actually act like sentient animals, rather than humans in animal bodies.

CATALYST PRIME: ASTONISHER #5 (Lion Forge, 2018) – “The Solution to Everything,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Pop Mhan & Al Barrionuevo. I’ve never been able to follow the plot of this series, but it has some excellent dialogue. Alex de Campi is a very underrated writer who has not been treated well by the industry.

ANIMOSITY: EVOLUTION #4 (AfterShock, 2018) – “Lex Animata: Part 2,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Eric Gapstur. This is a more typical Animosity comic. The driving force behind its plot is that the animals in the city have all agreed to stop eating meat, and this has resulted in a massive shortage of arable land. Here again we see that Marguerite Bennett was afraid to explore the full implications of her premise. Some animals simply have to eat meat to survive. Therefore, if all the animals became sentient, it would lead to some difficult questions about which animals’ lives should be valued above others. But Bennett tries to dodge those questions by looking for a way to feed all the animals on a vegetarian diet.

New comics received on November 30:

LUMBERJANES #68 (Boom!, 2019) – “It’s a Myth-tery Part 4,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha C. Bryant. Marigold defeats Freya by growing huge and sitting on her. Then “Freya” reveals that she is in fact Irpa, a minor goddess, and she has to rescue the cats that pull Freya’s chariot. The Lumberjanes and Freya save the day, Diane and April agree on a truce, and Hes and Diane enter into a nonsexual relationship. Diane is the series’ first asexual character, which makes sense because the mythological Artemis was a lifelong virgin.

CRIMINAL #10 (Image, 2019) – “Cruel Summer Part Six: Two Ways to Hell,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This has become one of my favorite series. In the first half of this issue, Dan Farraday continues looking for Teeg and Jane but gets nowhere. In the second half, Teeg and Jane tell Ricky that they’re living town and he has to live with Leo. Understandably feeling that his dad is abandoning him for a new floozy, Ricky picks a fight with Teeg and loses. Then he wanders over to Teeg’s old house, and who should he meet there but Dan. This storyline is heading toward an epic conclusion.

ASCENDER #7 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. This issue is mostly a flashback showing us what Telsa has been doing for the past decade. Notably, it shows how Telsa and her first mate Helda became lovers. It doesn’t advance the present-day plotline.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #7 (Image, 2019) – “Edge of Everything Part Two,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. Grix and Vess’s ship has been boarded by some evil pirates. The pirate captain, Turo, claims that he’s gone into piracy because he’s sick of being exploited by Lux and the Renunciation, but he’s still an asshole. Meanwhlie, Vess is going through some kind of weird biological thing that she won’t talk about. The issue ends on another cliffhanger when the pirate ship encounters a crippled Lux ship. Christian Ward’s coloring in this issue is incredible, as usual, but I’m also impressed by his storytelling, specifically the page where Vess and Turo walk down a stairway.

SECOND COMING #5 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Sympathy for the Devil,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Richard Pace. God and Satan have a heart-to-heart talk. A Central Asian dictator invites Sunstar to adopt a child from his country, but it turns out to be a trap. Jesus teaches some new disciples. I love the way this series depicts God and Jesus.  Mark Russell’s Jesus feels genuinely close to the Jesus of the Gospels, rather than the sanitized and deradicalized Jesus of official Christianity. Maybe that’s why this series is controversial. As usual, this issue is full of great lines: “I’m going to call you a mole, you a rat, and you a mole-rat.”

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #2 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. The criminals cut off the boy’s finger and kidnap him. The girlfriend hides until they leave, but it turns out one  of them stayed behind, and he goes after the girl with a gun. Just as all the lights on the island go out, the girl cuts the convict’s head off with an axe, which is a deeply cathartic moment because he’s a smug asshole. But then things get really weird, because his severed head survives and continues to talk. The girl has to carry the head around in a basket, justifying the title of the series, while searching for help. So far this is the best Black Label title besides The Dollhouse Family.

IRONHEART #12 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. Riri falls in the well and has a flashback to before her own birth. She learns that her father was kidnapped and used as a guinea pig for medical experiments, hence his current powers. Riri escapes the well and saves her friends from the temple. Ironheart was the best new Marvel comic of the year (though technically it started last year) and I want to teach it the next time I teach a course on superhero comics. I’m just sorry it only lasted twelve issues, though her new title, Outlawed, has already been announced.

JOHN CONSTANTINE, HELLBLAZER #1 (DC, 2019) – “A Green and Pleasant Land, Part One,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Aaron Campbell. Constantine meets a new potential love interest, a Scottish bouncer named Nat, as well as Barry the Traffic, a man whose last encounter with Constantine left him horribly disfigured. Then John is kidnapped by a tattooed wizard. Blake’s “Jerusalem” is quoted several times near the end of the issue. This issue is entertaining, and I love Nat’s Scottish-accented dialogue. But it’s also a confusing comic. When I read issue 2, I couldn’t remember what happened in #1, and as a result I was extremely confusde. More on that when I get to my review of issue 2.

GHOST-SPIDER #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Pretend to Be Nice,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa. Gwen resolves a hostage standoff, and meanwhile the Jackal conspires with Man-Wolf and travels to Gwen’s Earth. This issue, like the previous three, is quite slow-paced and low-intensity, but I don’t mind that. And I really like Seanan’s dialogue and characterization. The main problem is that I can’t keep track of which characters are from which Earth.

KILLADELPHIA #1 (Image, 2019) – “Sins of the Father Part 1: A Call to Arms,” [W] Rodney Barnes, [A] Jason Shawn Alexander. In Philadelphia, policeman James Sangster Sr is murdered by zombies. His son, also a policeman, comes up from Baltimore for the funeral but gets dragged into investigating the murder. At the end of the issue, the son exhumes the father and finds that he’s still alive as a zombie. This is a difficult read because it’s not narrated in chronological order, and also because I kept confusing James Sr with James Jr. But it’s worth the effort. It’s a gripping crime/horror story which is also an investigation of race and of father-son relationships. Jason Shawn Alexander’s moody, realistic artwork is reminiscent of Alex Maleev, and is perfect for this series.

BLACK PANTHER #18 (Marvel, 2019) – “Two Thousand Seasons,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Brian Stelfreeze. Most of this issue consists of conversations between T’Challa and Storm. This story has been moving at a snail’s pace, and it’s still only three-quarters done. I’ve already decided to give up on this comic.

MY LITTLE PONY HOLIDAY SPECIAL 2019 – “Holiday Hassle,” [W] James Asmus, [A] Andy Price. I love this issue’s cover, where Pinkie Pie is singing way too loud, and Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Rarity are visibly annoyed. In this issue’s main story, Rarity has three equally important commitments for Hearth’s Warming Eve, and she drags Spike along to all three of them. Andy’s artwork on this story is incredible as usual, but the plot is nothing we haven’t seen many times before. There’s also a four-page backup story starring the Young Six.

TOMMY GUN WIZARDS #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – I don’t care what this comic’s official title is, it’s Tommy Gun Wizards to me. This issue, Ness confronts Capone in a floating castle above Chicago, while down in the sewers, the other Untouchables help the toad get back to its home dimension. We’re not told what happened to Ness’s wife and son, but I assume they’re fine. I hope there’s a sequel to this miniseries, since it leaves some loose ends unresolved.

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Sacred and the Profane Conclusion,” [W] Al Ewing & Jason Aaron, [A] Cafu. With some help from her friends, Jane saves the day by taking the Grim Reaper to Valkyrie, since he’s already dead and considers himself a hero. This has been a pretty fun series so far. I think my favorite thing about it is Mr. Horse.

FANTASTIC FOUR: NEGATIVE ZONE #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Ethical Dilemmas in Modern Science,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Stefano Caselli. The FF travel to the Negative Zone to check on one of Reed’s old experiments, a civilization of bacteria that have become sentient. Mike Carey is fundamentally a horror writer, and “Ethical Dilemmas” feels like a horror story, not a Fantastic Four story. Reed effectively commits genocide by getting Blastaar to destroy the bacterial civilization, and he doesn’t seem sorry about it at all. Also, Reed shows no sense of responsibility toward these beings that he’s literally created. It’s best to just consider this story as not being in continuity. Ryan North’s backup story about the Fantastix, the replacement FF from the beginning of the current series, is much better. It reminds me of the Great Lakes Avengers or the Legion of Substitute Heroes.

FANTASTIC FOUR: GRAND DESIGN #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Tom Scioli. This issue follows the published FF comics fairly closely until near the end of Kirby’s run. But after that, things go completely nuts. Franklin is heavily implied to be Namor’s child, not Reed’s. Events from later comics (e.g. FF #200 and #262 and Secret Wars) start happening, but much too early and in the wrong order. There’s a scene where a bunch of Wakandans combine into a Voltron robot and fight Galactus; obviously, this didn’t happen in any previous comic. Then we skip over about two decades in a single panel, and Ben and Johnny’s grown children team up with Johnny and Crystal’s kids to defend the Baxter Building from Galactus. Finally, the now-adult Franklin is killed but goes back in time and becomes a minor character from Fantastic Four #5. This part of the issue is a frantic explsion of creativity. It takes inspiration from lots of different FF comics, but it puts these puzzle pieces together into a very different pattern, as compared to the published comics. Scioli’s FF, like his Go-Bots or his GI Joe and Transformers, is bizarre and manic and feels like something written by a hyperactive child – and that’s a good thing.

THE TERRIFICS #22 (DC, 2019) – “If Me Could Turn Back Time Part Three,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Stephen Segovia. The Terribles invade the planet Bgztl and steal some Phantom Zone crystals, allowing them to create a time loop. Meanwhile, the Terrifics get turned into little kids. This issue has a lot of funny dialogue, but there’s nothing especially notable about it.

INVISIBLE WOMAN #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Mattia De Iulis. Sue saves the day, but Aidan gets killed, which is no big deal since he was barely a character at all. As I previously observed, the problem with this series is that Sue’s personality has been defined by her relationships to her male friends and relatives, so it’s not clear what an Invisible Woman solo story should be like. Mark had an opportunity to develop Sue’s character further, but he instead chose to write a Black Widow story with Sue as the  protagonist.

BATMAN: CREATURE OF THE NIGHT #4 (DC, 2019) – “Dark Knight,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] John Paul Leon. This miniseries took two whole years to finish, meaning it was published at an even slower rate than the “Tarnished Angel” storyline in Astro City. This issue, Bruce finally realizes that there is no conspiracy against him, and that Batman is just the projection of his childhood fears and anxieties. (Batman may also be Bruce’s unborn twin brother, but I forget if this was mentionede in the story or just in Kurt’s author’s note.) Also, Bruce spends the entire issue acting like a whiny, entitled manbaby, to the point where as the reader, I was actively rooting against him. Whereas Superman: Secret Identity was a story about growing up, Batman: Creature of the Night is about the superhero as a metaphor for white male fragility. Bruce retreats into Batman in order to avoid having to grow up and care about other people and realize it’s not all about him.

ETHER: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF VIOLET BELL #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. Boone revives the Lucky God he killed, then he and Glum go looking for the assassin, but they’re attacked by some giant furballs on stilts. The highlight of this issue is the scene with the labyrinth full of random weird stuff.

WILD’S END #6 (Boom!, 2015) – “Five Against the Light,” [W] Dan Abnett, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. The protagonists fight a Martian tripod and destroy it, but on the last page, we see that there are a lot more Martian ships on the way. The impact of this ending is lessened because I’ve already read the sequel miniseries. Despite that, I really like Wild’s End. It’s a clever mashup of Wind in the Willows and War of the Worlds (maybe this premise was inspired by alliteration), and it feels very historically accurate.

THOR, GOD OF THUNDER #14 (Marvel, 2013) – “The Accursed Part Two: The League of Realms,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Ron Garney. To deal with Malekith, Thor joins the League of Realms, a group of heroes from each of the Nine Worlds. Most of its other members make their first appearance in this issue, including Screwbeard and Sir Ivory Honeyshot. One of the fun things about Jason Aaron’s Thor was the way he expanded Thor’s universe and depicted more of the Nine Realms besides just Asgard.

DETECTIVE COMICS #629 (DC, 1991) – “The Hungry Grass,” [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Jim Aparo. People all over Gotham are getting killed in bizarre ways, and a villain named Hungry is forcing everyone to follow various bizarre instructions if they don’t want to be killed. Batman discoves that Hungry is using a magical grass from Ireland that carries a curse: anyone who walks on the grass reenacts a violent occurrence that previously happened on the same spot. The hungry grass seems to be a genuine piece of Irish mythology, but Milligan puts his own spin on it. In his version, the grass was originally cursed by a witch who starved to death during the Irish potato famine. This story is very complicated, but it’s a clever and sophisticated use of Irish myth and history.

SUICIDE RISK #3 (Boom!, 2013) – untitled, [W] Mike Carey, [A] Elena Casagrande. In this story a superhero (?) tries to track down two supervillains, one who has mind control powers and another who previously killed her own children. This issue is forgettable, and I still don’t understand what the premise of this series is.

ALL-NEW X-FACTOR #14 (Marvel, 2014) – “Girls’ day out. Sounds terrific,” [W] Peter David, [A] Pop Mhan. Scarlet Witch invites Polaris on a day out, since they’re sisters (at least they were at the time, though this was later retconned) but they have no relationship with each other. They go to a Renaissance fair, where they save a woman from being burned at the stake by her jealous boyfriend. This was a fairly entertaining issue. It is a bit odd that Wanda and Lorna have each been around since the ‘60s but have never interacted at all.

AW YEAH COMICS! ACTION CAT & ADVENTURE BUG #4 (Dark Horse, 2016) – untitled, [W/A] Art Baltazar, [W] Franco. Action Cat fights a giant lobster creature called Marquaid. If you’ve read one issue of this series, you’ve read them all.

CURSE WORDS #4 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. The mayor of New York complains to Wizord about the damage he’s done to the city, but Wizord ignores him. Wizord and Margaret head off to Hollywood, the first of the places of power (or POPs) where Wizord can restore his powers. Wizord gets some magic back by visiting a magic club, but on the way back he has to use all his power to stop a tsunami, leaving him vulnerable to an attack by his fellow magician Ruby. I stopped reading this series almost immediately because I just couldn’t get into it, though I kept buying it. However, Curse Words is a unique and funny comic, and while I don’t much like Ryan Browne’s writing (see below), his bizarre art style is very effective when he’s working with Charles Soule, who is able to rein in Brown’s excesses.

ALL-TIME COMICS: CRIME DESTROYER #2 (Fantagraphics, 2017) – “Inside the Zero!”, [W] Josh Bayer, [A] Benjamin Marra. Crime Destroyer is a black superhero who kills his enemies, and he also has a signal on the police station roof, so he’s sort of a combination of Punisher, Luke Cage and Batman. Benjamin Marra’s art in this issue is excellent; he uses the standard draftsmanship and layouts of ‘80s and ‘90s comics, while also conveying a punkish indie comics sensibility. However, it’s difficult to tell whether we’re this comic is serious or not. It seems to be intended as a parody of ‘90s comics, but you also get the feeling that Josh Bayer doesn’t quite realize it’s a parody and is trying to tell these stories with serious intent. This issue includes a page of Al Milgrom’s reviews of reecent indie comics. Again, it kind of feels like the editors are making fun of Al by displaying his limited understanding of avant-garde comics.

CURSE WORDS #5 (Image, 2017) – as above. Wizord’s plane crash-lands in Las Vegas, which is another place of power, so he’s able to win his fight with Ruby. In the midst of the fight, we get the shocking revelation that Margaret is Wizord and Ruby’s daughter, though none of the three seems to realize it. Also, a replica of the Eiffel Tower gets hit by a stray magic bolt and comes to life. That’s the sort of thing that happens in Curse Words.

SPACE RIDERS: GALAXY OF BRUTALITY #1 (Black Mask, 2017) – “Chaos in the Cosmos,” [W] Fabian Rangel, [A] Alexis Ziritt. A Starlinesque cosmic epic about some outer space bikers whose dialogue includes a lot of Spanish. This comic’s plot is reasonably interesting, but Alexis Zirtt’s artwork is a revelation. His art sort of resembles that of Jim Starlin, but filtered through a radical punk/DIY aesthetic. His pages almost look like posters rather than comics pages, with giant areas of solid color. It’s hard to describe this art more precisely because I can’t think what else it compares to, but it’s fascinating, and I want to see more from this artist.

ARCLIGHT #3 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Brandon Graham, [A] Marian Churchland. This is very similar to Brandon Graham’s Prophet, except it has no apparent plot or premise. Brandon Graham had elaborate plans for the 8House/Arclight universe, but only a few issues of either series were never published, and based on those issues we can only guess at what 8House was supposed to be.

SPACE RIDERS: GALAXY OF BRUTALITY #2 (Black Mask, 2017) – “The Last Transmission of Margarita Peligro,” as above. In this issue the lead Space Rider, Captain Peligro, discovers what happened to his mother. This issue is heavily Kirbyesque as well as Starlinesque; it introduces an “Omega Structure” at the edge of the cosmos. Alexis Ziritt’s artwork here is perhaps even more radical than issue 1. I wish I had ordered the other two issues of this miniseries. And I guess there are also two other Space Riders miniseries besides this one.

ALL-TIME COMICS: BULLWHIP #1 (Fantagraphics, 2017) – “Web of Oblivion!”, [W] Josh Bayer, [A] Benjamin Marra. Bullwhip, a supposedly feminist superheroine, battles the Misogynist and the Time Vampire. This issue is quite similar to Crime Destroyer #2.

CURSE WORDS #6 (Image, 2017) – “Explosiontown Part One,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. On the Hole World, the alternate dimension where all the main characters come from, Sizzajee stages a contest to decide who will go after Wizord next. Meanwhile, Ruby Stitch starts a new life on Earth. By this point I was starting to enjoy this series quite a bit.

CURSE WORDS #7 (Image, 2017) – “Explosiontown Part Two,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. A stereotypical Frenchman named Jacques Zacque tries to assassinate Wizord, but Wizord turns him into a chair. Also, the government tries to kill Wizord with nuclear bombs, but it doesn’t work. Back in the Hole World, Violet is selected as Wizord’s next opponent. This issue was kind of inconsequential.

SILK #9 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, [W] Robbie Thompson, [A] Stacey Lee. The key moment of this issue is when Silk and Black Cat get locked in an elevator for an hour, forcing them to have a heart-to-heart talk. But Robbie Thompson never manages to make me care much about either character, and as usual with Silk, this issue’s plot is pointless.

HELLBLAZER #61 (DC, 1993) – “She’s Buying a Stairway to Heaven,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] William Simpson. This issue has my favorite Glenn Fabry cover, the one where Constantine is leaning in a doorway holding a bloody scalpel. I saw this cover as a kid, when this issue first came out, and was fascinated, but I never read the actual issue until now. This issue, Constantine performs a ritual that renders Chantinelle immune to detection by hell, but in return he demands a favor from her. I think the highlight of this issue is the scene where Chantinelle sits on a bench and contemplates her mixed feelings about being exiled from hell.

KA-ZAR #5 (Marvel, 1997) – “Life in the Big City,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Adam Kubert. The main theme of Waid’s Ka-Zar run was that Kevin Plunder was a man-child struggling to grow up and accept his adult responsibility. His conflicts between childhood and adulthood were represented by his divided loyalties between America and the Savage Land. This issue, Ka-Zar fights the Rhino in the middle of a crowded museum gala, and he also comes to the unpleasant realization that his son is named after Shanna’s old crush, Matt Murdock.

MERCURY HEAT #11 (Avatar, 2016) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Nahuel Lopez. Luiza fights a bunch of zombies, who are referred to as Crossed, so I guess this comic takes place in the same universe as that series. This issue has some good dialogue and exciting action scenes. However, it has ugly art and low production values, like all Avatar comics, and it doesn’t feel nearly as serious or substantial as Kieron Gillen’s other titles.

CAPTAIN BRITAIN AND THE MIGHTY DEFENDERS #2 (Marvel, 2015) – “…And Mine is a Faith in My Fellow Man,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Alan Davis. Faiza Hussain makes peace between her city and Maria Hill’s. This issue is okay, but it’s hard to care about it. It was part of a crossover, and it stars a bunch of alternate-reality versions of Marvel characters, none of whom are likely to appear again.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #9 (Image, 2015) – “Cosmic Apocalypse,” [W/A] Ryan Browne. A giant anthropomorphic hippo fights King Tiger-Eating-a-Cheeseburger. This issue is full of wacky stuff, but none of it is as funny as Browne thinks it is.

CURSE WORDS #8 (Image, 2017) – “Explosiontown Part Three,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Wizord meets the President, and it doesn’t go well. I think this President may be the same one from Letter 44. Ruby Stitch begins her new life on Earth. There are some more intrigues in the Hole World. This issue feels as if it’s just filling space. I haven’t gotten to #9 yet.

AXEL PRESSBUTTON #2 (Eclipse, 1984) – “Wanted for Mass Murder” and “Oasis,” [W] Steve Moore, [A] Steve Dillon. This issue starts with two Laser Eraser and Pressbutton stories reprinted from Warrior. The most notable thing in them is a bet that ends with the winner killing the loser. More importantly, this issue also includes the Alan Moore-Garry Leach Warpsmith story “Cold War, Cold Warrior,” whose first American publication was here and not in the Miracleman series. It’s not Alan’s best short story, but it’s essential for a completist like me. The main point of this story is that the Black Warpsmiths are evil and ruthless.

THE LAW OF DREDD #22 (Fleetway/Quality, 1990) – “The Apocalypse War Part 3,” [W] John Wagner, [A] Carlos Ezquerra. This issue reprints several chapters of “The Apocalypse War,” one of the most acclaimed Judge Dredd stories. This story is about a war between Mega-City One and East-Meg One, i.e. the Soviet Union. What impresses me about this and other 2000 AD stories is its brutality. It includes no sex or graphic violence, but it’s a grim, unromantic depiction of war. By the end of this issue, most of the soldiers who Dredd commanded at the start of the issue have been killed. One of them sacrifices himself by jumping off a highway bridge, so that he can cut some lower bridges as he’s falling. The story arc ends with East-Meg One being nuked into oblivion, so things would get even worse. Wally the Wobot offers a bit of much-needed comic relief.

EDGE OF CHAOS #3 (Pacific, 1984) – untitled, [W/A] Gray Morrow. This early creator-owned comic, a blend of SF and fantasy, includes some very appealing art. However, Gray Morrow writes way too much text, and as a result his story never gets any momentum. It’s also not the most original story; it’s about a mortal man named Eric Cleese who goes back in time and becomes Hercules.

B.P.R.D. HELL ON EARTH: RUSSIA #4 (Dark Horse, 2011) – “Russia,”  [W] Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, [A] Tyler Crook. A BPRD agent and some Russian soldiers descend into a mine, where they fight some zombies and a giant Lovecraftian monster. These BPRD comics are all very similar. I wonder how much Mignola is actually involved with them; none of his co-written comics seem as witty or as creepy as his solo-authored work.

HELLBLAZER #11 (DC, 1988) – “Newcastle: A Taste of Things to Come,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] Richard Pears Rayner & Mark Buckingham. John Constantine’s Newcastle incident was alluded to as early as his first appearance, but this issue finally explains what happened to him in Newcastle. In a flashback, we see how a young Constantine tries to get rid of a demon by summoning a worse demon to eat it. This is as bad an idea as it sounds. Constantine can’t control the demon he summons. As a result, a little girl, Astra, is killed and condemned to hell, Constantine goes insane, and all his friends who participated in the ritual are cursed, causing them to later suffer untimely deaths. “Newcastle” fills in an essential piece of Constantine’s backstory, showing us the central trauma of his life.

BATMAN #659 (DC, 2007) – “Grotesk, Part 1,” [W] John Ostrander, [A] Tom Mandrake. The creative team from The Spectre reunites for a story about a grossly deformed monster who goes around murdering criminals. Tom Mandrake’s art in this issue is very similar to his art on The Spectre, especially the splash page where a man burns to death.

LOVE FIGHTS #5 (Oni, 2003) – untitled, [W/A] Andi Watson. This series’ protagonist is a comic book artist, and in this issue he discovers that his new inker is Donnie Vincent, the worst inker in the industry. This is too much of an inside joke for my tastes, and besides, the person who Donnie Vincent is based on was long dead by 2003, so this joke was flogging a dead horse. Other than that, this comic is a well-drawn but unmemorable piece of romantic comedy.

STARSLAYER #13 (First, 1984) – “Tamara Stands Alone!”, [W] John Ostrander, [A] Lenin Delsol. The lead story in this issue is not great. Lenin Delsol was a mediocre draftsman, and he had a weird habit of drawing characters with half their bodies beyond the panel border. And John Ostrander seemed to have little interest in writing Starslayer. As usual, the Grimjack story in this issue is much better. It includes a scene where Grimjack visits the strangest place in all of Cynosure: suburbia. “I try to stay out of suburbia.”

PRETTY DEADLY #8 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Emma Rios. I just don’t like this series at all. I’ve never understood its plot, and Emma Rios’s linework and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s dialogue both grate on me. I know there are people who genuinely like this series, and I don’t understand why.

MIRROR #2 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Emma Rios, [A] Hwei Lim. This is only the second issue and I was completely unable to follow it. This is partly because Lim’s faces are drawn with an extreme lack of detail, and so I was unable to tell the characters apart. I shouldn’t have bought this comic.

My next shipment arrived on December 10. I was exhausted from grading that day, and I didn’t feel like reading anything.

MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #10 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. Kamala defeats Mr. Hyde, but her suit takes over and tries to kill him, and it turns out to be a sentient being called Stormranger. Also, Bruno and Aamir have a conversation about Kamala. This issue is mostly setup for the climax of the current storyline.

MANIFEST DESTINY #39 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. The first and third pages of this issue are narrated in parallel fashion by both Lewis and Clark, each of whom gives his own account of an encounter with a two-headed monster. Sadly, this parallel narration stops there and doesn’t continue for the whole issue. Subsequently, Lewis flirts with Mrs. Boniface, the crew discovers a new arch that’s covered with fur, and at the end of the issue they discover a tribe of warrior women.

SPIDER-MAN & VENOM: DOUBLE TROUBLE #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] GuriHiru. Venom, in Spider-Man’s body, participates in an obstacle course game show, and various other funny stuff happens. This series is a very simple and quick read and has no relationship to continuity, but it’s extremely well-executed – much more so than Marvel Action: Spider-Man. I wish Marvel would publish more comics like this (and not outsource them to IDW).

USAGI YOJIMBO #7 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “The Swords of the Higashi,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Usagi, Gen and Stray Dog kill some bandits and recover some swords that the bandits stole from the Higashi clan. They head off to return the swords to their owner, but they leave one of the bandits alive, and he comes back with more men. After they kill those men, the same bandit survives and comes back with even more men, and so on until Usagi, Gen and Stray Dog are thoroughly exhausted. It’s not clear how the bandit keeps recruiting so many more henchmen, but I guess that’s the joke. When Higashi and his friends finally reach the Higashi fortress, they discover that the swords in their possession are fake, and the real swords were already returned – by a certain “girl who does what she can to get by.” This is an extremely clever and funny story, a good example of Stan’s skill at writing single-issue stories.

DIE #10 (Image, 2019) – “The X-Card,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Stephanie Hans. Ash becomes the patron of all the Dictators in the world, and then she binds her former lover Zamorna to her and forces him to make her his queen. Zamorna describes himself as a “ravisher of seventeen-year-old girls, created by a teenage girl,” which has echoes of both Byron and Mary Shelley. By the end of the issue, Ash has set herself up as the evil queen of Angria. Die is one of the best current comic books from any publisher, but it’s also very dense and difficult, which is why it’s never the first comic I read.

THE DREAMING #16 (DC, 2019) – “The Crown, Part Two,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Marguerite Sauvage. This is perhaps the best issue of the series (besides #10), for two reasons. First, it explains what’s going on. Wan is an artificial intelligence created by the techbro Perry Keter in order to “rewrite what’s in people’s heads.” Of course, Wan turned out to be far more effective than its creator wanted, and Perry Keter died before he could turn it off. Also, Cain is inside the Wan architecture now and is, ironically, protecting Wan  from being killed. The second reason this is a great issue is Marguerite Sauvage’s art. Her charming, lyrical style of art and coloring is a surprisingly good fit for the terrible events of this issue. I love Sauvage’s art, and I wish there were more of it. She’s never been the regular artist on any comic book, and most of the time she only draws part of an issue, rather than the whole thing.

X-MEN #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Growth Mindset,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. The X-Men battle Hordeculture, a supervillain team consisting of four old ladies. They seem like a joke at first, but prove to be very dangerous opponents. Because I didn’t read House of X/Powers of X, I don’t fully understand what’s going on in this series, but it’s the most exciting X-Men comic since Grant Morrison left.

EVERYTHING #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Praxis and Allies,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. By the end of this issue it’s clear that the Everything store is a front for some kind of bizarre cult, and it’s driving all the people in town crazy. Everything does a good job of creating a creepy and ominous mood. The problem is that Everything’s story lacks structure; every issue is just a bunch of isolated scenes with no apparent relationship to each other. Also, none of the characters have any distinguishing qualities at all. Everything is interesting, but it’s  a disappointing follow-up to She Could Fly.

THOR: THE WORTHY #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Beyond the Fields We Know,” [W] Walt Simonson, [A] Mike Hawthorne. The main reason to buy this is that it includes a new Thor story written by Walt Simonson, though he didn’t draw it. However, this story is only average. It’s an in-betweenquel, happening somewhere around Thor #339, in which Thor and Sif fight a rock troll. The next story is by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz and looks exactly like one of their old Thor comics; however, their Thor run was never very good in the first place, and is not worth revisiting. The issue ends with a story by Kathryn Immonen and Tom Reilly in which the Jane Foster Thor teams up with Sif. It’s an okay story, but overall this issue is skippable.

RAGNAROK: THE BREAKING OF HELHEIM #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “In the Soul Mines of Helheim…,” [W/A] Walt Simonson. Freyr sends Elli, the personification of old age, against Thor, but Thor cleverly defeats her by stuffing a dried apple of Idunn in her mouth. After learning that his wife is already dead, Hagen heroically sacrifices himself to defeat Freyr. Thor’s next stop is Helheim itself. Ragnarok is much grimmer and less funny than Simonson’s classic Thor run (even with Ratatoskr as comic relief), but with Ragnarok Simonson is challenging himself and trying something new, and that’s valuable.

LOIS LANE #6 (DC, 2019) – “Enemy of the People Part Six,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. This issue doesn’t advance the plot of the miniseries at all, because it’s an Event Leviathan crossover. That’s right, an issue of a miniseries that’s part of a crossover. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this before,  and it’s a slap in the face to people who are only reading Lois Lane and not the other Superman titles. I don’t care about Event Leviathan, I care about the story Greg Rucka is telling about Lois Lane, and this issue is an unnecessary interruption to that story. A further reason why this issue pissed me off is that it’s about Sam Lane’s funeral. Every story I’ve ever read about Sam Lane has portrayed him as a complete asshole, so I’m glad he’s dead, and it’s annoying to read a story full of people crying crocodile tears over him.

ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ AND THE FRESHMAN FORCE: SQUAD SPECIAL #1 (Devil’s Due, 2019) – various stories, [E] Josh Blaylock. Devil’s Due’s previous AOC comic was really good, but this follow-up issue is frankly awful. It’s full of shoddy, amateurish work, including one story by Blaylock himself that consists almost entirely of caption boxes. After reading this, I will be hesitant to buy any other comics from Devil’s Due.

GREEN LANTERN: BLACKSTARS #2 (DC, 2019) – “A Hole in the Sky,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Xermanico. This issue begins with a rather tense conversation between Hal and Superman. Then it’s time for Hal and Belzebeth’s wedding, and we finally get Belzebeth’s backstory: she’s the daughter of Starbreaker, and she comes from a race of cosmic vampires who eventually evolve into Sun-Eaters. The Sun-Eater/Starbreaker connection is a brilliant use of old continuity. Then Controller Mu ascends to godhood, and Hal starts implementing his secret plan. Oh, also I finally get that Hal became a Blackstar because he wished on the Miracle Machine and changed all of reality. Like most of Grant’s work, his Green Lantern run is extremely dense, but it’s also a lot of fun.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR II #4 (Archie, 2019) – “Dance of Death,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Robert Hack. I barely remember this because I was exhausted when I read it. There’s a whole lot more carnage, and Betty and Veronica summon the devil to help them.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #6 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. Another one I don’t remember well. Kristi tracks down Daphne and drags her out to do a bunch of touristy stuff. Kristi becomes suspicious when Daphne won’t take her to the mansion, and Daphne blows up at Kristi, calling her suffocating. Honestly I can sympathize with both of them, because Daphne was refusing to just tell the truth about the ghosts, but Kristi really is pretty suffocating.

COPRA #3 (Image, 2019) – “Ticking Teeth,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. The Copra team defeats the villains, but the villains have already set a self-destruct timer, and Zoë is forced to kill her ex-lover Castillo. A notable feature of this issue is a timer that keeps counting down in the corners of the panels. The art in this issue is excellent, but I can never keep this series’ story straight in my mind.

ADVENTURE FINDERS: THE EDGE OF EMPIRE #4 (Action Lab, 2019) – “The Green Shroud,” [W/A] Rod Espinosa. The good guys manage to get across the bridge and then destroy it to prevent pursuit, but afterward they find themselves in a forest full of dinosaurs. This is quite an exciting issue.

After this point I was done with grading, so I had a bit more mental energy to devote to reading:

THOR, GOD OF THUNDER #21 (Marvel, 2014) – “God, Inc.,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Esad Ribic. In the future, Thor battles Galactus. In the present, Thor returns to Broxton, Oklahoma and finds that Dario Agger has purchased the entire town, just to piss him off. Esad Ribic’s art is growing on me. I especially like his sound effects.

ATOMIC ROBO AND THE REVENGE OF THE VAMPIRE DIMENSION #4 (Red 5, 2010) – “Why Dr. Dinosaur Hates Atomic Robo,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. The story of Robo’s first encounter with Dr. Dinosaur, easily the best character in the series. Everything Dr. Dinosaur says and does is hilarious, and he and Robo are a great comic duo. I especially like when Robo points out how Dr. Dinosaur’s existence is scientifically implausible (and then Dr. Dinosaur goes after him with a chainsaw).

BLACK PANTHER AND THE CREW #2 (Marvel, 2017) – “We Are the Streets,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates & Yona Harvey, [A] Butch Guice & Mack Chater. I disliked the first issue of this series, but I liked this one much more. It opens with a flashback to the 1955 Bandung Conference, a real historical event, and then in the present, Storm and Misty Knight investigate some crime in Harlem. The death of the activist Ezra Keith forces Storm to confront her feelings of disconnection from her African-American heritage. Storm’s Harlem upbringing has been explored before, (e.g. in X-Men #122), but rarely with this level of depth.

TRANSFORMERS VS. G.I. JOE: THE MOVIE ADAPTATION #nn (IDW, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Tom Scioli. This is possibly unique in comic book history because it’s an “adaptation” of a movie that doesn’t exist. It’s Tom Scioli’s adaptation of the film version of his own Transformers vs. G.I. Joe miniseries. Like most comics adaptations of films, it reads like a condensed plot summary, but it’s full of weird ideas and radical page layouts. I especially like all the bonus features, which are written as if the movie really existed.

ALL-TIME COMICS: BLIND JUSTICE #2 (Fantagraphics, 2018) – “The View from Knife Pierce Mountain,” [W] Josh Bayer, [A] Noah Van Sciver. This is the best issue of All-Time Comics I’ve read because it’s an extra-length story fully illustrated by Noah Van Sciver. The combination of Van Sciver pencils with Al Milgrom inks is weird, but it works. Also, Josh Bayer’s story is genuinely suspenseful. The closing scene is especially brutal. Blind Justice pursues a murderer to the top of a mountain, but the murderer defeats him and smashes his hands; however, Blind Justice gets up, follows the villain, and traps him into hanging himself.

ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN #6 (Image, 2017) – “Where the rain don’t fall,” [W/A] Kyle Starks. Jackson has an epic fight with some henchmen on top of a moving train. He finally gets defeated by a female opponent, since his power is that no one man can defeat him in combat. But then his opponent makes the mistake of standing on railroad tracks during a thunderstorm. Meanwhile, Satan tries to track Jackson down. I still need to read the last two issues of this series.

AIR #20 (Vertigo, 2010) – “A History of the Future Part II,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] M.K. Perker. The protagonist investigates the crashed plane of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which has somehow appeared in Washington state, and then she goes back in time and meets Saint-Exupéry himself. Air is Willow’s least successful and most uncharacteristic work, but I’m still interested in reading the rest of it. This issue includes an echo of Ms. Marvel: an old Indian or Pakistani lady who calls the protagonist “beti.”

MISTER X #7 (Vortex, 1986) – “The Secret,” [W] Dean Motter, [A] Seth. The head of Friedkin Pharmaceuticals is having some mysterious nightmares, and he browbeats Mister X into finding out why. The best thing about this issue is Seth’s depictions of Radiant City’s art deco architecture and signage. However, Seth is not temperamentally suited to drawing an adventure comic; his major works are stories in which barely anything happens.

ALL-NEW ATOM #14 (DC, 2007) – “Hunt for Ray Palmer Part Three: Heavens to Betsy,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] Mike Norton. Ryan Choi, Donna Troy, Jason Todd and the Monitor travel into a microworld to look for Ray Palmer. On the way, they encounter a bunch of other dead heroes and villains. This is a reasonably good superhero comic, but it’s nothing special.

THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO #2 (Topps, 1994) – “It Crawls!”, [W] Joe R. Lansdale, [A] Tim Truman. Lone Ranger and Tonto encounter some obsessed fans, and then they get hired  to find a stolen Aztec mummy. But the mummy has come to life and has its own agenda. This isn’t as funny as Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo, but it’s entertaining. As Truman explains in the letters page, he consciously tried to make Tonto an actual charactre and not just a stereotype, though I’m not sure he succeeds as well as Mark Russell did in his own Lone Ranger series.

HELLBLAZER #85 (Vertigo, 1995) – “Warped Notions Pt. 1: The Delicate Power of Terror,” [W] Eddie Campbell, [A] Sean Phillips. Constantine meets the ghost of Sir Francis Dashwood, the founder of the historical Hellfire Club, and they head to Philadelphia to avert a mystical apocalypse. On the way to America, they encounter reenactments of a number of urban legends, like the one about drugs being smuggled in dead babies. Eddie Campbell’s Hellblazer displays the same gentle, sardonic humor as his creator-owned work. There’s some disgusting stuff in this comic, but it’s presented in a humorous way. For example, one of Sir Francis’s companions is a giant anthropomorphic cat named Murnarr who enjoys snacking on dead humans’ bones.

DETECTIVE COMICS #586 (DC, 1988) – “Rat Trap,” [W] John Wagner & Alan Grant, [A] Norm Breyfogle. Batman defeats the Ratcatcher and frees his surviving victim. The Ratcatcher is a very creepy villain, and Wagner, Grant and Breyfogle’s storytelling is exciting and moody.

LUCIFER #27 (Vertigo, 2000) – “Purgatorio 3 of 3,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross & Ryan Kelly. The conclusion of Lucifer’s battle with the Basanos, a personification of the Tarot deck. It includes a rare on-panel appearance by the DCU version of God. I mostly couldn’t understand what was going on in this issue.

On December 15, I celebrated the end of the semester by going to the Charlotte Comic Con. Here are some of the comics I bought there:

CRIMINAL #6 (Marvel, 2007) – “Lawless Part One,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. In a flashforward, Tracy Lawless is introduced to us as he’s murdering a man and throwing his body into a passing garbage truck. We then move back in time a bit and see Teeg being  released from prison only to discover that his younger brother Ricky has been murdered.  Teeg decides to investigate by joining Ricky’s old gang, only he has to create a vacancy in that gang first, which explains why he murdered the man in the first scene. Tracy is a fascinating character; he’s as much of a criminal as his father or his brother, but he seems to have a basic sense of integrity that neither of them has.

JONNY QUEST #5 (Comico, 1986) – “Jade Incorporated,” [W] William Messner-Loebs [A] Mitch Schauer. This issue has an incredible cover by Dave Stevens. In “Jade Incorporated,” Jonny and Hadji team up with Jezebel Jade in a wacky adventure which is inspired by The Maltese Falcon. This story is extremely entertaining, and I love how Jonny and Hadji manage to hold their own against adults like Jezebel and Dr. Zin. Because this story takes place in Hong Kong, it includes some annoying stereotypes, although the most stereotypical character turns out to be a secret agent in disguise.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #145 (Marvel, 1975) – “Gwen Stacy is alive… and, Well?!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Ross Andru. Peter meets the Gwen Stacy clone and reacts violently, even shoving her down. He tries to distract himself by fighting the Scorpion. This is an excellent Spider-Man comic, with solid characterization and action sequences. I’m not sure what happened to this Gwen Stacy clone; her history has been completely retconned at least twice.

SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES #12 (EC, 1953/1995) – four stories, [E] Al Feldstein. The standout story in this issue is “The Monkey,” a very realistic depiction of a teenager’s descent into heroin addiction. It ends with the protagonist murdering his own father, which is a typical EC ending, but otherwise it feels more plausible than other EC storise. In Jack Kamen’s “Deadline,” an alcoholic journalist tries to quit drinking in order to win the love of a woman, but he ends up murdering the woman, who turns out to be cheating on him. In “The Kidnapper” by Reed Crandall, a newborn baby is kidnapped, plunging the baby’s mother into despair. The father decides to kidnap a different baby from a wealthy suburban couple, but he’s caught and murdered by a mob. Of course it turns out the baby he kidnapped was his own son, who was sold to a rich infertile couple. In Wally Wood’s “Fall Guy,” a criminal steals some money and hides it in a safe deposit box under an assumed name. He serves some prison time for the theft, but when he gets out, he can’t remember the name he used to rent the safe deposit box. In desperation, he jumps off a building with a neon sign that reads BAR AND GRILL / BEER ON TAP, and as he’s falling, he knocks some of the letters off the sign. Ironically, in doing so he reveals the name he couldn’t remember: BRAD GILBERT. It’s an implausible but brilliant ending.

CHEW #24 (Image, 2012) – “Major League Chew Part 4 of 5,” [W] John Layman, [A] Rob Guillory. Mason Savoy recruits Olive Chu to hunt down Hershel Brown, a “xocoscalpere” who can make weapons out of chocolate. Hershel Brown gets killed and Olive takes a bit out of his arm and gains his ability. It’s revealed that Olive has the same powers as the Vampire. As always, this issue is thrilling and funny and is full of gags; the opening scene takes place at a butter sculpting competition, from which Hershel is disqualified because he used chocolate instead of butter. (Though he points out that there’s butter in chocolate!)

ATOMIC ROBO #5 (Red 5, 2008) – “Unearthed,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. An early battle between Robo and his archenemy Helsingard. It’s good, but it lacks the humor and excitement of later Atomic Robo comics. This issue includes a backup story by Christian Ward, who was already a brilliant artist and colorist by 2008.

ATOMIC CITY TALES #2 (Kitchen Sink, 1996) –untitled, [W/A] Jay Stephens. This is much better than #1 of the self-published series, which I read earlier this year. It consists of two parallel stories, one where Jay Stephens (the author’s avatar) is attending Doc Phantom’s party, and another where the superhero Big Bang is looking for Jay. The Big Bang story is on the top tier of each page, and the Jay story is on the middle and bottom tiers. As stated on the inside front cover, the reader can read the two stories at the same time or one after the other. Besides this narrative gimmick, the issue is full of bizarre characters and snappy dialogue. Jay Stephens’s style is heavily based on that of Mike Allred, but his draftsmanship is excellent.

CAMELOT 3000 #1 (DC, 1982) – “The Past and Future King!”, [W] Mike W. Barr, [A] Brian Bolland. DC’s first “maxi-series” was a science fiction story in which King Arthur returns in the far future to prevent an alien invasion. Camelot 3000 is historically important, but it hasn’t held up well, especially not now that we have Once and Future. Mike Barr was an okay writer, but he had a tendency toward histrionics, and his knowledge of Arthurian legend is very shallow compared to that of Kieron Gillen. In Once and Future, Gillen is able to play with Arthurian legend in clever and unexpected ways (like when he reveals that Duncan is Sir Percival), but Barr only knows the basic facts of the Arthurian narrative. Brian Bolland’s artwork in this miniseries is simply not up to its usual standard. I think that this series forced him to produce much more work than he was used to, and he wasn’t able to ink it himself. Camelot 3000 did get better later on when Barr introduced a queer romance subplot, but it doesn’t live up to the hype.

THE AUTHORITY #11 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “Outer Dark Three of Four,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Bryan Hitch. The Engineer merges with the Authority’s carrier in a last-ditch attempt to kill God. Warren Ellis’s Authority was really a fairly conventional superhero comic, though with more than the usual dose of science fiction. The scene with Apollo and Engineer on the moon is especially notable for the sense of wonder it creates. It was Mark Millar who turned Authority into something truly unprecedented, though not in a good way.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #687 (Marvel, 2012) – “Ends of the Earth Part Six: Everyone Dies,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Stefano Caselli. Spider-Man, Silver Sable and the Avengers invade the dying Dr. Octopus’s base. Spidey barely manages to defeat Doc Ock, in a scene that calls Spider-Man #33 to mind, but the Rhino apparently kills Silver Sable. This story leads directly into Dying Wish and Superior Spider-Man. A funny moment in this story is when Doc Ock mind-controls Thor, and then Thor drops Mjolnir, because Doc Ock isn’t worthy to hold it.

JUNKWAFFEL #3 (Print Mint, 1972) – “The Masked Lizard” and other stories, [W/A] Vaughn Bodē. Vaughn Bodē was one of the most influential underground cartoonists, though he published a very small body of work before dying of autoerotic asphyxiation. This issue includes some “Masked Lizard” strips that previously appeared in a college publication, several original short stories, and an illustrated prose story that first appeared in the East Village Other. Based on the evidence of this issue, Bodē was not a great storyteller – none of the stories have much of a plot. He was influential because of his talent for composition and his draftsmanship, especially his sexy women. I want to read more Bodē, but it’s a pity that his body of work is scattered among a bunch of different overlapping out-of-print publications. I don’t know why Fantagraphics hasn’t published a complete collection of his work.

LOCKE & KEY: ALPHA #2 (IDW, 2013) – “Part 2: The End,” [W] Joe Hill, [A] Gabriel Rodriguez. The last issue of the main storyline begins with Bode’s funeral, but then Tyler finds out a way to use the keys to revive Bode. This issue underscores how Tyler is an impressive character and a good example of tender masculinity. He experiences a ton of trauma throughout the series, but always maintains his sense of responsibility. The issue even ends with a scene where Tyler and his father’s ghost hug each other and cry.

BIRTHRIGHT #13 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Mikey fights Sameal, who he doesn’t realize is his grandfather. Meanwhile, we learn that Kylen is an agent of Lore. This is a good issue but not especially noteworthy.

PIRATE CORPS #1 (Eternity, 1987) – “I Hate This Job!”, [W/A] Evan Dorkin. When I found this comic in a cheap box, I thought at first that it was a different comic with the same title as Evan Dorkin’s Pirate Corps, because the art didn’t look like Dorkin’s art at all. But no, it’s just a very early work. I think it’s Evan’s first solo work. Even at the very start of his career, Evan was quite funny, and Pirate Corps #1 is an exciting piece of SF adventure. However, as mentioned in a different review (https://www.zompist.com/bob20.html), this comic suffers from a lack of worldbuilding or characterization. I bought a few more issues of Pirate Corps at the convention, but I haven’t gotten to them yet.

BATTLEAXES #1 (Vertigo, 2000) – “Medereus No More,” [W] Terry LaBan, [A] Alex Horley. Another impressive work by the highly underrated Terry LaBan. The tagline of Battleaxes is “When men were men and women killed them.” It’s about a group of women warriors (and one druidess) who are exiled from their village and become mercenaries. This issue, they save an innocent young couple from some Tenguts (i.e. Mongols), and then they join the army of the corrupt, crumbling Birzenian (i.e. Byzantine) Empire. Battleaxes is something of a wish-fulfillment fantasy, but it’s well-intentioned, and it’s very entertaining and raucously funny. It’s kind of a prototype of Rat Queens.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #4 (Marvel, 2013) – “The Aggressive Approach,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Spidey/Doc Ock defeats a bunch of supervillains and invents a bunch of stuff, but his coworkers start to get suspicious of him. Meanwhile, the psychopathic supervillain Massacre escapes from prison, kills the longtime supporting character Ashley Kafka, and holds a diner full of people hostage. Then the clerk pushes the silent alarm, and Massacre kills him and everyone else in the diner, saying, “I didn’t kill anyone. That man did. He broke the rules.” I was very relieved to learn that Spidey kills Massacre in the issue after this one, because he’s an utterly disgusting villain.

QUANTUM & WOODY #4 (Acclaim, 1997) – “Noogie,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] M.D. Bright. I have the trade paperback that includes this issue, but I read it a long time ago and I don’t remember it well. The notorious gimmick of this issue is that every instance of the N-word is replaced with “noogie.” Disturbingly, one of the characters who uses that word is Woody, and he says a bunch of other racist stuff too. Priest is deliberately trying to make the reader uncomfortable, and he succeeds. There’s a lot of other funny stuff in this issue, such as Woody driving Eric crazy with his guitar playing.

CRIMINAL: THE SINNERS #3 (Icon, 2009) – “The Sinners Part Three,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. On Sebastian Hyde’s orders, Tracy Lawless investigates a murder spree. He also sleeps with Hyde’s wife, though Hyde suspects Tracy is sleeping with his daughter. I love how the more Criminal comics I read, the more I deepen my understanding of its universe. I start to see how Tracy and Sebastian are connected to all the other characters. Since the stories in Criminal are told out of chronological order, it doesn’t matter so much that I’m not reading them in the order in which they were published. Even then, I still get that sense of understanding the world more with every issue I read.

INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #31 (Marvel, 2010) – “Stark Resilient Part 7: Sabot,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Salvador Larroca. Tony bets his company’s reputation on the new car they’re developing. But the first publication of the car is sabotaged by Justine and Sasha Hammer, the daughter and granddaughter of Justin. This is a really exciting issue, and Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca are my favorite recent Iron Man creative team, but that’s not saying much. Iron Man is easily the worst of the long-running Marvel titles. The only time it was truly great was during David Michelinie’s two runs. The reason may be that Tony Stark is an unsympathetic protagonist.

ATOMIC ROBO: SHADOW FROM BEYOND TIME #4 (Red 5, 2009) – “The Crawling Chaos,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. One of the best issues of any Atomic Robo series. In the ‘70s, Atomic Robo teams up with Carl Sagan to deal with the next manifestation of a time-traveling Lovecraftian monster. Sagan’s interactions with Robo are extremely funny; there’s a running gag where almost everything Sagan says is an aphorism about the mystery and wonder of science. This issue is full of other amazing moments. On page one, while Robo is on the phone, a gorilla walks by wearing a space helmet. Robo’s assistant walks out, notices it, and runs after it. These events are never referenced in the dialogue. Later, Robo invents a fifth cardinal direction called “zorth.” This issue also includes the frequently reproduced sequence where Robo starts reading a physics textbook, gets bored, and reads a Conan comic book instead. I think I might include this sequence on my syllabus for next semester.

TRINITY #27 (DC, 2008) – “Time to Suit Up,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Mark Bagley. Thanks to some villain or other, the universe has been retconned into an unrecognizable state – kind of like in Legion of Super-Heroes v4 #5. I didn’t understand much of this story, but it’s weird to see Mark Bagley drawing DC characters instead of Marvel characters. There’s also a backup story that stars some new superheroes called the Dreambound.

On December 18, I received a huge comics shipment:

FANTASTIC FOUR #17 (Marvel, 2019) – “Point of Origin Part Four: Secret Agenda,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Luciano Vecchio et al. A flashback reveals how Scrum and the other monsters were created. Scrum turns out to be the father of one of the Unparalleled. The main plotlines continue: Johnny is still obsessed with Sky, and Ben leads the monsters of Freak Alley on an invasion of Lowtown. At the end of the issue, Reed reveals that it was the Overseer who “weaponized” the cosmic storm that affected the FF’s rocket, thus creating the Fantastic Four. This was another great issue of an excellent FF run. Dan Slott evokes the spirit of past FF stories, while also adding things that haven’t been done before.

FAR SECTOR #2 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] N.K. Jemisin, [A] Jamal Campbell. This comic is an impressive piece of worldbuilding. The City Enduring is a complex, distinctive society populated by very different types of people – a good example of this is the giant open-air atrium built by people who can fly. And Sojourner Mullein is an equally complex and unique protagonist. In this issue we see that she’s fun-loving and has strong sexual desires, but that she’s also anxious about her newfound responsibility. N.K. Jemisin’s writing in this series is formidable, as much as in her prose works. Also, Jamal Campbell is an excellent artist and he succeeds at translating Jemisin’s worldbuilding into visual terms.

GIDEON FALLS #19 (Image, 2019) – “The Pentoculus: Part 3 of 5 – Alone in the Dark,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. The various characters continue their quest. The Ploughmen turn out to be a group of cranks who meet in a public library. A madman murders a bunch of people in a diner. The latter scene is something of a cliché. Probably all the other examples of it were inspired by Sandman #6.

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Scott Snyder & Charles Soule,  [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Uncle Sam explains that America is a bunch of different areas arranged in a spiral fashion, each separated by locked gates. To make progress, the team needs to recover the key to the next gate from the Destiny Man. So this sereies has a video-game-esque narrative structure. In flashbacks, we see that both the Zone and the Alliance have tried to bribe Daniel Graves –ironically, they each gave him a bottle of his favorite bourbon, claiming that it was the only surviving bottle. But at the end of the issue we see that Daniel is actually loyal to the Destiny Man, or at least he says so. This series has been really interesting so far, and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art is gorgeous.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #2 (Ahoy, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Peter Krause. The Earth-Omega Stinger leaves town in an unsuccessful attempt to escape his mentor, while the Earth-Alpha Stinger finds that his mentor keeps ignoring him. This is an entertaining series, but I kind of wish it had been a direct sequel to The Wrong Earth.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #13 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garrón et al. The conclusion to the current storyline is a bit anticlimactic. Miles escorts Uncle Aaron across town safely and makes it back to the hotel, where he discovers that the birth went fine and he now has a baby sister. Miles ultimately doesn’t face any consequences for choosing to be with his uncle, whose problems are his own fault, rather than his parents. However, the closing page, with Miles’s parents cuddling the new baby, is beautiful and heartwarming.

B.B. FREE #2 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Gabby Rivera, [A] Royal Dunlap. b.b. seeks refuge with Chulita’s parents, who are much more loving than her own father. There’s a beautiful scene where b.b. gets into bed with Chulita because she can’t sleep. In the morning, b.b. and Chulita prepare for their road trip. This issue maintains the high quality level of issue 1. So far, this series has been everything America was not.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. This issue starts with a funny scene where Erica buys a chainsaw at “House” Depot. I just wonder why the clerk was willing to sell it to her when she obviously wanted it for violent purposes. Later on, Erica tells James that the monsters are creatures that only children can see, because of their undeveloped brains. The trope of “monsters only visible to children” has a long history. In my dissertation, I mentioned Goethe’s “Der Erlkönig” as an early example, and the definitive modern version of this trope is Monsters, Inc. But Tynion’s version is much darker than Monsters, Inc., in that his monsters don’t just scare children, but eat them. At the end of the issue, Erica finds the monster’s stash of corpses and confronts both the monster itself, and a human who mistakes Erica for the murderer.

THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY #2 (DC, 2019) – “Be Weighed,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. Alice’s murder of her father is a cathartic moment, but it only makes things even worse. Alice develops selective mutism and can’t confess to the murder. Her mother confesses to it instead and is sent to prison, where she herself is murdered by another inmate. Meanwhile, Alice is sent to an orphanage, where a girl named Jenny bullies her heartlessly. The dollhouse continues trying to tempt Alice to live in it, and at the end of the issue it apparently eats Jenny. A flashback reveals the origin of Cordwainer (like Cordwainer Smith?), the father of the dollhouse family. This is easily the best Black Label title, and it’s one of Mike Carey’s darkest works. I kept wondering what Alice and her mother did to deserve so many awful traumas. A nice touch is when in the flashback sequence, the Irish maid sees a rat and says “Oh, will you now? A fecking rat, is it? A rat? Mallacht dé ort!” That sounds like very authentic Irish dialogue. The latter phrase means “God’s curse on you.”

DYING IS EASY #1 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Martin Simmonds. This series’ protagonist, Syd Homes, is a stand-up comedian who used to be a policeman. (So this is a comic about a comic.) His fellow comedian Carl Dixon has been stealing Syd’s jokes, so Syd beats Carl up. The following morning, Carl turns up dead, and Syd is the prime suspect. This is an interesting story, but it’s not an effective use of the comics medium. Its story is almost entirely carried by the dialogue – which is entirely natural, since it’s about people who make a living telling jokes. Martin Simmonds is a super-talented draftsman, but in this issue, all he gets to do is illustrate a bunch of conversations. So far, Joe Hill is not making the best use of his talents. I’m going to keep reading this comic, but I hope it gets more visually exciting.

CRIMINAL #1 (Icon, 2008) – “Second Chance in Hell,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue focuses on Jake Brown, a black professional boxer who’s also Sebastian Hyde’s best friend and hired muscle. At the Undertow, Jake sees a woman named Danica, and in flashback we learn that both Jake and Sebastian were in love with her, but Sebastian got her pregnant and forced her to have an abortion (as is revealed in #3 of this series). Jake sleeps with Danica, but the next morning she’s found dead, and Sebastian’s been robbed of $50,000. Furious, Jake slaps Sebastian in public, and Sebastian retaliates by having his thugs inflict career-ending injuries on Jake. This issue is a tragic story of racist violence, but also an important part of Criminal’s big picture. After reading this issue I finally understand why Danica’s story, told in #3, is relevant to Criminal’s main storyline. Until now it just seemed like an unrelated side story.

STEEPLE #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] John Allison. I felt reluctant to read this, because the outcome of the British election is making me want to forget that England exists. However, Brexit is not John Allison’s fault, and Steeple #4 is another really good issue. Billie unthinkingly volunteers for a national witchcraft festival, and finds herself enjoying it despite herself. This issue doesn’t have a strong overarching plot, but it has lots of funny scenes and sight gags.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #25 (Marvel, 2019) – “Darkest Hours,” [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Humberto Ramos. The Superior Venom battles the Avengers, and lots of other stuff happens too. This issue has a plot as complicated and intricate as any Spider-Man story by Stan Lee or Roger Stern, and it has great dialogue too. For example, there’s a scene where an injured criminal sees the Goblin Knight and says “Please… need… hospital,” and the Goblin Knight kills him, saying, “There! Now you don’t need a hospital anymore.” On the same page, the Goblin Knight identifies himself to Roderick Kingsley as “your old whipping boy, Phil Urich.” This scene illustrates one of Dan Slott’s key skills as a writer: he’s a master of continuity. He knows everything about the Marvel universe, and this allows him to remix old pieces of continuity in interesting new ways. For example, besides Phil Urich, this issue prominently features another forgotten old character, Cardiac. Objectively speaking, it may not be a good thing that Slott has such deep knowledge of continuity, but it certainly makes his stories more entertaining for a longtime fan like me.

TREES: THREE FATES #4 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. The protagonist has a vision of her old lover. Then she finds the bodies of the people who were killed last issue. Her partner tries to kill her for some reason, but she kills him instead. This comic would be easier to follow if the characters were fleshed out more. I don’t really know who Klara is or what motivates her. This is partly because each issue of Trees is so short; Jason Howard’s comics tend to be extremely quick reads. Also, the namesake trees are barley present in this issue at all. So far, Trees: Three Fates has been a disappointment. I’m not even sure what the three fates are.

IMMORTAL HULK #28 (Marvel, 2019) – “The New World,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Tom Reilly & Matías Bergara. This issue is a powerful critique of Trumpism, without, of course, saying the name Trump. Half the issue is narrated by a middle-aged Roxxon security guard who has an extremely authoritarian personality. His own daughter has joined the Hulk-inspired Teen Brigade protests, and he can’t and won’t understand her. He believes that he’s the “good guys” and that everyone else is corrupted by the “deep state,” and he can only explain his daughter’s rebellion by saying that the devil has corrupted her. When his daughter joins in a protest against his own facility, he tries to shoot her, telling himself that he feels threatened. Luckily the Hulk shows up in time to save the daughter’s life. But this sequence paints a depressing picture of a man who would sooner murder his own daughter than confront his prejudices. People like him are why it’s pointless to try to persuade Trump voters. The other half of the issue deals with Dario Agger’s attempts to co-opt the Hulk’s revolution by creating his own Hulk. The issue ends with Agger meeting Xemnu, Marvel’s fuzziest villain.

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #6 (Marvel, 2019) – “Strange Aeons Part 1,” [W] Al Ewing & Jason Aaron, [A] Pere Pérez. A dead man wakes up and tells Valkyrie that Death itself is dying. Valkyrie recruits a medical team to investigate, consisting of Faiza Hussain, Cardiac, Night Nurse and Manikin. They travel into the underworld, where they meet the Death of Death. Also, Dr. Gillespie, the creepy morgue doctor, reveals that he knows Jane’s secret identity. Dr. Strange makes a cameo appearance. This is another fun issue. I like the idea that Night Nurse’s own nurse must be called Day Doctor.

SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN #12 (Marvel, 2019) – “Conan the Searcher,” [W] Frank Tieri, [A] Andrea Di Vito. I bought this by mistake, thinking it was the third part of the story arc by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. Instead, it’s a generic by-the-numbers Conan story that includes nothing new or creative. Frank Tieri also fails to get Conan’s personality right.

IGNITED #5 (Humanoids, 2019) – “Doxxed Part 1: Rebel, Rebel,” [W] Mark Waid & Kwanza Osajyefo, [A] Phil Briones. I guess there’s some interesting political content in this issue, but Ignited is now five issues old, and I can’t remember the name of a single one of its characters. It suffers from a severe lack of characterization. I haven’t been impressed by any of Kwanza Osajyefo’s comics, and I think that Mark Waid is at his worst when he’s writing overtly political stories (with the possible exception of LSH v5). This will be my last issue of Ignited.

THE AUTHORITY #15 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “The Nativity Three of Four,” [W] Mark Millar, [A] Frank Quitely. I bought several issues of Millar’s Authority at the convention, because they have Frank Quitely artwork. The art in this issue is good; I particuarly like how one panel depicts a bar called Deighan’s, in reference to Quitely’s actual last name. However, the pleasure derived from this comic’s art is barely worth the pain caused by having to suffer through Mark Millar’s story. Mark’s stories are extremely tasteless; they aim primarily for shock value, and they lack any subtlety or any genuine emotion. Every line of dialogue in this issue is a histrionic exaggeration. For example, Apollo says “I’m going [to] snap every bone in that clown’s body and shove his friend’s mace so far he’s going to need eight years physiotherapy and a good proctologist to walk again,” and Midnighter replies, “God, I just love you to bits sometimes.” At times Millar is even actively offensive. On the page before the one I just quoted, Midnighter says “I never realized how racist I was until I started sharing my home with forty thousand refugees,” then asks when “these people” will get political asylum.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #13 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Last Avenger Part Two,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Lee Garbett. This series has been a big disappointment so far, partly due to its lack of a supporting cast or a clear premise. And this issue starts out as more of the same; the first half of the issue is a long fight scene between Carol and Tony Stark. But then Carol wins the fight and stashes the unconscious Tony inside Singularity, and suddenly Captain Marvel #13 becomes the best issue of the series. We learn that Carol has been visiting some refugee camps for Kree aliens – an obvious reference to ICE detention camps. But a villain named Vox Supreme has threatened to blow up all the camps unless Carol kills all the Avengers. Carol decides to hide the actual Avengers inside Singularity, her former A-Force teammate, and to kill a bunch of clones instead. I’m delighted to see Singularity again; with her appearance, this series becomes part of Kelly Thompson’s distinctive corner of the Marvel Universe. But moreover, with this issue the series finally acquires a sense of purpose, and we finally see what Carol cares about and why. Too bad it took so long to get to this point.

DOOM PATROL: WEIGHT OF THE WORLDS #6 (DC, 2019) – “Digital Justin,” [W] Gerard Way & Jeremy Lambert, [A] Omar Francia. Perhaps the strangest issue of a very strange series. The Doom Patrol enters a virtual universe called the “Bozumatrix,” where they have to defeat a virus that manifests as a bicycling frog delivering baguettes. The Bozumatrix is depicted in a deliberately obsolete style of computer-generated art; it looks like something from the ‘80s or ‘90s. Meanwhile, Cliff Steele turns into a planet. It’s too bad that this series only has one issue left.

BATTLEPUG #4 (Image, 2019) – “War on Christmas Part IV,” [W/A] Mike Norton. The Last Kinmundian is trapped in a cave with a furry creature called Juan Diego (i.e. Wendigo), but his friends arrive and help him escape. The Queen of the Northland Elves opens a dimensional gate and summons a giant cyborg chimera, and it steals the dog. This is a fun issue, but there’s not much difference between one issue of Battlepug and another.

WONDER TWINS #10 (DC, 2019) – “Internments,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. Lex Luthor is trapped on his own spaceship, and his exploited, underpaid interns refuse to help him. Zan, Jayna and Polly use this as an opportunity to kidnap Luthor and steal his spaceship, so they can free Philo Math from the Phantom Zone. Meanwhile, Colonel 86 is causing havoc on earth. Notable things in this issue include the brutal critique of corporate internships, and later, Polly’s speech about hope. It’s funny how Zan tricks Luthor by disguising himself as Gorilla Grodd.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #16 (DC, 2019) – “The Fire in Your Eyes,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Someone is trying to help Erzulie’s worshippers, but keeps doing it badly and leaving broken glass behind. A consultation with Papa Midnite reveals that the House of Watchers is somehow causing this. Meanwhile, Pokie’s “parents” continue to abuse her, while her cat gets bigger and bigger (and broken glass starts growing from its fur). Pokie runs away from home and discovers a prison for refugees, which her “parents” were operating – and maybe that explains why they think they can abuse and exploit her with impunity. This story is interesting, though it remains to be seen how Pokie’s story relates to Erzulie’s.

ETHER: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF VIOLET BELL #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. The assassin explains its origin, which is linked to the Rabid Cannibal Cabal (a very funny idea) and Lord Ubel. Grandor, a character from the previous miniseries, shows up and kills the assassin. On the last page, we see that Grandor has already found Violet Bell and that she’s been following him. I wish I could remember who Violet is. When she sees Boone, they hug each other, implying that they’re already acquainted.

DOCTOR MIRAGE #5 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Nick Robles. Shan is forced to accept that her husband really is dead, and that she has to go on without him. This is a powerful and unexpected conclusion; I expected Hwen would come back to life at the end. Overall, this miniseries is good as anything else Mags has written lately, especially due to Nick Robles’s art and Jordie Bellaire’s psychedelic coloring. I wonder what else she’s going to do next, besides the next Vagrant Queen miniseries.

ARCHIE 1955 #3 (Archie, 2019) – “If You See a Rocket Ship on Its Way to Mars, It’ll Be Me!”, [W] Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, [A] Ray-Anthony Height. Archie’s reputation continues to grow, while Betty is heartbroken because he seems to have forgotten her. Archie meets Kid Diamond, a stand-in for Little Richard. A boy punches Archie because he thinks Archie is responsible for his girlfriend leaving him. This issue has some good scenes, but is kind of a filler issue.

SERA AND THE ROYAL STARS #5 (AfterShock, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jon Tsuei, [A] Aubrey Mok. This comic’s plot is getting difficult to follow, partly because I missed an issue. This issue has two parallel plotlines taking place in the underworld and the real world. Eventually Sera manages to escape from the underworld and gets back to her companions, but then she decides to leave them behind so she can save her family. Vault has been publishing a lot of great comics lately. I think I’ve ordered six different Vault comics from the latest Previews.

THE BOYS #1 (Dynamite, 2019) – “The Name of the Game Part One,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] Darick Robertson. This was a $1 reprint. The Boys is a good example of why I hate most of Garth Ennis’s work other than Hellblazer. It’s a tasteless, disgusting superhero parody – kind of like Brat Pack (or Marshal Law as my friend Pól Rua suggested), but less original. Early this issue, a man named Hughie is holding his girlfriend’s hands, staring at her lovingly. Then  a superhero throws a supervillain into them, and Hughie is left holding his girlfriend’s severed hands, while the rest of her body is gone. The superhero expresses no remorse at all. After experiencing this brutal piece of emotional manipulation, I have no desire to read any more of this series.

BIRTHRIGHT #18 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Brennan apparently defeats the Nevermind, allowing Mikey to lead the resistance against Lore’s oncoming invasion. A nice moment in this issue is when Brennan tells Aaron that he knows Mikey is Aaron’s favorite, and Aaron refuses to admit it.

On December 21, I got another large comics shipment, even though I hadn’t finished reading all the comics from the previous shipment:

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #2 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] Ryan Sook. Sadly this is just not good. It has a boring, pointless plot about the Legion discovering Aquaman’s trident. And not only do the Legionnaires have no individual personalities, they don’t even have names. There’s one character (the girl with purple skin and a white costume) who I can’t identify, even though she has numerous lines of dialogue. Bendis writes the Legionnaires as just an anonymous crowd of generic characters. Ryan Sook’s artwork is excellent, but otherwise, this issue does nothing for me except remind me how much I miss Paul Levitz and Mark Waid and Jim Shooter. They were able to give each of the 20-plus Legionnaires a distinctive personality and voice. With Bendis, it’s just Superboy and a host of interchangeable supporting characters. I hope Bendis gets tired of this series soon, so that he can be replaced by someone who actually cares – Mark Russell, for example. But I fear that the series will be cancelled long before that happens.

LUMBERJANES #69 (Boom!, 2019) – “Forestry is the Best Policy Part 1,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh,[A] Kanesha C. Bryant & Julia Madrigal. I love Lumberjanes for much the same reasons that I love the Legion. Like the Legion at its best, Lumberjanes has a cast of distinctive and admirable characters whose strength comes not from their similarity, but from their differences. In this issue’s present-day sequence, the Roanokes help Rosie cut down a diseased tree. Meanwhile, Molly reads from an old diary she found, dating back to the time of Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet herself. A flashback sequence, by a different artist, shows us the story Molly is reading. According to solicitations, this story arc is going to reveal the history of the first Lumberjane. I’m excited by this because I want to learn more about the Lumberjanes’ world. I’m especially curious what life is like outside the camp.

ONCE & FUTURE #5 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Dan Mora. Duncan’s grandma shoots herself so that she can serve as a replacement Fisher King. To save her, Duncan beats up Galahad and recovers the Grail, but it vanishes when he gets to the real world. As a last-ditch measure he heads to Bath and asks the Lady in the Lake to give him Excalibur, with its wound-healing scabbard. Again this issue benefits from Gillen’s deep knowledge of Arthurian mythology. Duncan’s question “Whom does the Grail serve?” comes straight from Chrétien de Troyes’s Perceval, the Story of the Grail. Once & Future is probably the best new series of the year.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #6 (DC, 2019) – “Prisoner 24601…B!”, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. We’re introduced to Nathan Guy, who was trying to assassinate Jimmy, and Princess Jix, Jimmy’s alien wife. Later, Batman forces Jimmy to leave Gotham and changes his name to Jimphony. This issue is rather difficult, and I feel I would understand it better if I could read it all at once. There’s a scene that’s shown at least twice in this issue in which Jimmy and Metamorpho run in front of an ambulance. I think we must have seen this before from Jimmy’s perspective, but I can’t remember where we saw it.

FOLKLORDS #2 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Matt Smith. Archer the elf tells Ansel his origin, but with some significant omissions which are revealed in the images. Ansel meets a troll, who kisses him for some reason, and then a girl whose brother fell victim to the “weeping wood killer.” At the end of the issue, Ansel himself falls victim to the same killer. This issue is interesting, but not as jampacked as #1. Matt Smith’s art here is heavily indebted to Mignola.

MIDDLEWEST #13 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. A flashback shows us the story of how Ansel’s parents’ marriage collapsed. Ansel starts working as a slave on the ethol farm. Maggie tries to enlist her coworkers to raid the ethol farm and free the slaves. They all refuse at first, but the next morning they change their minds. This issue reveals that ethol production is extremely labor-intensive. I wonder if every ethol farm uses child slave labor, or if there are other ethol farms that are more ethical.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #8 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Edge of Everything Part Three,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. This issue mostly advances last issue’s plotlines in predictable ways. The three ships all have their own conflicting agendas; Grix tries to ally with the other Lux ship against the pirates, but the crew of the Lux ship has already been told that Grix is a thief. Meanwhile, Vess is clearly going through some kind of alien estrus because she has a crush on Grix, but she can’t say so because of her religious vows.

FAMILY TREE #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Phil Hester. In a flashback sequence, we’re introduced to Loretta’s father, Judd, and her brother, Darcy, who’s been turned into a tree. In the present, Judd returns and insists that Loretta and her kids come with him. Judd acts like an insufferable know-it-all, claiming that Loretta has to go with him or die, but Loretta distrusts him for unexplained reasons. On the last page, we see that Judd’s prosthetic hand is actually Darcy. This series is interesting, but I’m not sure yet what it’s about.

FARMHAND #12 (Image, 2019) – “The Earth Diver,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. A crawfish farm worker is killed by mutant crawfish, and his employer thinks Jeb is to blame. Zeke goes to investigate and is almost killed by a giant vaginal plant. Meanwhile, we get a lot of information about the recent past of the town and the rivalries between the local people. This issue is a return to this series’s normal status quo after #11, which was much more serious than usual.

SKULLDIGGER & SKELETON BOY #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Tonci Zonjic. Skulldigger is the Black Hammer version of Batman or the Punisher: a brutal vigilante who adopts children left orphaned by crime. This issue, a young boy’s parents are murdered by a criminal. Skulldigger kills the criminals and adopts the boy as his new sidekick. We’re also introduced to a police detective who was Skulldigger’s previous sidekick, but she claims to have killed him, which is odd because he’s still alive. This is the only current Black Hammer title, and no others have been announced yet. I hope this miniseries isn’t the end of the franchise. Tonci Zonjic’s art in this issue is amazing.

STRAYED #5 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carlos Giffoni, [A]  Juan Doe. This issue consists of a long philosophical monologue, coupled with images of Premier Peely and his soldiers being defeated by a coalition of aliens. But it ends with Lou and Kiara apparnetly dying, and the last page seems to show Kiraa’s ghost holding Lou’s ghost. I don’t quite understand what happened in this issue, but it’s a powerful and lyrical piece of work. I hope there’s a sequel to this miniseries.

FUTURE FOUNDATION #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Alti Firmansyah. The main event this issue is that Rikki and Julie Power become a couple. And then the series ends without really resolving the Molecule Man plotline. This was a fun series, but it never got a chance to reach its potential. The fact that Jeremy’s titles kepe getting cancelled is a good argument for why the direct market sucks.

WELLINGTON #1 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Aaron Mahnke & Delilah Dawson, [A] Piotr Kowalski. This comic is a spinoff of Mahnke’s history podcast, Lore, but I’m reading it because it’s written by Delilah Dawson. Wellington is a Mignola-esque story in which the Duke of Wellington encounters a supernatural threat. This comic is reasonably entertaining and feels quite historically well-informed. Wellington is an odd choice of protagonist, since he was an arch-conservative. Wellington’s clothing looks a little too modern.

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #3 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. June and her pet head start heading (heh) for safety. The head claims that June’s boyfriend Liam stole a lot of money from a corpse. June is picked up by a driver, but we soon realize that he’s allied with the criminals. This series is an intriguing blend of horror and humor. I really like Leomacs’s art.

AQUAMAN #55 (DC, 2019) – “Amnesty, Part 6: Man vs. Machine,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha. An issue-long fight scene involving Black Manta’s robot and the giant sea monster. Black Manta’s robot blows up, but the issue ends with Mera collapsing unconscious. This issue was a fairly satisfying climax to the storyline.

JOHN CONSTANTINE, HELLBLAZER #2 (DC, 2019) – “A Green and Pleasant Land, Part Two,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Aaron Campbell. This issue was rather confusing because I couldn’t remember much about the previous issue. I was especially confused by Constantine’s question “What rhymes with ‘looks like a scrotum’”? I thought at first that the answer to that question was significant, but I guess it’s just a silly joke referencing Billy the Traffic’s facial appearance and the fact that Blake was a poet. Anyway, this issue continues the plot with the criminal magician, but also includes a lot of references to Blake. There’s also a scene where a Sikh policeman threatens to castrate Constantine with his kirpan.

CATWOMAN #18 (DC, 2019) – “Zatanna, Mistress of Magic,” [W/A] Jöelle Jones, [A] Fernando Blanco. An entertaining team-up story in which Catwoman and Zatanna defeat a bunch of goons without using their whip or their magic, respectively. Back in Villa Hermosa, Catwoman’s store is attacked by a bunch of other thugs.

AGENTS OF ATLAS #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Portal City of Pan Part 5,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Nico Leon. The Agents of Atlas discover that Pan’s teleportation technology is powered by a dragon that Mike Nguyen is holding captive. And if they free the dragon, the city will be destroyed, and the Madripoorean refugees will be doomed. Before our heroes can decide what to do, Namor attacks the city riding a different dragon. This story is continued in Atlantis Attacks #1, which I didn’t order because I didn’t know it was a tie-in to this series. I don’t know why Agents of Atlas isn’t an ongoing. It’s a fun series and a great example of Asian representation.

MONEY SHOT #3 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley & Sarah Beattie, [A] Rebekah Isaacs. I ordered this because I saw someone praise this series on Twitter, and also its premise sounds interesting. Money Shot is about, more or less, some scientists who are producing space pornography in order to fund their research. This issue’s main plot is about the scientists’ attempt to discover a secret orgasm-powered source of renewable energy, but there are also some flashbacks in which the scientists have sex in various combinations. I don’t quite understand this series yet, but it’s funny and well-drawn and not as exploitative as it looks. I’m going to keep ordering it.

PRETTY VIOLENT #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [W] Jason Young. Gamma Rae defeats a villain named Kill Count and brings him to Brodie’s birthday party as a gift, only to learn that Brodie already has a girlfriend. This series’s plot is getting more intricate, though also more difficult to follow. It’s still kind of a one-joke comic, but the joke is still funny.

KING THOR #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “What is the Spirit of Thunder?”, [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Esad Ribic. Thor finally defeats Gorr, and Loki sacrifices himself to reignite the sun. Here the story is interrupted by several flashback sequences drawn by different artists. Some of these sequences are farewells to various characters, like Shadrak and Jane Foster, while the other sequences are glimpses of other futures or pasts. Finally, Thor bids his granddaughters farewell and becomes the animating force of the universe, and the story ends by answering the question in its title: “The spirit of thunder is to be heard.” Congratulations to Jason Aaron on the conclusion of the greatest run on Thor since Simonson left.

THE LOW, LOW WOODS #1 (DC, 2019) – “Bottomless,” [W] Carmen Maria Machado, [A] Dani. This new series stars two girls, Eldora and Octavia (El and Vee), who live in a coal mining town. As if the coal mining weren’t bad enough, the town is built over an underground fire, and El and Vee’s families can’t afford to leave. And there’s some kind of woman-deer hybrid lurking in the woods.  This comic’s premise isn’t entirely clear yet, but it’s an affecting, evocative story about generational poverty and female friendship (or same-sex desire maybe), and it’s also very creepy. I have Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection The Low, Low Woods, and it’s on my stack of books to read soon.

THE OLD GUARD: FORCE MULTIPLIED #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Leandro Fernández. This isn’t my favorite of Rucka’s works, but I’m glad it’s back. Leandro Fernández’s art is at least as stunning here as in the first miniseries. This issue’s second and third pages are a two-page splash where the Old Guard fights a huge army of barbarians, at least twenty of whom are fully drawn. In addition, Fernandez uses lots of dynamic page layouts and camera angles. This issue is mostly action sequences with little plot, but it seems to be about the Old Guard’s attempt to destroy a human trafficking ring.

KLAUS: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JOE CHRISTMAS #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Dan Mora. This is Grant’s finest single comic book in many years. It consists entirely of sideways two-page splashes with no dialogue, so it barely even qualifies as a comic, but it’s certainly a very effective visual narrative. Each double-page spread in this issue illustrates a moment from a different year in the life of Joe Christmas, a child who Klaus found abandoned as a newborn on Christmas. The pages are in reverse chronological order, so the reader has to piece together the events of Joe’s life. For example, in 1966, Joe has an elderly one-eyed cat, but we don’t learn how the cat lost the eye until 1945. There are also some things we can’t work out. Most notably, Joe’s wife is pregnant in 1975, but in the previous (chronologically later) pages, there’s no indication that they have a child, and we can’t know what happened to the baby. We’re also not shown what happened to Joe’s adoptive parents. The images themselves are extremely clever; Joe meets the Beatles and battles a giant flying Christmas pudding, and his cat grows to giant size. And the images contain some subtle clues. Like, in 1936, Joe’s parents have a Christmas tree and a present, but their house is empty except for a table and chairs, and there’s nothing on the table but a slice of cake and three cups of coffee. That’s because it’s the middle of the Depression. I feel like I could figure out even more about this comic with more reading, but overall it’s a touching story about a man who lives a tragedy-filled but ultimately meaningful life. Appropriately, it ends with Klaus finding the newborn Joe in a basket labeled “Please take care of him.”

BLACK PANTHER #19 (Marvel, 2020) – “Wakanda Unbound,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Ryan Bodenheim. This issue advances the plot a little bit, but it’s still boring. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s stories are written with a consistently quiet, subdued tone. There’s no contrast between exciting moments of high tension, on one hand, and quieter moments, on the other. That makes his stories tedious to read. Also, “The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda” is already longer than “The Kang Dynasty,” which was my benchmark for a very longstory arc, and it’s still only three-quarters done. This is my last issue of this series.

GHOST-SPIDER #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “Blood and Bone,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa & Ig Guara. The two Jackals team up and kidnap Gwen, but Mary Jane saves her through the magic of location tracking. MJ is still pissed at Gwen for constantly missing practice. This is another issue in which not a whole lot happens, but I don’t mind because I really like Seanan’s dialogue.

HISTORY OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE #6 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Javier Rodriguez. This issue covers everything up to 2019, then chronicles what little we know about the Marvel Universe’s future. It ends with Franklin using Galactus as the spark for the next universe, and then there’s a two-page splash with hundreds of characters. It may be the most crowded crowd scene ever drawn by any artist other than George Pérez. At the end of this series, I felt a sense of nostalgia as I thought of the vast scope of continuity that the series had covered. It was like I was saying farewell to the entire Marvel universe, although of course that’s not really the case. This issue includes a number of appendices as well as the usual notes.

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR SEASON TWO #3 (Ahoy, 2019) – “The Pit and the Pendulum,” [W] Paul Constant, [A] Alan Robinson, and “The Raven,” [W/A] Linda Medley. This issue’s first story is a modern adaptation of “The Pit and the Pendulum” in which the protagonist is a secret agent. It’s rather grim and depressing. The protagonist manages to escape and kill his tormentor, only to be sent to Gitmo without a trial. “The Raven” is a much lighter story in which a raven visits a talent agency and gets an assignment to appear in Poe’s poem. Linda Medley seems to be working on Castle Waiting volume 3, but not very quickly.

DOOM 2099 #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Marcio Castiello. I don’t  understand what happened before this comic, but it begins with Dr. Doom waking up in the Ravage, an ungoverned wasteland. He makes his way to the castle of another man who claims to be Dr. Doom. But on arriving there, Doom discovers that he’s not Doom at all, he’s Reed Richards. This issue is a bit hard to understand, but it shows an understanding of Doom’s character, and the twist ending completely surprised me.

INCORRUPTIBLE #8 (Boom!, 2010) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Horacio Domingues. Last issue ended with Max Damage falling asleep during a fight with white supremacists. This issue, Max’s new sidekick, Jailbait, saves his life, and he goes on to defeat the white supremacists and deposit them in a neighborhood full of angry Asian-Americans. Incorruptible is a bit uneven, but it’s enjoyable enough that I want to collect more of it.

HEIST #2 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Arjuna Susini. Glane Breld assembles his crew, including a shapeshifter who makes him think she’s about to assassinate him. This is an entertaining series, but not one of the better comics on the market; it was the second to last comic I read from the December 18 shipment.

ESKIMO KISSES #1 (Scout, 2019) – untitled, [W] Randy Stone & Christopher Sebela, [A] Henry Ponciano. This is the first Scout comic I’ve paid full price for. It has a garish giant logo on the back cover. The first word in this comic’s title is considered offensive in Canada and Greenland, though apparently not in Alaska. Sebela and Stone’s decision to use that word is debatable, though they do show awareness of its literal meaning (eater of flesh). Eskimo Kisses is a zombie story taking place in Resolute Bay, Nunavut in the high Arctic. It’s mostly a conventional zombie story, but the twist is that one of the survivors is an Inuit woman whose parents were relocated to Resolute from Quebec. This actually happened: the Canadian government really did relocate some Inuit families to the High Arctic in order to claim sovereignty over the area, and they failed to provide those families with the support that was promised. Other than that, though, Eskimo Kisses is kind of pointless; the protagonists, a pregnant woman and her cop husband, are both killed at the end.

TRUE BELIEVERS: ANNIHILATION – SUPER-SKRULL #1 (Marvel, 1967/2019) – “The Scourge of the Super-Skrull!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. This reprints Thor #142, in which Thor battles the Super-Skrull. It has some amazing Kirby artwork, but almost its entire story is devoted to a single extended fight scene. There’s also a backup story where the Warriors Three fight Mogul of the Mystic Mountain.

HARLEY QUINN: VILLAIN OF THE YEAR #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Harley Quinn’s Villain of the Year!”, [W] Mark Russell, [A] Mike Norton. This story takes place at the Doomies, the annual awards for villains. According to the title page, the awards were voted on by fans, but I don’t know where the voting was done. An unsuccessful villain named the Flamingo tries to sabotage the awards show, but Harley Quinn outsmarts him by giving him a fake Villain of the Year award, then capturing him when he comes up to accept it. This is much less deep or political than most of Russell’s work, but it’s funny. A lot of the jokes in this issue must have gone over my head because I’m not familiar with the villains involved, though I did get the reference to the “Lex Luthor stole forty cakes” meme. My favorite thing in the issue is the panel where Cheetah is eating a rat, the Penguin is eating fish, and Gorilla Grodd is eating fruit.

ZAP COMIX #3 (Print Mint, 1969) – various stories, [E] R. Crumb et al. This issue is in flipbook format. A nice feature is that the story at the centerfold, by Victor Moscoso, can be read either upside-down or right-side up. This issue includes multiple short stories by R. Crumb, Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin, all of which are visually stunning. There’s also a jam story, and a hilarious Wonder Wart-Hog story by Gilbert Shelton. Unfortunately this issue also includes a lot of work by S. Clay Wilson, my least favorite underground artist. His art is ugly and disgusting, although at least none of his stories in this issue are as offensive as the one in Weirdo #19.

INCOGNITO #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Like Brubaker and Phillips’s early collaboration Sleeper, Incognito is about superheroes. The protagonist of this issue is a superhero, Zack Overkill, who’s in a witness protection program, but he insists on engaging in superhero activities anyway. Then his civilian friend figures out his secret identity and blackmails him into helping rob a bank. I have several other issues of Incognito, but have not read them yet. While in the witness protection program, Zack Overkill works as a file clerk in a hospital. As Brubaker explains in his author’s note, this is a deliberate reference to Harvey Pekar, because when a superhero has to hide, he hides in an underground comic. Brubaker also claims that Incognito #2 includes a cameo appearance by Jughead, but I didn’t notice it.

HEPCATS #0 (Antarctic, 1996) – untitled, [W/A] Martin Wagner. A very boring and mundane story about some college students. For unexplained reasons it also includes a four-page illustrated story by a third-grader. Martin Wagner seems to have been an insufferable jerk, and on the evidence of this issue, he wasn’t much of a cartoonist either. It’s worth noting that Martin Wagner, Gilbert Shelton and Jack Jackson all attended the University of Texas.

GLOBAL FREQUENCY #1 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “Bombhead,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Garry Leach. The Global Frequency is an international network of experts who are linked by phone. This issue, they collaborate to stop the city of San Francisco from being destroyed by a Soviet-era nuclear bomb. This issue is exciting, and it’s also an early fictional example of the phenomenon known as “collective intelligence” or “the wisdom of crowds,” in which digital technology allows multiple people together to be smarter than any one person alone. I’ve read one other issue of this series, but I can’t remember anything about it.

QUANTUM & WOODY #17 (Acclaim, 1998) – “Magnum Force, The Final Round: Hate,” [W/A] M.D. Bright. I didn’t even notice until now that Priest didn’t write this issue. In the final issue of this volume, Quantum and Woody defeat Magnum only to discover that they’ve been cancelled, along with the entire Acclaim line. Unlike the vast majority of comics companies that go out of business, Valiant/Acclaim did return eventually, as did Quantum and Woody.

THE DREAMING #1 (DC, 1996) – “The Goldie Factor Part One,” [W] Terry LaBan, [A] Peter Snejbjerg. Cain has killed Abel yet again, and Abel’s pet baby gargoyle, Goldie, is sick of it. Goldie leaves home and goes off on his own, forcing Cain and Abel to team up to look for him. They discover that a man with no arms or legs has been looking for Goldie. Their mother Eve claims that this same man ruined her life forever. Meanwhile, that same man has already found Goldie. Clearly the armless, legless man is the biblical Serpent. Cain and Abel’s relationship is typically used for comic relief, but this issue makes it clear that Cain is abusing Abel. Goldie’s spirited defense of Abel, despite her tiny size, is heroic.

DC COMICS PRESENTS #19 (DC, 1980) – “Who Haunts This House?”, [W] Denny O’Neil, [A]  Joe Staton. This Superman/Batgirl team-up is a boring, pointless haunted house story. The most notable thing about it is the major supporting character, Mr. Gurk, who has a really annoying stereotypical-hick accent.

YOUNG LUST #6 (Last Gasp, 1980) – various stories, [E] Bill Griffith & Jay Kinney. Young Lust #6 and #8 were magazine-sized, while all the other issues were comic book size. Young Lust #6 is an incredible collection of talent, with contributors such as Griffith, Kim Deitch, Spain, Melinda Gebbie, Phoebe Gloeckner, Gary Panter, and Michael McMillan. Most of the stories are about sex, but other than that they’re all very different. A highlight of the issue is Spain’s semi-autobiographical “My True Story,” though it shows him in an unflattering light. Gloeckner’s “Mary the Minor” is a very disturbing story about a teenage runaway. Panter’s adaptation of Tom DeHaven’s “Freaks’ Amour” is his only story that I’ve read lately. It’s drawn in a surprisingly Kirbyesque style, and seems less radical or punkish than is usual for him. Greg Irons is another important artist I’m not familiar with; his “Monkey Lust” has some really impressive draftsmanship. Melinda Gebbie’s “My Three Swans” has even better art; see the review of Fresca Zizis below. There are even stories by M.K. Brown, a National Lampoon artist, and Mary Wilshire, who was better known for her mainstream comics.

WILD’S END #2 (Boom!, 2014) – “Hide and Seek,” [W] Dan Abnett, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. Clive, Peter, Gilbert and young Alph find that Alph’s aunt has been killed in a fire. They head out of town to look for Fawkes, but on the way they encounter Susan Peardew, a reclusive novelist, confronting a Martian robot. They lock the robot in a shed, but Alph tries to avenge his aunt by shooting the robot. Instead it kills Gilbert, which explains why he doesn’t appear in any later issues. The backup feature reveals that Susan is suffering from writer’s block and that she’s working as a ghost writer for her ex-husband, as revealed in the next miniseries. I’m curious to see how this story ends, so I just ordered the third TPB volume, which was never published in single-issue form.

BUCKY O’HARE #4 (Continuity, 1991) – untitled, [W] Larry Hama, [A] Michael Golden. This series may be Michael Golden’s masterpiece. His draftsmanship is beautiful, and his panel structures are dynamic and unconventional, showing a significant manga influence. This issue includes several parallel storylines. The duck and the kid attack a Toad mothership, while Bucky and his other companions try to negotiate with some anthropomorphic creatures in togas. There was only one issue after this one.

CHAMBER OF DARKNESS #3 (Marvel, 1970) – “The Warlock Tree!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Barry Windsor-Smith, plus other stories. This issue’s first story is not BWS’s best work – it looks similar to early issues of Conan – but it does have some nice draftsmanship and storytelling. Its story, about a tree that curses people who carve their names in it, is pretty stupid. Surprisingly the highlight of this issue is Denny O’Neil and Tom Palmer’s adaptation of Poe’s “The Telltale Heart.” There are probably other comics adaptations of this story that are better written; O’Neil and Palmer don’t quite succeed in conveying the protagonist’s anxiety when the police show up. But Palmer’s pencils are a revelation. His style is similar to that of Neal Adams, but also distinctive. He’s very good at creating an eerie mood, and his pencils are very detailed. He could have been a star penciler if he hadn’t devoted himself to inking. The last story, “Something Lurks on Shadow Mountain!”, includes some beautiful John Buscema art. His best period was the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when he was able to draw like himself rather than imitatiang other artists.

FRESCA ZIZIS #nn (Last Gasp, 1977) – “In Debasement” and other stories, [W/A] Melinda Gebbie. Although Melinda Gebbie is best known as Alan Moore’s collaborator and wife, she was an incredible artist in her own right. She was probably the most talented of all the female underground artists, at least in terms of her drawing. Fresca Zizis is her only solo-authored comic book. It was banned in Britain for obscenity, and no wonder, because the first story includes a graphic scene of castration. But Gebbie’s draftspersonship in this issue is stunning. She uses an almost pontillist style of shading, her linework is really clear and crisp, and she draws in a number of different styles. The stories in this issue are very short and have minimal and barely coherent plots (except the last one, an adaptation of the myth of Tiamat). But who cares when the artwork is so gorgeous. Someone needs to publish a collection of all of Gebbie’s solo work. Also, I need to get around to reading Lost Girls.

WEIRD WESTERN TALES #31 (DC, 1975) – “Gunfight at Wolverine,” [W] Michael Fleisher, [A] George Moliterni. Jonah Hex meets Dave, an old army buddy who is now married with a child, and who coughs a lot. We eventually learn that Dave is dying of tuberculosis, and to provide for his wife and family, he’s sold tickets to a duel to the death between himself and Hx. But Hex refuses to fight Dave, and Dave’s own wife is forced to kill him to save him from becoming a murderer. This issue includes one unfortunate scene where a former Union soldier tells Hex that the Confederates were cowards, and Hex throws him in a trough of water. Other than that, this is a fun issue. George (Jorge) Moliterni was from Argentina and was probably not related to Claude Moliterni, the French comics writer and co-founder of the Angouleme festival.

VAULT OF HORROR #9 (EC, 1951/1994) – four stories, [E] Al Feldstein. In Johnny Craig’s “About Face,” a female lion tamer is horribly mauled by a panther. Her chauffeur falls in love with her anyway, or claims to, and gets her to give him a power of attorney over her. Then he runs off to Florida with her money. In revenge, she casts a spell that transfers her facial disfigurement to him. The concluding panel, showing his deformed face, is truly hideous. Jack Davis’s “The Reluctant Vampire” is about a vampire who gets a job at a blood bank so he won’t have to kill people. Of course, things go wrong, and the vampire is caught and staked. The “vegetarian vampire,” as TV Tropes calls it, is a very common trope; a famous example is Hannibal King in Tomb of Dracula. Jack Kamen’s “Grandma’s Ghost” is about a little girl whose aunt and uncle murder her grandmother for the inheritance. They try to kill the girl too, for the same reason, but the grandmother’s ghost manipulates the girl into causing the aunt and uncle’s deaths instead. Graham Ingels’s “Revenge is the Nuts” has some really gruesome art, but a fairly disappointing story, about a cruel insane asylum keeper who gets killed by his patients.

TWO-FISTED TALES #9 (EC, 1951/1994) – four linked stories, [W] Harvey Kurtzman, [A] various. This is the only EC comic I’ve read that tells a single story in four parts, rather than four unrelated stories. I don’t know if it’s the only such EC comic, or if there are others. Specifically, all the stories in this issue are about the Battle of Changjin (or Chosin) Reservoir, which happened the year before the comic was published and became one of the most famous episodes in Marine Corps history. In the first story, “The Trap!” by Severin, some soldiers assault a Korean position, but their sergeant insists on advancing slower than the men would like. And he’s right, because he soon learns that his army has been cut off, and they have to retreat to the port of Hungnam. The other three stories depict various stages of the retreat. Jack Davis’s “Hagaru-Ri” is about an American pilot who kills a Chinese soldier in a strafing raid. It’s a bit like “The Corpse on the Imjin” in the way it insists on the common humanity of “our” soldiers and “their” soldiers. Severin and Elder’s “Link-Up!” shows some common soldiers who are facing an enemy assualt. There’s a slightly ironic ending where one of the soldiers can’t wait to go home, but when he’s wounded and has to be evacuated, he wants to keep fighting. Wally Wood’s “Hungnam!” shows the evacuation of the city of Hungnam, focusing on a little dog who gets killed when the city is bombed to cover the Marines’ retreat. Overall, this issue is an impressive depiction of the human cost of the Korean War.

ANGEL LOVE #8 (DC, 1987) – “I Know It’s You, Mary Beth,” [W/A] Barbara Slate with John Wm. Lopez. Angel keeps trying to prove that Maureen McMeal is her long-lost sister Mary Beth, but she only succeds in pissing Mary Beth off. By modern standards, based on the way Angel behaves in this issue, she would be considered a peak example of an entitled white woman. She harasses Mary Beth/Maureen despite being repeatedly told to leave her alone. Maureen would be justified in getting a restraining order against Angel. Also, Angel is wrong to think that Mary Beth is obligated to donate bone marrow to their mother. Finally, Angel possibly ruins her black friend Everett’s relationship by interrupting yet another of his evenings with his girlfriend. Taken at face value, however, this issue is entertaining and funny. Alas, it was also the last issue of Angel Love, though the Mary Beth story arc was completed in the one-shot special. See my forthcoming essay in the anthology The Other ‘80s for more discussion of Angel Love.

TRANSFORMERS #57 (Marvel, 1989) – “The Resurrection Gambit!”, [W] Simon Furman, [A] José Delbo. In space, Megatron kidnaps Ratchet and forces him to perform surgery on Starscream. Back on Earth, Optimus Prime fights Scorponok. This issue isn’t as complex or epic as some of the later Transformers issues that I read as a kid.

On December 27, I received a very small shipment consisting of just two comics:

CRIMINAL #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “Cruel Summer Part Seven: The Last Score,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Teeg and Jane succeed in stealing the proceeds of a wrestling match, although Teeg can tell that someone tipped the guards off. Teeg returns home in a euphoric mood, only for Dan Farraday to come through the window and shoot him with a shotgun. We don’t know yet if Teeg is dead or not. Curiously, it was stated in the very first issue of Criminal that Tommy Patterson killed Teeg. But I guess we don’t know whether he really did it, or whether he was framed.

INCOMING #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Al Ewing et al, [A] various. A bunch of different heroes try to solve a locked-room murder mystery where the only clue is the word “2FACED” and a series of numbers. This issue acts as a preview of a large number of upcoming Marvel titles. It’s not bad, but it’s overly long and kind of tedious.

And with that, I have read every new comic I received in 2019, besides a few trivial exceptions (mostly Infinity 8 and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Captain America).

STORMWATCH #48 (Image, 1997) – “Change or Die Part 1,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Tom Raney. The High, a Superman knock-off, organizes a group of superheroes who want to remake the world as they see fit. The High’s allies are obviously based on various other superheroes (Dr. Strange, Wonder Woman, the Shadow) and their plan resembles that of the Squadron Supreme in the Gruenwald miniseries. In the next two issues, Stormwatch defeats the Changers, but they end up adopting a lot of the Changers’ ideas. Now that I’ve read this, I really need to reread #49 and #50, because they didn’t make sense the first time.

CRIMINAL #10 (Icon, 2007) – “Lawless Part Five,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Tracy leads Ricky’s former crew on a perfectly planned heist, except he already called the police in advance, and they all get caught. Tracy escapes with Ricky’s ex-lover Mallory. She confesses that she herself murdered Ricky because he was beating her. Tracy has mercy on Mallory and lets her go, but she’s recaptured on the orders of Sebastian Hyde, who drafts Tracy into his service. This issue is a satisfying conclusion to the story arc. I had really been wondering who killed Ricky.

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