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First review mega-post of 2020

REVIEWS OF EVERY COMIC I READ IN 2020

This project is now in its eighth year (2013-2020).

WHITEOUT #2 (Oni, 1998) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Steve Lieber. This is Rucka’s first work and Lieber’s first work other than Hawkman, but it’s already very accomplished and original. It’s an exciting murder mystery which makes convincing use of its Antarctic setting. However, it is difficult to remember who the characters are, since I read issue 1 a while ago. Notable moments include the description of how cold Antarctica really is, and the scene where a character has two fingers amputated due to frostbite.

THOR #296 (Marvel, 1980) – “From Valhalla – a Valkyrie!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Keith Pollard. This issue adapts Wagner’s Die Walküre, with Thor starring as Siegmund. Roy Thomas’s adaptation of Wagner’s Ring was not particularly successful; it was unexciting and overly literal. It also killed the momentum of his ongoing Celestials story. Also, in this issue Thor (or someone identical to him) commits incest off-panel. Roy was required to include Siegmund and Sieglinde’s incestuous releationship, because it’s in Wagner’s Ring, but he could have done a better job of selling it to the reader. https://www.instagram.com/p/B6xC1X8BRN2/

BLACK PANTHER #13 (Marvel, 1999) – “The End Part 1,” [W] Christopher Priest, [A] Sal Velluto. Lots of different things happen in this issue, but it’s difficult to see how they all relate to each other. Overly complicated plotting is sort of Priest’s trademark. A significant moment in this issue is when Queen Divine Justice is invited to join the Dora Milajé. It’s hard to tell whether this character is intended as a serious depiction of a young “woke” black woman, or as a parody.

ACTION COMICS #390 (DC, 1970) – “The Self-Destruct Superman,” [W] Cary Bates, [A] Curt Swan. In this issue’s Superman story, Superman is pursued by a machine called the SEM, which he designed as a means of killing himself if he ever went rogue. But he can’t remember how to turn the SEM off. This story is not awful, but it’s formulaic and boring. The real attraction of this issue is a Legion backup story by E. Nelson Bridwell and Win Mortimer, in which the Legion Espionage Squad tries to overthrow a dictatorial government. However, this story too is rather forgettable.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #73 (Marvel, 1981) – “Wraith, Color or Creed,” [W] Mary Jo Duffy, [A] Greg La Rocque. A silver-armored robot is running around New York murdering people for no apparent reason. The twist is that the robot is Rom the Spaceknight, and the “people” he’s “murdering” are Dire Wraiths, but Luke and Danny don’t know that. There’s also some other fun stuff in this issue. For example, Colleen Wing starts a relationship with Bob Diamond, since her last boyfriend, Scott Summers, broke up with her as soon as “his old girlfriend crooked her little finger.” As Brian Cronin explains (https://www.cbr.com/x-men-cyclops-jean-grey-colleen-wing-love-triangle/), the behind-the-scenes explanation for this is that Chris Claremont was going to use Colleen as a supporting character in X-Men, but when Jo Duffy took over Power Man & Iron Fist, she asked for Colleen back.

THE LEGION #1 (DC, 2001) – “No Place Like Home,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Olivier Coipel. The lost Legionnaires return from exile to find Earth very different than when they left it. DnA’s Legion always rubbed me the wrong way because it was so tonally different from other Legion comics, and it sometimes didn’t feel like the Legion at all. However, it was far better than no Legion at all, or the poor excuse for the Legion that we have now, and this first issue is a very exciting start to the series. I especially like the last scene, where Saturn Girl wakes up from a trance to shout a warning, and then the Legionnaires’ vehicle explodes.

HELLBLAZER #6 (DC, 1988) – “Extreme Prejudice,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] John Ridgway. Constantine sleeps with Zed for the first time. Meanwhile, the demon Nergal creates a racist murdering monster by combining the bodies of four young Nazi skinheads. Hilariously, Constantine defeats the monster by observing that the monster has one arm with a Chelsea tattoo, and another arm with an Arsenal tattoo. ”What do you do on Saturdays, lads?” (It was earlier mentioned that the skinheads hate each other on Saturdays, because two of them support Chelsea and the other two support Arsenal; the rest of the week, they’re united by their mutual hate of people of color. Oh, also this issue reveals that Ray Monde has HIV. I wonder if he was DC’s first HIV-positive character. Overall, this is one of Jamie Delano’s better issues of Hellblazer, and I’m enjoying his work more than I used to.

SUPERMAN #247 (DC, 1972) – “Must There Be a Superman?”, [W] Elliot S! Maggin, [A] Curt Swan. This is the first Superman story by Elliot S! Maggin, my favorite Superman writer. It was also one of only two ‘70s stories included in the 1972 edition of The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (the other was Forever People #1). According to Wikipedia, its plot was suggested by a very young Jeph Loeb. The main theme of this story is that Superman’s paternalistic actions are interfering with human development. In 2020, this story’s politics seem somewhat conservative and Reagan-esque. It also includes an uncomfortable scene where some exploited Mexican laborers demand that Superman help them against a corrupt boss, and he refuses. Still, this is a very important story; it was one of the first Superman comics since the ‘30s that considered Superman’s political implications. This issue also includes the first Private Life of Clark Kent backup story, as well as a reprint from 1966.

LEGION WORLDS #3 (DC, 2001) – “You Are Here: Braal,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Paul Rivoche. This issue’s main story stars Dyrk Magz, aka Magno, the most redundant Legionnaire ever. He was inducted into the Legion when Cosmic Boy was stuck in the 20th century, and when Cos got back, he lost his powers and left the team. This story depicts Drykk’s time in the Science Police, and it has a rather nostalgic tone. It also introduces the Bouncing Boy spaceship, and there are cameo appearances by Cos and several other Legionnaires. There’s also a backup story starring Winema Wazzo.

GHOSTS #18 (DC, 1973) – “Graveyard of Vengeance,” [W] unknown, [A] Alfredo Alcala, plus other stories. This issue starts with a spectacular page by Alcala, depicting a sailboat in a storm. The rest of this story’s pages are almost as beautiful. However, this story is not well-written, and it includes some questionable depictions of Lenape Indians. Next comes a formulaic haunted house story drawn by Abe Ocampo. The third story is drawn by Frank Redondo and stars an Austrian man named Alois who is terrified of his son, an aspiring artist. The twist ending – that the son is Adolf Hitler – is blatantly obvious from the first panel. The issue ends with a three-pager, drawn by Gerry Talaoc, which is only interesting because there’s a cat in it.

JOHN CARTER, WARLORD OF MARS #11 (Marvel, 1978) – “The Story of… Dejah Thoris,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Dave Cockrum. This issue has a beautiful splash page (reproduced at https://www.cbr.com/mystique-accidental-creation-dave-cockrum-chris-claremont/), but other than that, it’s a good example of how not to adapt prose fiction into comics. The entire issue is a flashback that summarizes the events of A Princess of Mars. Wolfman and Cockrum’s adaptation includes way too much text and adds little or nothing to the original novel. For a reader who has read the novel, as I have, finishing this issue is a boring chore.

GIRLS’ LOVE STORIES #153 (DC, 1970) – “For Love or Money,” [W] Jack Oleck, [A] Ric Estrada, plus other stories. Perhaps the best thing about this issue is the Dick Giordano cover. In this issue’s main story, a woman has to decide between two boyfriends. When she suffers severe facial injuries in a car accident, she tests her boyfriends by asking which of them will still love her even if her plastic surgery is unsuccessful. I like the art in this story, but the plot is problematic. The next story is even worse. Let me quote my Facebook post about it:

“A girl wants an engagement ring that costs $200 (in 1970). Her boyfriend can’t afford it, but she keeps nagging him about it. He skips meals to afford the ring, but when he does give her the ring, it’s not the one she asked for. She gets mad at him for buying a cheap substitute dumps him, and returns the ring for a refund. But when she gets the refund, she tearfully begs him to take her back, and he does… because it turns out that the ring he bought cost $400. Lessons from this story: 1) It’s okay for a woman to demand more from a man than he can afford, because girls like pretty things (that’s a quotation). 2) It’s okay to buy an engagement ring that’s not the one that was agreed upon. 3) Love can be measured in money.”

The next story is about a girl who gets karmically punished for cheating. The last story is an interesting narrative experiment because it depicts a love triangle twice, from the perspectives of both the girls involved.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #14 (Image, 2014) – “Upward Bound,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. On President Kennedy’s orders, General Westmoreland stages a hostile takeover of the Manhattan Project. As a result, Laika is stranded in space. This issue is not bad but not great either.

The first new shipment of the year, received on January 3, was rather unimpressive:

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #14 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Ray-Anthony Height, Zé Carlos & Belén Ortega. Miles learns to change diapers, fights some villains, and then discovers that his racist asshole of a principal has found a notebook that reveals his secret identity. I can’t wait to see how this cliffhanger is resolved.

SPIDER-MAN & VENOM: DOUBLE TROUBLE #3 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] GuriHiru. Instead of returning to their own bodies, Spidey and Venom are transformed into a cat and a squirrel. This issue, like the last two, is a very quick read, but it’s extremely fun. If I was turned into a cat or a squirrel, I wouldn’t mind at all, as long as I had a normal human lifespan and could still read and write.

X-MEN #4 (Marvel, 2020) – “Global Economics,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. This comic was inked by Gerry Alanguilan, who unfortunately just died. This issue, Professor X, Magneto and Apocalypse go to the World Economic Forum for a negotiation with various ambassadors, while behind the scenes, the younger X-Men defeat a bunch of mercenaries who the ambassadors have brought as an insurance policy. There are some great action scenes in this issue, and Hickman also does a great job of writing very strange characters like Gorgon and Apocalypse. Their strangeness and brutality contrasts humorously with the very civilized, formal tone of the diplomatic meeting.

THE DREAMING #17 (DC, 2020) – “The Crown, Part Three,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. Abel tries to kill Wan and fails, while Lucien tries to kill himself and succeeds. Death makes a brief cameo appearance on the last page. This is a good issue, though not as spectacular as #16.

COPRA #4 (Image, 2020) – “Explain the Explain,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. Amanda Waller* talks Deadshot* out of killing her, and then the Suicide Squad* gets together for a debriefing. The last page depicts a character who looks a lot like Orion. The artwork in this issue is amazing, but I have consistent difficulty following this series’ plot. I want to go back and reread the first two collections, and then read the next two.

* = Not their actual names of course

ARCHIE: THE MARRIED LIFE – 10TH ANNIVERSARY #5 (Archie, 2020) – “Election Night-Mare!” and “A Friend in Need!”, [W] Michael Uslan, [A] Dan Parent. In the first universe, Archie is appointed to Lodge’s board of directors. In the other universe, which is more interesting, Archie makes the right decision and refuses to sign the recording contract. I’m going to finish reading the series, but I’m not loving it. As I’ve complained before, its serious storylines are not compatible with Dan Parent’s art style.

THE TERRIFICS #23 (DC, 2020) – “The One Where Bizarro Screws Up Time Part One,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Sergio Davila. The Terrifics get turned into children and imprisoned in a time loop, but Mr. Terrific figures out how to break it by using the power of love. This issue is not bad, but this Terribles storyline has gone on too long, and I’m sick of reading Bizarro dialogue.

EVERYTHING #5 (Dark Horse, 2020) – “C’mon, Get Happy,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] I.N.J. Culbard. The CEO of the Everything corporation comes to town, and one of the main characters is shot. I guess this comic is finally starting to develop a coherent plot, but it took a while, and I still can’t remember any of the main characters’ names. I still might read the second volume.

KILLADELPHIA #2 (Image, 2020) – “Sins of the Father Part II: Death, My Sweet Savior,” [W] Rodney Barnes, [A] Jason Shawn Alexander. A major letdown after an impressive first issue. Now that the main character’s father is alive again, the series turns into a conventional, cliched vampire story. And for some reason the leader of the vampires is John Adams, a decision that makes no sense because Adams was associated with Boston and not Philadelphia. This issue does include some discussion of racial issues, but it’s not well integrated into the story. If this series continues to resemble this issue, its potential will be wasted.

LOIS LANE #7 (DC, 2020) – “Enemy of the People, Part Seven,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. This issue we get back to the main story after last issue’s pointless interruption. Although Lois Lane #7 does begin with a scene that references Leviathan. I don’t know who or what that is, and I don’t care. The main plot this issue is that Superman saves Lois from being assassinated, and then Renee gets mad at Lois for not being transparent about her and Superman’s relationship. Also, Mr. Bones shows up, I think.

HARLEY QUINN #69 (DC, 2020) – “The Fast and the Foodious,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Sami Basri. Another hilarious done-in-one story by Russell, in the same vein as his breakfast-cereal story from Edgar Allan Poe’s Snifter of Terror. The Hambezzler (i.e. the Hamburglar) is released from prison and moves in with Harley. But his old pals (Ronald McDonald, Grimace, etc.) want revenge on him for embezzling from their company and getting them fired. So Harley has to figure out who really embezzled the money. As usual with Russell, this story is extremely funny and is also a sensitive critique of capitalism. The real culprits in this story ar named Mitch and Murray, a reference to Glengarry Glen Ross – another text that makes fun of runaway capitalism.

TRUE BELIEVERS: THE CRIMINALLY INSANE – BULLSEYE #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Watch Out for Bullseye He Never Misses!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Bob Brown. Wolfman and Brown were a lousy creative team, and this issue is interesting purely for historical reasons. Though it is kind of cool how Bullseye kills people by throwing paper airplanes at them. In a subplot, Matt and Foggy agree to represent some slum-dwellers against their predatory owners, Glenn Industries. Matt and Foggy fail to make the obvious deduction that Glenn Industries is owned by Heather Glenn’s dad, until Heather says so. Bullseye’s original origin involved Vietnam; I wonder if this was retconned later.

HAUNT OF FEAR #13 (Russ Cochran, 1952/1995) – various stories, [E] Al Feldstein. “For the Love of Death!” stars Morton Macawber, whose only joy in life is attending funerals. He decides to attend his “own” funeral by stealing the corpse and hiding in the coffin. Unfortunately, it turns out the corpse was scheduled to be cremated immediately after the service. Graham Ingels’s ability to draw ghoulish, gruesome faces was rarely used to better effect than in this story. Johnny Craig’s “Fed Up!” is another intentionally gross story. A circus performer marries her manager, but he bankrupts her with his compulsive overeating, so she tricks him into killing himself by swallowing a sword. Jack Kamen’s “Minor Error” is about some kids who think their mean old neighbor is a vampire, but after they kill him, they realize the real vampire is his little son. The twist ending of this story was pretty obvious. Jack Davis’s “Wolf Bait!” is an adaptation of an old story about wolves pursuing a bridal party. I assume that either “Wolf Bait!” was inspired by the similar story in Cather’s My Ántonia, or they both came from a common source. The twist in “Wolf Bait!” is that the reader isn’t told which member of the party gets thrown to the wolves, but is instead asked to make their own choice as to who was sacrificed.

DARKLON THE MYSTIC #1 (Pacific, 1983) – “Darklon the Mystic!”, [W/A] Jim Starlin. This one-shot is a compilation of a series of stories Starlin published in Eerie. These stories were not meant to be seen in color, and Pacific’s recoloring job is rather poor. However, Darklon is still kind of fascinating. The main character is a space warrior whose main enemy is his father, so this story, like The Death of Captain Marvel, was a way for Starlin to work out his complex felings about his father. It also includes some impressive art and character designs (despite the bad recoloring) and a complex narrative structure. It’s one of Starlin’s best works other than his original Warlock saga, and someone should reprint it in the original black and white.

THE RING OF THE NIBELUNGS VOL. 4 #1 (Dark Horse, 2001) – “The Rope of Fate,” [W/A] P. Craig Russell. As one would expect, PCR’s adaptation of Wagner’s Ring is head and shoulders above that of Roy Thomas and Keith Pollard. Craig Russell retells Wagner’s story in a clear and accessible way while also capturing the passion behind it. The highlight of this issue is the opening scene with the Norns winding the thread of fate. As backup material, this issue includes a three-page PCR story from 1984, done in colored pencil,. I don’t know if this story was ever published anywhere else.

CURSE WORDS #9 (Image, 2017) – “Explosiontown Part Four,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Ruby Stitch starts learning English. Back in the Hole World, Botchko and Violet agree that Violet will forfeit their upcoming match to decide Wizord’s next opponent, but Violet reneges on the deal and kills Botchko. I still haven’t gotten to issue 10.

WONDER WOMAN #317 (DC, 1984) – “Amazons!”, [W] Dan Mishkin, [A] Don Heck. Dan Mishkin’s experience writing Wonder Woman was what qualified him to write Amethyst. However, while this issue isn’t bad, it’s lacking in excitement or originality. This issue’s Huntress backup, by Joey Cavalieri, is terrible, especially by comparison to Paul Levitz’s version of this character.

SHADE THE CHANGING MAN #4 (DC, 1978) – “To Rescue My Destroyer,” [W/A] Steve Ditko, [W] Michael Fleisher. This issue has a very complicated plot and some mind-expanding artwork. Michael Fleisher is a better dialogue writer than Ditko himself, and he helps to smooth out the rough edges of Ditko’s art. The comic that’s closest to my personal conception of “Ditko-esque-ness” is Charlton Action Featuring Static, but Shade is a close second. To me, Ditko’s work is defined by a constant sense of manic energy, and you certainly get that in Ditko’s Shade.

STUMPTOWN #4 (Oni, 2010) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Matthew Southworth. This issue’s story has much higher stakes than a typical Stumptown story; it ends with Dex almost getting murdered. Most of the later Stumptown stories are quieter and more personal, and maybe at this point Rucka hadn’t clearly defined the mood of the series. This issue is still enjoyable though.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #256 (Marvel, 1984) – “Introducing… Puma!”, [W] Tom DeFalco, [A] Ron Frenz. This is part of the alien costume saga, which is DeFalco’s only real claim to fame as a Spider-Man writer. Like his Thor and Fantastic Four, DeFalco’s Spider-Man is a good imitation of Stan Lee’s version of the character, but it lacks anything truly new and creative. Also, the new villain in this issue, the Puma, is a Native American stereotype.

LEGIONNAIRES #80 (DC, 2000) – “Legion of the Damned, Part Four: Damned for All Eternity!”, [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Olivier Coipel. Most of this issue is a fight between the Legion and the Blight. This issue ends happily, but I already know that this happy ending is deceptive, because Legion Lost is coming next. As I hinted at in my review of The Legion #1, DnA and Coipel’s Legion had a very dark tone, and it often felt more like a conventional superhero comic than a Legion comic.

INHUMANS #6 (Marvel, 1976) – “A King of Ruins (The Long Silence After a Loud Scream),” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Gil Kane. I bought this mistakenly thinking it was by George Pérez, though Gil Kane is a good substitute. However, throughout this issue, Moench ruins Kane’s dynamic and effective storytelling with his compulsive overwriting. Also, this issue is yet another battle between the Inhumans and Maximus’s minions, and it must have felt trite even when it came out.

FRANKENSTEIN #12 (Marvel, 1974) – “A Cold and Lasting Tomb!”, [W] Doug Moench, [A] Val Mayerik. Moench’s writing isn’t nearly as excessive here as in Inhumans #6. Frankenstein was among Marvel’s less successful ‘70s horror titles, but this issue isn’t bad. There’s a funny moment at the end where a college professor is lecturing on the impossibility of human brain transplants, and Frankenstein’s monster walks by outside.

SILVER AGE: GREEN LANTERN #1 (DC, 2000) – “Alone… Against Injustice!”, [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Brent Anderson. This obscure fifth-week crossover issue is actually quite good. Kurt and Brent perfectly imitate the narrative style and visual appearance of an old Justice League comic, including the lettering and the half-page ads. This issue is part of some dumb crossover, but Kurt avoids confusing the reader too much.

TOMB OF DRACULA #7 (Marvel, 1973) – “Night of the Death Stalkers!”, [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Gene Colan. This is the first issue written by Wolfman, and thus it represents the debut of Marvel’s greatest creative team of the ‘70s. It’s also the first appearance of Quincy and Edith Harker. Besides the beautiful splash page with Dracula gazing at London in the snow, the most memorable scene in this issue is the ending, where the vampire hunters are menaced by a bunch of creepy mind-controlled children.

On the second weekend of January, I went to Seattle for the MLA convention. One of the highlights of MLA was the social event I helped to organize at the Fantagraphics store. While there, I bought a bunch of comics, including:

TANTALIZING STORIES #2 (Tundra, 1993) – multiple stories, [W/A] Jim Woodring and Mark Martin. This issue begins with a new Frank story in which Frank acquires Pupshaw (or Pushpaw, not sure which is which) as a pet. Then Pupshaw (?) eats Manhog when he tries to rob Frank. There’s also a Chip and Monk story by Woodring, and a color Frank strip on the back cover. The rest of the issue is a Walt Kelly-esque Christmas story by Martin. It doesn’t hold a candle to the Woodring material in the issue, but at least it’s interesting.

STRANGEHAVEN #13 (Abiogenesis, 2001) – “An Open Mind,” [W/A] Gary Spencer Millidge. The stakes in the plot get higher, as a woman named Beverly apparently commits suicide, and her husband Peter is executed by the KKK-esque Knights of the Golden Light. Strangehaven is a tough comic to find, but it’s fascinating, and I hope I can track down the 15 or so issues I’m missing.

New comics arrived on Wednesday, January 15:

DIAL H FOR HERO #10 (DC, 2020) – “Miguel and Summer Travel the Multiverse,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. This issue starts with an homage to Little Nemo. Later in the issue there’s an Al Jaffee-esque fold-in page, and the issue ends with an homage to Reign of the Supermen. The main plot is that Miguel and Summer encounter a bunch of heroes who are mashups of multiple different DC characters, so it’s like the Amalgam comics but with only one universe involved. Joe Quinones deserves an Eisner nomination for his virtuosic artwork on this series.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #11 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. By far the high point of this issue is the scene where Kamala shapeshifts her face because she’s lost her mask. Otherwise, Kamala spends most of the issue trying to save Mr. Hyde from her own evil costume, even though she has far more important things to do, and Hyde doesn’t deserve to be saved. This issue wasn’t really necessary; it barely advances the plot at all. The whole issue feels like an unnecessary delay before we reach the end of the storyline.

GIDEON FALLS #20 (Image, 2020) – “The Pentoculus Part 4 of 5: Drink the Dark Water,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. Father Fred and Angela are pursued by a giant cockroach, then they reach the Village at the Center where they meet an older version of Angela. Danny and his allies prepare to confront the Black Barn. This is a good issue, but it offers nothing especially surprising.

THE DOLLHOUSE FAMILY #3 (DC, 2020) – “Be Weightless,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. As a result of a one-night stand, Alice becomes a single mother to a little girl. The dollhouse starts pursuing Alice’s daughter. When that doesn’t work, it convinces a madman to target Alice in a suicide bombing. Alice has already gone through an unimaginable amount of trauma, and we’re just on issue 3 of 6. Hasn’t this poor woman suffered enough already? Meanwhile, back in 1847, Joseph tries to track down the origin of the “bright metal.”

RONIN ISLAND #9 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. In a flashback, Elder Jin tells Hana that the island will always be her home. But in the present, Hana and Kenichi get back to the island, but the same Elder Jin repels them with threats of violence. So they have to go back to the mainland and fight the shogun. This issue offers more evidence that Ronin Island is Greg Pak’s bleakest and grimmest work yet. All the characters, except maybe the two protagonists, seem to have selfish motivations. Few of them seem to care about other people.

IMMORTAL HULK #29 (Marvel, 2020) – “Eat or Be Eaten,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. Dario Agger deploys a bunch of giant monsters against Phoenix, Arizonal. One of them attacks the building where Jackie is working. This issue is a pretty quick read, but Joe Bennett draws some really gruesome monsters and is very effective at body horror. The monsters are named after Ray Harryhausen, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and Willis O’Brien (the animator for King Kong).

ASCENDER #8 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. This issue advances the plot significantly, after a couple of issues that were mostly flashbacks. The first scene this issue introduces Kanto the vampire hunter, who seems to be a new character. Then Mother confronts Andy and Effie in person, but is distracted by a rebel attack. Back on the ship, Milla overhears Telsa and Helda planning to get rid of her.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #3 (Ahoy, 2020) – untitled, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Peter Krause. Dragonflyman reintroduces his robot partner, Lady Dragonflyman, and a flashback shows us who she is. Meanwhile, Dragonfly and his Stinger continue arguing. This series has been fun, but it feels kind of like fanservice. I would have preferred a sequel to The Wrong Earth, rather than a prequel.

NEW MUTANTS #5 (Marvel, 2020) – “Endangered Birds,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Rod Reis. Half the issues of this series are written by Hickman, and they star the classic New Mutants characters. As for the other half of the issues, see my review of #6 below. This issue, the team has to protect Deathbird from being assassinated by the Imperial Guard. Hickman is faithful to the spirit of the classic series, while also acknowledging how much older the characters have gotten. This issue is narrated by Sunspot, perhaps the most unsympathetic New Mutant, and Hickman shows a good understanding of his persnoality. I like the scene where Illyana asks the three aliens if they want to make out.

STAR #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Birth of a Dragon Part One,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Javier Pina with Filipe Andrade. Star visits the “Pop-Up Bar with No Name” (heh) and fights Titania. Then she encounters Loki, and then Jessica Jones. Kelly Thompson’s Captain Marvel has been consistently disappointing, and I don’t think it deserves a sequel. But this issue is not bad, and it feels connected to Kelly’s distinctive corner of the Marvel Universe.

Another DCBS shipment arrived the very next day, January 16:

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #3 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Brian Michael Bendis, [A] Ryan Sook & Travis Moore. I hate everything about this comic except Ryan Sook’s artwork and costume designs. I can’t think of a Legion series that’s as badly written as this one. I’m only buying it because I want it to keep going until Bendis gets tired of it, and is replaced by a competent writer. Specifically, this issue has a total lack of plot; the only thing that happens is that Jon brings Damian into the 31st century, and the Legion makes Jon send him back. Other than that, Bendis seems to have no plan in mind, and no idea of where this story is going. This issue is also totally devoid of characterization. We learn that Cosmic Boy and Shadow Lass (two characters who historically barely interacted at all) are a couple, but there’s no reason why we should care, since neither of them has any personality at all. Though I do like the term “loveball.” Ryan Sook has designed the most diverse and visually interesting Legion ever, but his character designs are going to waste because of Bendis’s inept writing. Bendis needs to quit and turn this series over to someone who actually cares.

RUNAWAYS #28 (Marvel, 2020) – “Cannon Fodder, Part IV,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andrés Genolet. Back when I was a preteen, I fell in love with the Legion because it had a cast of distinctive young protagonists who, despite their extreme differences from one another, became closer to each other than their own family. At the time, I didn’t know of any other comic like that. This was also why I got angry and depressed whenever the Legion was cancelled or when it declined in quality. The good news is, I no longer depend on the Legion the way I once did, because now there are lots of other comics that give me what the Legion used to. For example, Runaways is literally all about “found family” – a term that even appears in issue 29. In #28, Gert continues to suffer internally as a result of her exclusion from missions. And her situation gets even worse when she discovers that Old Lace is now bonded to Chase, rather than her. Andrés Genolet’s art in this series has been really good. He’s a satisfactory replacement for Kris Anka, and that’s saying a lot.

SECOND COMING #6 (Ahoy, 2020) – “The Temptations,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Richard Pace. Sunstar and Sheila get married, but while they’re on their honeymoon, Satan tempts Jesus one last time. Satan forces Jesus to abandon his philosophy of nonviolence and kill him. God and Jesus agree that they’ve both failed, and as a parting gift, God enables Sheila to get pregnant. Hopefully there will be a second season soon. Second Coming is probably Mark Russell’s best work yet. Besides being hilarious, it’s one of the best treatments of religion in comics form; it cuts through all the cruft and shows the true radicalism of Jesus’s message. Russell is not trying to proselytize, but he makes a much better case for Christianity than most actual evangelists do. I love the panel where God tells Abraham to cut off a piece of his [redacted].

RUNAWAYS #29 (Marvel, 2020) – “Cannon Fodder Pt V,” as above. I’m not sure why I got two issues of Runaways in one week. This issue, it becomes obvious that Doc Justice has some disturbing ulterior motives. In particular, Gert learns that most of Doc Justice’s former team members have ended up dead. It’s also implied that Matthew is Doc Justice’s son. The high point of this issue is the two consecutive double-page splashes. On the first one, the Runaways are istting at the dinner table having fun, and the second one is almost identical, except that Gert imagines that the ghosts of all the dead J-Kids are gathered around the table.

SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #7 (DC, 2020) – “Places Other!”, [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Steve Lieber. As usual, this issue is so full of content and so disjointed that it’s impoossible to summarize. Jimmy’s sister Janie plays a major role in this issue, and there are some flashbacks to their childhood, drawn in a style that resembles Peanuts or Sugar & Spike. There’s also a scene where Jimmy talks with a psychiatrist about his five different personalities. I kind of wish this series were over already so that I could read it again and make more sense of it.

UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY #3 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Scott Snyder & Charles Soule, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. The featured character this issue is Ace Kenyatta, the leading expert on America. In a flashback, he devises an experiment where he uses a coin to measure the rate of time in America versus the rest of the world. That coin becomes central to the present-day storyline, where the explorers infiltrate the Destiny Man’s palace. The worldbuilding in this comic is brilliant, and Giuseppe Camuncoli’s art and Matt Wilson’s coloring are stunning. I’m not so sure about the plot or the characters, though.

SKULLDIGGER & SKELETON BOY #2 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Tonci Zonjic. Skulldigger trains his new Skeleton Boy, and there’s another plot about a politician named Tex Reed who used to be a superhero. This issue isn’t as memorable as the last one. Tonci Zonjic is one of a large number of excellent artists from Croatia. Speaking very broadly, Croatian artists tend to draw in a similar style to Italian artists.

ARCHIE #710 (Archie, 2020) – “Archie and Katy Keene Part 1,” [W] Mariko Tamaki & Kevin Panetta, [A] Laura Braga. I can read this series again now that Nick Spencer is gone. This issue, Katy Keene shows up in Riverdale and causes a big commotion. Katy Keene’s comics are most notable for their fashion designs, and Laura Braga does a good job of depicting Katy’s clothing.

STEEPLE #5 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] John Allison. Thanks to a cursed vacuum cleaner, Billie quits her job. This gives the sea monsters free rein to invade the city, but the Satanists drive them off. This was a really fun series, and it deserved more than five issues. It was certainly much better than By Night. John Allison’s next series has already been solicited, but I forget what it’s called.

VALKYRIE: JANE FOSTER #7 (Marvel, 2020) – “Strange Aeons Part 2,” [W] Al Ewing & Jason Aaron, [A] Pere Pérez. Jane defeats the Death of Death and prevents the world from becoming a Cancerverse. This issue is good, but not super-memorable. The letters page includes a guide to Yorkshire English, which is what Mr. Horse speaks.

TREES: THREE FATES #5 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. The protagonist uncovers her boss Nina’s conspiracy, and then she leaves town. This miniseries was a disappointment. It was such a quick read that there was no time to feel invested in the characters. Also, this series was just a conventional small-town crime drama with some mild SF elements. The eponymous trees had barely any impact on the plot.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #85 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Mary Kenney, [A] Casey W. Coller. Applejack and Apple Bloom get trapped in a giant spiderweb. To keep Apple Bloom from getting scared, Applejack tells a story about how she overcame her childhood fear of water. This was a very formulaic and forgettable issue.

BATTLEPUG #5 (Image, 2020) – “War on Christmas Part V,” [W/A] Mike Norton. After an epic battle with a giant chimera monster, the Kinmundian and Battlepug are sucked into a dimnsional vortex. This is the last issue for now; the format for the next story arc has not been determined. Battlepug was originally published in book format only, so it won’t be too big a deal if it becomes TPB-only again. The highlight of this issue is the double-page splash where the Kinmundian summons a giant penguin-narwhal-seal hybrid creature.

GHOST-SPIDER #6 (Marvel, 2020) – “Party People,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Ig Guara & Rosi Kämpe. We’re introduced to the Earth-GS versions of Sue and Johnny Storm. Gwen and her bandmates attend concerts by various alternate-dimensional versions of Panic! At the Disco. (I barely follow pop music and I still got this joke.) Gwen saves a bunch of hostages from criminals. This is a very low-stakes, light-hearted series, but that’s why I like it.

ARCHIE 1955 #4 (Archie, 2020) – “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On!”, [W] Brian Augustyn & Mark Waid, [A] Derek Charm. Archie’s career continues to take off, but his success is hollow, as his music consumes his entire life and costs him his relationships. After a talk with an annoyingly cute little girl, Archie decides to give up show biz and run off with Veronica. I like this series a lot more than Archie 1941.

DYING IS EASY #2 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Martin Simmonds. This issue’s cover is an homage to the classic film Safety Last! This issue has the same problem as #1; it’s just a standard crime drama, and it gives Martin Simmonds no opportunity to exercise his talents. There’s no reason why this needs to be a comic book instead of a prose novel. The only reason I haven’t dropped it already is because of Simmonds’s art, and as just noted, his art is crippled by Hill’s writing. I’m giving this one more issue.

PRETTY VIOLENT #6 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Derek Hunter, [W] Jason Young. Another issue full of ridiculous violence and carnage. The first story arc ends with Gamma Rae being accepted as a member of the superhero team. I find this series quite hard to follow, and I wish there was a recap in each issue. It’s fun, though, and Derek Hunter draws some great body horror.

THE LOW, LOW WOODS #2 (DC, 2020) – “Heaven on Earth,” [W] Carmen Maria Machado, [A] Dani. It’s hard to tell where the plot of this series is going, but the worldbuilding is fantastic, and the two protagonists feel powerful and authentic. Between the first two issues I read Machado’s excellent short story collection Her Body and Other Parties. She is a super-talented writer, and so far she’s adapting well to comics. I like Dani’s art a lot; she (I believe she’s female) draws a lot like Emma Rios, but her art lacks whatever it is about Emma Rios’s art that annoys me.

GHOSTED IN L.A. #7 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Sina Grace, [A] Siobhan Keenan. I like this series a lot, but I barely remember this issue. I must have been tired when I read it. The issue ends with Shirley (the black female ghost) deciding that it’s time to move on.

CATWOMAN #19 (DC, 2020) – “Dust, Sweat, and Blood,” [W] Joëlle Jones, [A] Geraldo Borges et al. Selina helps repel the zombies attacking her store, but her boyfriend (?) Carlos chews her out for being selfish. Joëlle Jones will be leaving this series soon. Her Catwoman was enjoyable, but I won’t miss it that much.

INCREDIBLE HULK #180 FACSIMILE EDITION (Marvel, 2020) – “And the Wind Howls… Wendigo!”, [W] Len Wein, [A] Herb Trimpe. This issue is extremely expensive because it includes Wolverine’s first cameo appearance, so it’s nice to be able to own it in something close to its original form. However, Hulk #180 is not an especially memorable issue. I’ve already read the 1986 Incredible Hulk and Wolverine one-shot that reprints both Hulk #180 and #181, and despite that, I couldn’t remember anything about Hulk #180.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #17 (DC, 2020) – “In the Desert on a Horse with No Name,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Erzulie investigates the House of Watchers, meanwhile, we realize that Poquita’s cat-thing is actually the Corinthian. We’re also introduced to Aesop, who, in this version, is an ancient Ethiopian. This is an okay issue.

DETECTIVE COMICS #359 FACSIMILE EDITION (DC, 1966/2020) – “The Million-Dollar Debut of Batgirl!”, [W] Gardner Fox, [A] Carmine Infantino. Batgirl’s first appearance is an exciting story and is not quite as sexist as I feared. Barbara Gordon is an immediately captivating and vivacious character. Gardner Fox gives her a bunch of silly names like “the Dominoed Dare-Doll,” but he did that with every character he wrote. This issue also includes an Elongated Man backup story.

NAUGHTY BITS #7 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – “Hippie Bitch Got Knocked Up,” [W/A] Roberta Gregory. This may be the greatest pro-choice comic ever published. Teenage Midge doesn’t dare tell her horrible, authoritarian parents that she’s pregnant, and Roe v Wade hasn’t happened yet. So her only option is to scrape up enough money for a potentially lethal illegal abortion. The issue ends with Midge stepping nervously into a back-alley abortion clinic. This comic is a brutal depiction of what life was like for women before 1973 – and of what life will be like for women, if Republicans have their way. A visual highlight of the issue is the two-page sequence at the beginning where Midge imagines her hypothetical baby literally sucking her dry.

IRON MAN 2020 #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Dan Slott & Christos Gage, [A] Pete Woods. Tony Stark is dead, and his awful adoptive brother Arno Stark has taken over his company. I have never followed Iron Man regularly, except for a very brief period when Kurt Busiek was writing it. As I’ve explained before, I think Iron Man is the worst major Marvel title. However, I love Dan Slott’s writing, and this debut issue is fun enough that I’m going to keep reading this series. A highlight of the issue is the scene with the secret robot bar. Pete Woods’s artwork has improved greatly since he was drawing Robin in the early 2000s.

LUBA’S COMICS AND STORIES #1 (Fantagraphics, 2000) – “Fritz and Petra in Memories of Sweet Youth,” [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. I bought most of the issues of this series when they came out, but not this one. In this issue’s main story, Fritz and Petra spend all night dragging Luba around an art exhibit, and there are a bunch of flashbacks. At the end, Fritz and Petra realize that Luba can’t understand anything they’ve said to her, because they’ve been speaking English. There’s also a Venus backup story. Beto’s constant Fritz/Petra/Venus stories are rather tedious, and I don’t like any of them as much as I like the Palomar characters. This issue is enjoyable, though.

MILES MORALES: THE END #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Damion Scott. This is the worst-drawn Marvel comic in recent memory. Damion Scott’s bodies and facial expressions are extremely distorted, and it’s often difficult to figure out what’s going on in his panel compositions. I suppose his style could work well on some other kind of comic, but it’s not appropriate for this one. Saladin’s story is effectively ruined by Scott’s artwork, and it’s not that great a story to begin with; it’s an anticlimactic conclusion to Miles’s life. I’m especially sad that Miles never marries or has children.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #15 (Image, 2013) – “Infinite Oppenheimers,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Ryan Browne. Another chapter of the war in Oppenheimer’s mind between Joseph and Robert Oppenheimer. I really don’t care about this story arc at all; the entire Manhattan Projects series is lacking in interest, and the Oppenheimer business is perhaps the least interesting part of it. One of the incidental characters in this issue semes to be based on the superhero husband dude from God Hates Astronauts.

TRUE BELIEVERS: THE CRIMINALLY INSANE – MASTERS OF EVIL #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Meet the Masters of Evil!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. In this reprint of Avengers #6, Baron Zemo comes back from the dead and hires a bunch of other supervillains to take revenge on Captain America and the Avengers. This is a very early Avengers story, and it’s rather tedious and overwritten. I think the highlight of the issue is the panel at the beginning with the sloth-monkey creature. https://www.instagram.com/p/B7e9QqihBXX/

ANIMOSITY: THE RISE #2 (AfterShock, 2017) – “Red Letter,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Juan Doe. Wintermute tries to figure out how to prevent a famine if none of the animals can eat each other. Animosity has a lot of crippling problems, and one of the biggest of these is the question of food. If every animal suddenly became sentient, there is no plausible way that they could all survive without any of them eating the others. In The Rise and Evolution, Bennett tries to confront this problem directly, but that only makes the reader more aware that it’s an intractable problem. See https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2330809002?book_show_action=true for a review that elaborates on this point. Juan Doe’s artwork in this issue is very similar to his art in Strayed, and it represents the main redeeming quality of this comic.

MARVEL ADVENTURES: FANTASTIC FOUR #15 (Marvel, 2006) – “Its Name Was Terminus from Outer Space!”, [W] Justin Gray, [A] Juan Santacruz. The alien conqueror Terminus invades Earth. The FF defeat him using some experimental iceworms that were introduced at the start of the issue. This is a well-plotted and entertaining single-issue story, but Marvel Adventures: FF was never as good as other Marvel Adventures titles. Terminus seems like an unnecessary character; he’s just a bargain-basement version of Galactus or Annihilus.

ALL-TIME COMICS: ZEROSIS DEATHSCAPE #6 (All-Time Comics, 2020) – “Deathscape,” [W] Josh Bayer & Josh Simmons, [A] Trevor von Eeden. This issue has no guest artist, so it’s just a conventional superhero story with minimal indie-comics elements. Overall, I’m glad we’re done with this series because the novelty has worn off. I just read Simmons’s graphic novel Black River and had mixed feelings about it.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #5 (Image, 2015) – “A Star is Born,” [W/A] Ryan Browne. As usual this issue is full of pointless mayhem and weirdness. I sort of get the appeal of this comic, but it becomes tiresome very quickly. I think my favorite thing about it is the “sound” effects like ACCUSE! and HANDS OFF! Ryan Browne is a gifted artist, but he’s better off working with a writer other than himself, as Curse Words demonstrates.

HELLBLAZER #36 (DC, 1990) – “The Undiscover’d Country,” [W] Jamie Delano, [A] Sean Phillips. A woman named Mercury reads the tarot for Constantine, and we get a flashforward to his old age in a steril, dystopian future. I’m not sure what the point of this issue was.

MARVEL PREMIERE #11 (Marvel, 1973) – “Homecoming!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Steve Ditko. A Dreaded Deadline Doom reprint of two early Dr. Strange stories from Strange Tales. I’ve read one of these stories before, and the other is fairly unimpressive. Thee issue has a new framing sequence by Englehart and Brunner.

BATMAN #443 (DC, 1990) – “The Coming of Crimesmith,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Jim Aparo. Batman encounters a criminal mastermind named Crimesmith. The most notable thing in this issue is the page where Tim Drake begs Bruce to take him on patrol. I remembered this scene as being longer than it was; it’s just one page and part of another. Batman’s guilt over Jason’s death and his ambivalence about taking on a new partner were the most important themes in the series at the time. The Crimesmith plot is much less interesting than that.

GRAVEYARD SHIFT #1 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Jay Faerber, [A] Fran Bueno. To quote the author’s note, this series is about “a cop whose girlfriend becomes a vampire and together they must try to find a cure.” I guess that’s not a terrible premise, but Faerber and Bueno fail to do anything exciting with it.

SCOOBY-DOO TEAM-UP #7 (DC, 2015) – “Scooby-Doo, When Are You?”, [W] Sholly Fisch, [A] Scott Jeralds. The Scooby Gang are teleported to the Flintstones’ time. They meet the Flintstone and Rubble families and solve a mystery, and at the end, the Great Gazoo sends them forward in time to meet the Jetsons. I’m not a big Flintstones fan, but this issue is funny and entertaining.

DEADPOOL: THE GAUNTLET #1 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Gerry Duggan & Brian Posehn, [A] Reilly Brown. Deadpool fights Dracula in a story that was originally published online. I hate Deadpool, and this issue did nothing to change my opinion.

JOURNEY: WARDRUMS #1 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – “Ants and Fleas,” [W/A] William Messner-Loebs. While bathing in a lake, Wolverine MacAlistaire is attacked by beavers, yes, I said beavers, and drops his knife. He finds the knife again after diving into the lake for five days, but we’re told that he would have spent a month if necessary. This scene emphasizes Wolverine’s determination, and also shows how in the wilderness, a simple thing like a knife is of incalculable value. After recovering the knife, Wolverine encounters a dying Indian warrior and learns that Tecumseh’s war is about to start. This series was supposed to be the epic conclusion to Wolverine MacAlistaire’s saga, but only one more issuee was ever published, which is a real shame.

KNUCKLES THE MALEVOLENT NUN #1 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – multiple linked stories, [W] Cornelius Stone, [A] Roger Langridge. Satan tries to tempt the namesake evil nun. Even at the very start of his career, Roger Langridge was an incredible cartoonist. His draftsmanship and lettering in this comic are impeccable; it seems as though he never went through an awkward early phase. His visual storytelling here is also excellent, and each page is full of sight gags and hidden messages. The strip on the back cover is a cute Krazy Kat parody.

SUPER RABBIT #7 (I.W. Enterprises, 1958) – “Scare at the Shore” and other stories, [W/A] unknown. The history behind this comic is more interesting than the comics themselves. In the late ‘50s, Israel Waldman (perhaps best known as the co-founder of Skywald) bought a bunch of printing plates and/or original art from recently defunct comics publishers. He believed, or allowed himself to believe, that he also owned the copyright to this material, so he republished some of it under his own name. I guess he ran out of material by 1964, when the company went out of business. It’s obvious that Super Rabbit #7 started out as a Marvel comic, because the splash page shows the protagonist reading an issue of Captain America. As for its actual content, this comic includes a series of professionally executed but formulaic funny animal stories. Unlike so many other Golden Age Marvel characters, Super Rabbit has never shown up in the modern Marvel universe. According to Wikipedia, there was a plan to revive the character in 1977, but it didn’t happen.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #517 (Gladstone, 1987) – “The Great Survival Jest,” [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. The nephews decide to test their mettle by staying outdoors for a week. Donald tries to sabotage their plans, but only succeeds in making himself sick. This story introduces the Chickadees, the female version of the Junior Woodchucks, though it turns out Donald was just making them up. This issue also includes a stupid Brer Rabbit story, a short Gyro Gearloose story by Barks, and a Mickey Mouse story by Fallberg and Murry. In the latter, Goofy and Pete are both trying to win a contest by collecting cereal box tops.

JUST MARRIED #99 (Charlton, 1973) – “His Way Will Be My Way?”, [W] Joe Gill, [A] A. Martinez, plus other stories. In this issue’s first story, a newlywed woman thinks her husband is some kind of crook, but it turns out he’s really an investigator for an insurance company. It would be nice if he had told hre that before the wedding. The cover story is much more interesting. It’s about newlyweds Eileen, an Irish Catholic woman, and David, a Jewish-American man. They both feel disturbed about their religious incompatibility, so in a classic Gift of the Magi plot, they each decide to convert to the other’s religion. This story isn’t exactly good, but it’s an interesting exploration of interfaith marriage. It’s part of an ongoing storyline, and I’d like to read the other parts. When we see inside David’s parents’ house, there’s nothing about it that looks Jewish. I can’t find any information on who A. Martinez was, but I assume was from Argentina or Spain, and he seems to have had no knowledge of what a Jewish home looks like.

VAULT OF HORROR #10 (EC, 1951/1995) – various stories, [E] Al Feldstein. Johnny Craig’s “One Last Fling!” stars a circus knife thrower and his wife. The wife becomes a vampire, and the husband can’t stop her from drinking blood, so he has to kill her as part of his act. This was not one of EC’s best vampire stories. “That’s a ‘Croc’!” is one of just four EC stories by Howard Larsen. It’s about a zookeeper who kidnaps people and feeds them to alligators. In Jack Kamen’s “Child’s Play” is about an old curmudgeon, Collins, who hates the kids in his neighborhood. When his wife stops him from beating one of the kids, he murders her, and the kids take their revenge by dressing up as ghosts and scaring him to death. Jack Kamen is not one of the best-liked EC artists, but his art in this story is excellent, especially the splash panel where Collins’s dead, staring eyes are framed by the kids’ shocked faces. Finally, in Jack Davis’s “Trapped!”, a hobo jumps off a train and finds himself in an area inhabited only by one old man. The hobo kills the old man, but the land takes its revenge by killing the hobo.

New comics received on Wednesday, January 22:

LUMBERJANES #70 (Boom!, 2020) – “Forestry is the Best Policy,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] Kanesha C. Bryant & Julia Madrigal. There are indications in this issue, and in the solicitations for the next story arc, that the summer might be ending soon. I want this series to last forever, but the sad truth is that summer always does end; that’s kind of the point. If Lumberjanes ends, at least it had a great run. Who would have thought that a kid-oriented comic book with an interracial, exclusively female cast could last this long? Besides, I’m sure Boom! can find ways to continue the franchise. This issue, the Roanokes are attacked by a rhizome (how Deleuzian) and are rescued by Abigail. Meanwhile, we get a bit more of the original Lumberjane’s story, and we learn that the first Lumberjane was the daughter of the founder of the camp.

ONCE AND FUTURE #6 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Dan Mora. This is simply the best comic on the stands right now, or at least the most exciting. It’s thrilling and beautifully drawn, and it perfectly combines Arthurian mythology with contemporary politics. It deserves a bunch of Eisner nominations. This issue begins with a great line from Duncan: “Gran, if you didn’t want a hero, you shouldn’t have raised one.” Then Gran turns the tables on Arthur by telling him that his queen is sleeping with Sir Lancelot. This is a perfect example of both Gillen’s knowledge of Arthurian romance, and also the interaction between multiple stories, which is a central theme of the series. Arthur doesn’t know about Guinevere and Lancelot’s romance because he’s a pre-romance version of Arthur, from a story where Lancelot doesn’t exist yet. At the end of the issue, Duncan kills the Questing Beast, and a mysterious Merlin recruits Duncan’s mom as his new Nimue. I hope issue 7 comes soon.

FANTASTIC FOUR #18 (Marvel, 2020) – “Worldbreakers,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Paco Medina et al. The situation on Spyre deteriorates even further, and Reed has to get the FF, the Unparalleled and the monsters to work together to save lives. The Overseer is apparently killed and his eye destroyed. But afterward, the Unparalleled claim that the FF really are as bad as the prophecy claimed, since they’ve destroyed Spire’s society. This was perhaps the most underwhelming issue of the current story, though it’s not bad.

FAR SECTOR #3 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] N.K. Jemisin, [A] Jamal Campbell. Jo Mullein tries to stop a riot, but the government murders the rioters anyway. We’re also introduced to Jo’s AI assistant, hilariously named #ICanHasEarthStuff01. Far Sector’s worldbuilding, characterization and artwork are incredible, and it is definitely a super-important work. Its plot is hard to follow, though.

MIDDLEWEST #14 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. Abel saves a farm worker from burning to death. Abel’s supervisor Junie explains how she ended up on a farm – basically, homophobia, sexual assault, and awful parents. Nicholas Raider offers Abel a full-time non-slave-labor job, and Abel takes it so he can help the other slaves escape. The entire issue takes place on the farm, so we don’t get to see the circus characters.

FOLKLORDS #3 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Matt Smith. Adrienne Resha has written some negative reviews of this comic (https://womenwriteaboutcomics.com/2020/01/folklords-2-review/), and I find her opinions persuasive. Even setting aside issues of representation and race, Folklords is weirdly paced; it’s hard to see how the plot threads introduced in issue 1 can be resolved in just two more issues. For example, this issue spends a lot of time on the backstory of the Gretel character, and it’s not clear why this information is relevant. I really liked issue 1 and I want this series to succeed, but issues 2 and 3 are uneven.

BASKETFUL OF HEADS #4 (DC, 2020) – untitled, [W] Joe Hill, [A] Leomacs. June * decapitates the truck driver dude and puts his head in her basket, further justifying the comic’s title. She finally makes it to the police department, where the chief’s young son Hank gives her a cell to rest in. But in a by-now familiar pattern, he shows up at her cell later, apparently intent on raping her. I assume next issue is going to begin with Hank becoming the third head in June’s basket. * God danm it, I hate it when I can’t remember the name of a comic’s protagonist, and I can’t find it easily.

MANIFEST DESTINY #40 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Chris Dingess, [A] Matthew Roberts. Lewis and Clark negotiate with the all-female tribe, and at night, some of the dumber and hornier corps members go back to the tribe’s village to “negotiate” further. During the resulting orgy, we discover that the tribeswomen are actually carnivorous anthropomorphic rabbits. This is a classic Manifest Destiny story – it’s gruesome and weird in a super-funny way.

FAMILY TREE #3 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Phil Hester. The little girl, Meg, has a dream where she and her father are inside a giant tree. When she wakes up, her family is in Manhattan’s Chinatown, negotiating with an old botanist named Loretta. It’s clear by now that the protagonists’ family is the victim of a generational curse, which I guess explains how this series is different from Farmhand. I still think Farmhand is better.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #86 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Kate Sherron. Pinkie Pie’s shy sister Marble comes to Ponyville to ask for help planning a party. This issue is not bad, and it’s nice to get to knw Marble Pie better. However, this is not Jeremy’s most memorable pony story, and the series has kind of been spinning its wheels lately. Most of the recent issues have just been one-offs; I can’t recall the last story that was more than one issue. I look forward to the “Season 10” stories.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #14 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Last Avenger Part Three,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Lee Garbett. Carol fights Black Panther and then She-Hulk. “The Last Avenger” is better than previous storylines, but this series is still suffering from a lack of direction. Carol doesn’t have a clearly defined personality beyond being Marvel’s primary white female suprehero, and Kelly has failed to define her more precisely than that. Also, Vox Supreme is a really annoying villain. He somehow acts surprised and offended when Carol refuses to meekly go along with his plot.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Then It’s Us,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Juann Cabal. In the absence of the Nova Corps, the Guardians are forced to singlehandedly defeat some rogue Greek gods. Al Ewing’s take on the Guardians is not bad, but it lacks the excitement and originality of his Immortal Hulk, or the humor of his Rocket Raccoon. Also, I hate that Groot can speak normal English now. I would have been willing to read more of this series, but I neglected to order issue 2, and maybe that’s just as well.

THE OLD GUARD: FORCE MULTIPLIED #2 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Leandro Fernandez. This is still hard to follow, but the artwork is still absolutely gorgeous. Greg Rucka’s characters are interesting, but his story is almost just an excuse for Leandro Fernandez’s stunning linework, page compositions and action sequences. I’ve probably said this before, but Fernandez is as good as his countryman Eduardo Risso.

WONDER WOMAN #750 (DC, 2020) – “The Wild Hunt Finale,” [W] Steve Orlando, [A] Jesus Merino, plus many other stories. Like most giant anniversary issues, WW #750 is a mixed bag. By far the high point of the issue is Gail Simone and Colleen Doran’s story that reintroduces Star-Blossom, a little black girl superheroine with flower powers. Star-Blossom is just an incredible character, and her interactions with Diana are adorable. I need to track down the 2016 one-shot where she first appeared. The next best thing in the issue is the revised origin story by Kami Garcia and Phil Hester. I still miss Renae De Liz’s Legend of Wonder Woman, but this story is an acceptable substitute. Mariko Tamaki’s interview story is also good, if predictable, and she would be a great Wonder Woman writer. The opening story by Orlando and Merino has excellent art, but the plot didn’t grab me. The low point of the issue is Vita Ayala and Amancay Nahuelpan’s “Always.” Julia and Vanessa Kapatelis are my favorite Wonder Woman supporting characters ever, but the villainess in Always has nothing in common with George Pérez’s spunky, lovable Vanessa, other than her name. I would rather have seen Vanessa killed off than turned into a tormented villain. Also, Marguerite Bennett’s DC Comics Bombshells story reminds me of why I quit reading that series.

JOHN CONSTANTINE, HELLBLAZER #3 (DC, 2020) – “A Green and Pleasant Land, Part Three,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Aaron Campbell. Constantine succeeds in defeating the Blake-inspired murderer. If I’m reading it correctly, this story depicts Blake in a very negative light. Spurrier turns Blake’s “Jerusalem” into a metaphor for English nationalist chauvinism. That seems rather unfair to Blake, who was perhaps the most progressive and socially conscious of the Romantic poets. I’m curious what my Blakean scholar friends, especially Roger Whitson, would think of this comic. Still, this was a fun story arc and a good start to Spurrier’s run.

ETHER: THE DISAPPEARANCE OF VIOLET BELL #5 (Dark Horse, 2020) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] David Rubín. In a deliberate homage to Doyle’s “The Final Problem,” Bode sacrifices himself to kill Ubel. Violet Bell is left pregnant with Bode’s posthumous child. This ending would have had more of an impact if I could remember who Violet Bell is and how she became Boone’s lover. This series (like Folklords) never quite lived up to the potential of its premise, but David Rubín’s art was consistently incredible.

ARCHIE VS. PREDATOR II #5 (Archie, 2020) – “Escape Velocity,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Robert Hack. After a lot more carnage and mayhem, Betty and Veronica end up in an alternate-universe New York with the Predator/Archie character. This miniseries was really confusing because it was full of multiple versions of the same characters, and I never quite understood what exactly was going on. The dialogue and artwork were quite good, though.

WONDER TWINS #11 (DC, 2020) – “The Rise and Fall of Colonel 86,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. Colonel 86 causes all sorts of havoc, but Zan, Jayna and Polly succeed in defeating him. Like most Mark Russell comics, this issue has a political message. Colonel 86 “refuses to acknowledge that the world has changed.” Its supporters think “that the world was at its best when they were at theirs.” And people didn’t really love Colonel 86, “they loved the monster he allowed them to be.” Yes, this is about Trump.

WELLINGTON #2 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W] Aaron Mahnke & Delilah S. Dawson, [A] Piotr Kowalski. This is an okay horror comic, but it’s no better than a random issue of Hellboy, and it doesn’t feel historically accurate. I’ll probably order issue 5, but only because I already ordered the first four. I expect better from Delilah Dawson.

TRUE BELIEVERS: THE CRIMINALLY INSANE – PURPLE MAN #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “Menaced by the Mystery of Killgrave, the Unbelievable Purple Man!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Joe Orlando. That title is better than the actual story. Along with X-Men, Daredevil was the worst of the early Marvel Universe titles, except when Wally Wood was drawing it. Matt Murdock had no personality beyond being blind and a lawyer, and his supporting characters were lifeless. Also, Joe Orlando was much more suited to horror and SF than superheroes. The Purple Man is a creepy villain, but he didn’t become a major character until 40 years after his creation, when Bendis reintroduced him in Alias.

HEIST #3 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Arjuna Susini. This is a fun issue. I especially ike the scene where the real Glane Breld just walks into the villains’ headquarters and steals their supplies, and they all let him do it because they think he’s an impostor. The problem with this series is that Arjuna Susini’s art is not appropriate to Tobin’s story. Susini draws in a realist, highly detailed style that resembles that of Neal Adams or Alfredo Alcala, and his art doesn’t look fun or lighthearted at all. This comic would be more effective with a less serious-looking style of art.

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SNIFTER OF TERROR SEASON TWO #4 (Ahoy, 2020) – “The Black Cat,” [W] Bryce Ingman, [A] Greg Scott, plus other stories. This issue’s first story is based on Poe’s “The Black Cat,” which I have not read, but I think reading a Wikipedia summary was sufficient to allow me to get the joke. The gimmick of Ingman and Scott’s retelling is that the cat is replaced by an artificially intelligent car, probably in homage to Knight Rider. I’ve never heard of either of these creators before, but this story is very clever, and it makes me want to read more of their work. Dean Motter’s retelling of “The Gold-Bug” is frankly mediocre, and it leaves out the code-breaking that, for me, is the most interesting part of Poe’s story. Motter replaces the black valet of the original story with an artificial intelligence, which is an interesting decision.

ARCHIE’S PALS AND GALS #213 (Archie, 1990) – “Reggie in Pound for Pound,” [W] Rich Margopoulos, [A] Stan Goldberg, plus other stories. I read this in about one minute, and I forgot about it in less time than that.

KIDZ #1 (Ablaze, 2020) – untitled, [W] Aurélien Ducoudray, [A] Jocelyn Joret. I ordered this because it’s a translation of a French comic. Kidz is a postapocalyptic zombie story in which all the adults have died, so the protagonists are children. The art is good, but less detailed compared to other French commercial comics, and the story is readable but not amazing. I might as well keep reading this series for now.

THE BEEF #2 (Image, 2018) – “America’s Sweetheart,” [W] Richard Starkings, [A] Shaky Kane. The main draw of this series is Shaky Kane’s artwork, which resembles Kirby artwork taken to an absurd extreme. However, Richard Starkings’s story is also much more interesting than I expected. It’s a fairly serious exploration of undocumented immigration and agricultural labor issues, although there’s a limit to how serious a comic can be when its protagonist is a giant hunk of raw meat. I need to finish reading this miniseries.

DENNIS THE MENACE AND HIS FRIENDS SERIES #19 (Fawcett, 1973) – “A Full House” and other stories, [W/A] uncredited. A series of (probably) reprinted stories, all of them focusing on Dennis and his dog Ruff. The best thing in the issue is the page with the dogs that resemble their owners (https://www.instagram.com/p/B7xCJomB-iC/). Dennis the Menace comic books are all very similar to each other, but they’re also all very well-done.

STORMWATCH #46 (Image, 1997) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Tom Raney. Two different groups of Stormwatch members hang out together to learn more about each other. Meanwhile, the Weatherman lets Rose Tattoo out of prison, and there’s some foreshadowing of the upcoming “Change or Die” story. Warren Ellis’s Stormwatch was his first truly major work, and it still holds up well.

IRREDEEMABLE #11 (Boom!, 2010) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Diego Barreto & Peter Krause. In the first half of this issue, the villain Bette Noir conspires against the Plutonian with the alien Gilgamos. The second half is much more interesting. It introduces Anita and Loren Daniels, the Plutonian’s human foster parents. After adopting him, they unexpectedly had a biological child, but the Plutonian held the baby too hard, making him mentally disabled for life. After that, the Daniels returned the Plutonian to the orphanage and spent the rest of their lives in total silence, so Plutonian couldn’t hear them talk with his super-hearing. Of course in this issue he finds them anyway. This issue is a good demonstration of the central point of this series: an evil Superman would be terrifying.

SUPERMAN #14 (DC, 2017) – “Multiplicity Part 1,” [W] Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, [A] Ivan Reis. This series jumped the shark almost as soon as I started reading it. The reason I was interested in this comic was because of Clark and Jon’s relationship, but Jon mostly disappeared after issue 11, and instead the series became mired in a bunch of pointless crossovers. “Multiplicity” is an multipart epic in which some monsters are hunting down Supermen across multiple realities. It’s not very interesting and it lacks any significant characterization or creativity.

THE UNWRITTEN #36 (Vertigo, 2012) – “The Wave,” [W] Mike Carey & Peter Gross. I don’t remember who the Tinker is, but this issue he meets Pauly Bruckner, and they try to evade the oncoming wave that’s destroying all the fictional universes. There’s a cameo appearance the three sons that Pauly fathered with the Quark Maiden. Pauly finally gets turned back into a human just as the wave arrives. This is an interesting issue and can be understood without much knowledge of the main storyline.

MANTRA #18 (Malibu, 1995) – “Should Auld Acquaintance…!”, [W] Mike W. Barr, [A] Scott Lee. The gimmick of this series was that it starred an immortal warrior, Lukasz, who got reincarnated in the body of a woman, Eden. This issue, Lukasz finally has his own body back, and he celebrates by sleeping with Eden. Somehow she instantly becomes nine months pregnant and gives birth to Lukasz’s archenemy, Necromantra. This issue is a lot like Avengers #200, and like that issue, Mantra #18 is rather sexist; the writer shows little interest in exploring Eden’s feelings about her bizarre pregnancy.

NEXT MEN #10 (Dark Horse, 1992) – “Parallel Interlude,” [W/A] John Byrne. A young member of the Next Men tracks down his biological mother, an alcoholic who abuses her other child. I hate most of John Byrne’s post-1986 work, and this issue shows some of his typical misogyny, but at least it’s readable and well-drawn.

THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG VOL. 4 #2 (Dark Horse, 2001) – “Blood for Blood,” [W/A] P. Craig Russell. PCR’s adaptation of Wagner’s Ring is one of his finest works. This issue, an amnesiac Siegfried sets off to bring back Brunhilde as Gunther’s wife. Meanwhile, Brunhilde’s fellow Valkyrie, Valtraute, tells her how Voton is about to burn down Valhalla. Valtraute’s story is depicted with artwork that seems to be reproduced directly from pencils. Valtraute begs Brunhilde to give her the ring so that the world can be restored, but Brunhilde refuses because the ring symbolizes Siegfried’s love. This is an ironic reversal of how Alberich renounced love when he stole the Rhinegold. Even more ironically, Siegfried then shows up disguised as Gunther and forces Brunhilde to surrender the ring. The scene where Siegfried/Gunther takes the ring is powerfully depicted as a symbolic rape, although Siegfried scrupulously avoids sleeping with Brunhilde. This series is fascinating and it makes me want to listen to or watch the Ring cycle for myself, even if Wagner was an awful man.

UNCLE SCROOGE #234 (Gladstone, 1989) – “The Money Stairs,” [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. In a ten-pager, Donald competes with Scrooge to see who can climb a mountain faster. Disappointingly, the story has an “it was all a dream” ending. That sort of copout is not worthy of Barks. He must not have been able to think of a more plausible ending. There are also two European stories, including one where Scrooge converts his money into a million-dollar bill. A similar plot device appeared in Mark Twain’s story “The Million Pound Bank Note” and the Simpsons episode “The Trouble with Trillions,” but I don’t know if any of these three texts were directly related to each other.

BATWOMAN #3 (DC, 2012) – “Hydrology 3: Gaining Steam,” [W/A] J.H. Williams III, [W] Haden Blackman. This issue offers further evidence that J.H. Williams III was the finest comic book artist of his generation. I’ve run out of ways to praise his breathtaking page layouts, draftsmanship and coloring (though Dave Stewart is responsible for the latter). Every page of this comic is a unique and original composition. However, the actual story of “Hydrology” is rather boring, and Williams and Blackman’s Kate Kane is an unsympathetic character. This issue, she insults her sidekick Bette Kane until Bette slaps her. She also stands up Maggie Sawyer on a date, and when she finally does see Maggie, she doessn’t even apologize; instead, she demands that Maggie give her emotional support.

THE MAXX #14 (IDW, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Sam Kieth, [W] William Messner-Loebs. The Maxx dreams that he’s being chased by a giant talking horse that looks like himself. He awkwardly wakes up in Sarah’s arms, and then a very pregnant Julie walks in. Sam Kieth’s art in this issue is amazing; he is a totally unique artist. The Maxx may be his best work simply because it’s a collaboration with a writer who’s better than Sam himself. As Four Women demonstrates, Sam’s writing ability is not equal to his artistic ability.

MORLOCK 2001 #1 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – “The Coming of Morlock!”, [W] Michael Fleisher, [A] Al Milgrom. Sort of a mashup of Man-Thing, Warlock, and 1984. In a dystopian Orwellian future, a scientist creates an artificial human being just before being murdered by the Thought Police (they’re actually called that). The artificial man, Morlock, has the power to kill people by turning them into plants, so the government uses him as an executioner. But by the end of the issue, he realizes what he’s doing is wrong. He also discovers that he can turn himself into a giant plant monster, so he decides to use his powers to overthrow the government. This comic is highly derivative of various other comics, but it’s interesting, and if it had lasted longer, it could have been quite good. The main problem is Al Milgrom’s boring art.

DAREDEVIL #149 (Marvel, 1977) – “Catspaw!”, [W] Jim Shooter, [A] Carmine Infantino. Matt fights a boring villain, Smasher, and yells at Foggy for no reason. Also, he refuses to defend Heather Glenn’s father in court (correctly, since it would be a conflict of interest for both Matt and Daredevil), and Heather responds by complaining to her teddy bear. Heather is probably my least favorite superhero girlfriend ever. This issue includes an unfortunate panel sequence in which Matt and Foggy seem to have magically switched places between panels (https://www.instagram.com/p/B771Nu7BARc/).

New comics received on January 30:

CRIMINAL #12 (Image, 2020) – “Cruel Summer Part Eight: Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. If Dan killed Teeg Lawless, then why were we told in the very first issue that Tommy Patterson killed him? Well, because Dan actually shot Teeg with rock salt at the end of last issue. I didn’t understand why when I read the comic, but now I get it: Ricky tipped Dan off to where Teeg and Jane were, and in exchange, he told Dan not to kill Teeg. Anyway, Dan kidnaps Jane, thinking he’s “saving” her, but she crashes their car into a truck, killing them both. Afterward, Teeg is crushed by grief, and when Ricky reveals that he was responsible for Jane’s death, Teeg grabs his own son by the throat. To save Ricky, Leo has to kill Teeg, and his father takes the rap for it. So in the end, half the characters are dead, and the other half have their lives ruined forever. That’s the end of this truly amazing series. I look forward to seeing what Brubaker and Phillips do next, though I was not impressed by this issue’s preview of Jacob Phillips’s upcoming series.

DIAL H FOR HERO #11 (DC, 2020) “Dear Dad,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. I think the opening sequence in this issue is based on Fun Home, though it’s hard to tell. In the issue there’s an obvious Chris Ware homage, and I think the Lolo Kick You scene is based on the style of Rumiko Takahashi. The main plot element in this issue is that Miguel collects all four dials and splits into a good and a bad half, and then Mr. Thunderbolt turns the entire multiverse into a dial. This has been an amazing series, and I’m sorry there’s just one issue left.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #12 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Life & Death of Conan Part 12: The Power in the Blood,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. With the help of his son Conan II, Conan defeats the two evil children and saves the world. This conclusion leads into Jason Aaron’s upcoming King Conan series. Jason is the third great writer of Conan comics, after Roy Thomas and Kurt Busiek, and I’m glad his Conan run is continuing. I just wish that the next writer on the main Conan series was someone other than Jim Zub.

SEX CRIMINALS #26 (Image, 2020) – “The End: Part One,” [W] Matt Fraction, [A] Chip Zdarsky. I was very tired and depressed when I read this, and I wasn’t able to give it the attention it deserves. It’s an amazing piece of work, of course. It shows us that Jon and Suzie are back together, and it ends on a nice cliffhanger when we discover that Jon is calling Suzie from jail. I love the extra page that was inserted so the number of pages would be even. However, it is difficult to follow what’s going on, especially given the long hiatus. Fraction’s explanation for the hiatus is surprising: he realized he’d stopped caring about the plot, and he decided to take a break until he started to care again. I feel guilty for not reading the entire letters page, but I usually don’t read it anyway.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #9 (Image, 2020) – “Edge of Everything, Part 4,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. Grix and her crew succeed in getting back to their own ship, but then Grix nearly ruins everything by going back to the other ship to rescue Vess. As the issue ends, Grix is stranded in space, and Vess is trying to save her, because it turns out that when Vess goes into estrus, she gains superpowers. This is such a thrilling issue that I made a sort of “whew” sound when I finished it. Invisible Kingdom is one of the best comics on the market right now.

MONSTRESS #25 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [A] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. This is an excellent and very important series, but while reading this issue, I kept wanting it to be over. It was a tedious read because its plot has become impossible to follow. I never quite understood Monstress’s plot in the first place, and it’s gotten more confusing with each issue. I’ve long since lost track of how many factions there are or which characters belong to which faction. However, the characterization in this issue is extremely good. I especially like the scenes with Kippa.

FARMHAND #13 (Image, 2020) – “The Wiz,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. I taught the first Farmhand storyline in my comics class last week, and the students really seemed to like it. And by teaching it, I realized lots of things about it that I had missed before. This issue, Ezekiel and Andrea go to see Wally, a former coworker of Jed and Monica Thorne, but then they all get attacked by plant-people disguised as missionaries. Back in Freetown, Mikhail turns into a plant zombie himself.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #5 (Boom!, 2020) – untitled, [W] James Tynion, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. Erica kills the monster, despite Tommy’s interference, but it turns out the monster has already reproduced. This is an excellent horror comic. What especially makes it effective is Dell’Edera’s depictions of the monster. He gives us a broad sense of what it looks like, but he leaves enough of its appearance unspecified that it becomes truly scary.

X-MEN #5 (Marvel, 2020) – “Into the Vault,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] R.B. Silva. A villain named Serafina is hiding in a vault where time flows at a different rate, and Synch, Darwin and X-23 (who humorously insists on being called Wolverine) have to go in and get her. I don’t understand what the Vault is or who Serafina is, but I like how each issue of this series has felt completely different from the last.

IMMORTAL HULK #30 (Marvel, 2020) – “Cometh the Hour,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. The Hulk and his sidekicks battle the monsters that are destroying Phoenix. After the Hulk and his allies have exhausted themselves and inadvertently made themselves look evil, Xemnu appears to save the day, just as planned. This was an entertaining issue.

NEW MUTANTS #6 (Marvel, 2020) – “Not as Hoped,” [W] Ed Brisson, [A] Flaviano. This issue’s title is ironic because I bought it mistakenly thinking it was written by Hickman. In future, I will be more careful about checking credits, because this issue is terrible. In the last installment of this storyline, a team of New Mutants went to recruit Beak and Angel to the new team, only for Beak and Angel’s house to be invaded by drug dealers. The villains in this issue are offensive racist caricatures. Also, at the end of the issue, the main villain murders Beak’s parents in cold blood, then kills himself so Beak can’t take revenge. To make things even worse, one of the New Mutants then mindwipes Beak and makes him believe his parents died years ago. Bek and Angel have suffered more than enough already; Grant Morrison already went too far when he made them teenage parents of six children. In this issue Ed Brisson subjects them to even more unnecessary trauma. It would have been better if these characters had never appeared again. Overall, this issue is an offensive piece of crap, and I am very unlikely to ever buy another comic written by Ed Brisson.

ICE CREAM MAN #17 (Image, 2020) – “Cape Fear,” [W] W. Maxwell Prince, [A] Martín Morazzo. The Ice Cream Man in this issue is a thinly disguised Superman parody. He invites Parker Paige (i.e. Lois Lane) to his fortress of solitude, but their date quickly becomes horrifying; for example, he tries to get Lois to eat some sentient cute creatures. Parker thankfully blacks out after that, and the issue ends with a parody of Batman’s origin. This issue has nothing in common with the previous issue of Ice Cream Man that I read, other than its extremely disturbing tone. Now I’m even more curious to read more of this series. Hannibal Tabu wrote a negative review of this series on Bleeding Cool, but I don’t think he understood what it was trying to do.

VAGRANT QUEEN: A PLANET CALLED DOOM #1 (Vault, 2020) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Jason Smith. This is Mags’s first new creator-owned comic in a while. As this series opens, Elida is living a quiet life with her new girlfriend Florence, but then a giant white-costumed dude shows up and kidnaps Elida. He takes her to a planet where she is apparently worshipped as a god. This is an intriguing setup, but I still hate Jason Smith’s art.

THE UNBELIEVABLE GWENPOOL #9 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Christopher Hastings, [A] GuriHiru. There’s some fun, wacky stuff in this issue, including a cameo appearance by the elderly version of Squirrel Girl. The problem is that Christopher Hastings is just not a grat writer. His dialogue is grating, his jokes are unfunny, and his characterization is unconvincing. I should have quit buying this series much sooner than I did.

REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #3 (IDW, 2017) – “The Flying She-Devils: Raid on Marauder Island Part 3,” [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Lo Baker. I don’t remember how we got to this point, but as this issue begins, the Flying She-Devils are flying over the Pacific Ocean in a plane that’s rapidly running out of fuel. And they’re being chased by a sky pirate named Mad Jack. This issue is very suspenseful and exciting, but Lo Baker’s art is not as skillful as Scott Wegener’s, although the coloring in this issue is good. There’s also a backup story about the Sparrow.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2017 (SECRET EMPIRE) #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “Secret Empire,” [W] Nick Spencer, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. This issue’s first story has some excellent page layouts, but Secret Empire is an insulting and terrible story, and I hate Nick Spencer’s writing. There’s also a Spider-Man backup story. I hated this story at first, but that was partly because I thought that it too was written by Nick Spencer; it was actually by Chip Zdarsky. But even though my initial opinion of this story was unfairly prejudiced, I still don’t like it.

DOCTOR STRANGE #21 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Dennis Hopeless, [A] Niko Henrichon. I ordered this by mistake because I didn’t realize Jason Aaron’s run was over. This comic is not unreadable, but it’s gross – in the opening scene, Doc has to fight a sentient blob of stomach acid. And Hopeless doesn’t generate nearly as much excitement as Aaron did. His “run” only lasted three more issues.

THE AUTHORITY #16 (Wildstorm, 2000) – “The Nativity Four of Four,” [W] Mark Millar, [A] Frank Quitely. This is less bad than it could have been, but it’s not good. Millar’s tasteless, offensive writing kills whatever pleasure I could have gotten out of Frank Quitely’s art.

DRAGON BALL SUPER 2017 FCBD EDITION (Viz, 2017) – untitled, [W] Akira Toriyama, [A] Toyotarou. I read this because I was too tired to read anything that would have required more mental effort. This FCBD comic contains a preview of a new Dragon Ball manga. It makes no sense at all to a reader who hasn’t kept up with the series (I’ve only read the first three volumes). There’s also a Boruto: Naruto Next Generations installment, which is equally impenetrable. Both these stories were poor choices for a comic designed to attract new readers.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2017 (GUARDIANS OF THE GALXY) #1 (Marvel, 2017) – “Smash & Grab,” [W] Gerry Duggan, [A] Aaron Kuder. Gerry Duggan is a boring writer, and his Guardians of the Galaxy story didn’t grab me, although I enjoyed the art. The second half of this issue consists of a Defenders story by Bendis. It’s more of his usual crap.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #102 (IDW, 2020) – untitled, [W/A] Sophie Campbell. It’s probably been 25 years since I last bought a TMNT comic, but I bought this one because it’s by Sophie Campbell. This issue’s plot revolves around creatures called Mutanimals, and as a new reader, I wasn’t able to follow what’s going on. But Sophie Campbell’s art and visual storytelling are brilliant. She has an unparalleled ability to draw compelling facial expressions, and to create conovincing characters with various body types. The scene where three of the Turtles are sitting silently around the breakfast table is very powerful, even though I didn’t know what they were so sad about. I’m going to keep following this series.

THE TERRIFICS #24 (DC, 2020) – “The One Where Bizarro Screws Up Time Finale,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Sergio Davila. The Noosphere intervenes to save the day. The Terribles get stuck at the end of time, except Boyzarro, who remains with the Terrifics. Mrs. Terrific gets super-angel powers, and there’s a fourth-wall-breaking moment where she “borrows” a page from the comic we’re reading. Gene Luen Yang’s comics always seem to have weird plots with lots of metalepsis and complicated narrative structure, and this one is no exception. I still have rather mixed feelings about this series, but I like it enough to stick with it.

PROTECTOR #1 (Image, 2020) – untitled, [W] Simon Roy & Daniel Bensen, [A] Artyom Trakhanov. This new series feels like a Brandon Graham comic, which is natural since Graham launched Roy’s career. It has a weird SF plot and focuses more on worldbuilding thn storytelling. Protector takes place in a post-apocalyptic, post-climate-change America, characterized by conflicts between tribes such as Hudsoni, Anglos and Yanquis. The racial politics of this comic are open to critique; I think it’s unfortunate that the villains all seem to be Asian. But I like the art and the worldbuilding. Highlights include the “gosherd” (goose-herd) and the placename Süssem-Ri, which took me a while to decode as Sault Ste. Marie.

GREEN LANTERN: BLACKSTARS #3 (DC, 2020) – “The Heart of Emptiness,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Xermanico. A confusing and complicated conclusion to a difficult storyline. Hal reveals that the last three issues have been taking place in a parallel universe, so the real DCU is safe from Belzebeth and her Blackstars. Hal returns to Earth and leaves Belzebeth on the parallel Earth. This sets up the upcoming second season. I don’t understand why Belzebeth’s chest is glowing at the end. Xermanico’s art is not as creative or weird as Liam Sharpe’s.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: DAILY BUGLE #1 (Marvel, 2020) – “The Hanging Judge Part 1 of 5,” [W] Mat Johnson, [A] Mack Chater & Francesco Mobili. Mat Johnson’s first Marvel comic is an ensemble-cast series about the Daily Bugle staff. The most interesting character in the series is Robbie Robertson’s niece Chloe, who joins the Bugle staff and is sent to investigate some mysterious Spider-Man webs. The pacing of this story is a little odd, but this comic displays Johnson’s usual humor, and I’m excited to read more of it.

CAPTAIN MARVEL: THE END #1 (Marvel, 2020) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. In the year 2051, Carol thinks all the people of Earth have died, but she discovers that Earth still has a small population, including many young superheroes. After defeating a giant monster, Carol sacrifices her life to reignite the sun. This issue isn’t bad, and I especially like all the grown-up kid superheroes and the descendants of superhero couples. But Kelly’s version of Carol is still fundamentally lacking in personality, especially compared to Kelly’s other characters.

KILLADELPHIA #3 (Image, 2020) – “Sins of the Father Part 3,” [W] Rodney Barnes, [A] Jason Shawn Alexander. This issue is primarily a retelling of Vampire John Adams’s origin. Rodney Barnes mistakenly claims that John Quincy Adams was elected President twice, and this makes me doubt all the other historical information Barnes provides. This issue is not terrible, but it’s a rather straightforward horror comic, and it seems to lack depth. I want Killadelphia to be another Farmhand or Bitter Root, but it’s not there yet.

KOSHCHEI THE DEATHLESS #3 (Dark Horse, 2018) – untitled, [W] Mike Mignola, [A] Ben Stenbeck. Besides The Visitor, this is the best Hellboyverse comic I’ve read lately, mostly due to its moody and convincing depiction of premodern Russia. Most of this issue is a retelling of the Russian villain Koshchei’s origin story, and Ben Stenbeck seems to have done significant research on medieval Russian clothing and architecture, so the story has a strong sense of verisimilitude.

REAL SCIENCE ADVENTURES #4 (IDW, 2017) – “Raid on Marauder Island Part 4,” as above. The Flying She-Devils’ predicament gets even worse. As a last resort, the lead She-Devil summons all the other pirates who have a grudge against Mad Jack, asking them to help the She-Devils out. This issue is very similar to #3.

SUPERMAN #30 (DC, 2017) – “A Moment Longer Part 2: Hopes and Fears,” [W] Keith Champagne, [A] Ed Benes et al. Another dumb crossover story, in which Superman fights Sinestro and Parallax. The only reedeming moment in this issue is a scene where Superman imagines his worst fears, which include Lois getting cancer, and Jon being bullied.

CURSE WORDS #10 (Image, 2017) – “Explosiontown Part Five,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Wizord defeats Violet, but while he’s distracted, the government kidnaps Margaret. There’s a hilarious moment where Margaret tries to deny that she’s a magical talking platypus creature. Meanwhile, Sizzajee and Jacques Zacques team up. I’ve noticed that this series includes a lot of jagged diagonal panel borders (see https://retconpunchdotcom.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/wizord-beach.jpg for an example). I don’t know if this is just a stylistic trademark of Ryan’s, or if there’s some other explanation for it.

THE HOLLOWS #4 (IDW, 2013) – untitled, [W] Chris Ryall, [A] Sam Kieth. The conclusion to some kind of science-fictional story. I didn’t understand the plot of this issue, but the artwork is quite good. Some of Sam’s art in this issue looks like it was reproduced from colored pencils or something.

CURSE WORDS HOLIDAY SPECIAL #1 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule & Ryan Browne, [A] Mike Norton. A flashback story in which Sizzajee’s children team up for a “Meatmeet,” in which they compete to hunt down a magically created beast. This is a fun and lighthearted story, even though (or because) it includes some very gruesome moments. It’s not that essential to the plot, but it is cool to see how a different artist interprets the Hole World and its characters.

CURSE WORDS #12 (Image, 2018) – “The Hole Damned World Part 2,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. I didn’t order issue 11, but it must have been very eventful. At the beginning of this issue, Wizord is in the middle of a fight with Ruby Stitch, and he also mistakenly thinks that he’s destroyed the entire Hole World. Wizord and Ruby’s “fight” soon turns into a sexual encounter. Meanwhile, Margaret is engaged in a standoff with the humans who’ve kidnapped her. One thing I noticed while reading this issue is the role that color plays in the story. Each of the wizards has a distinctive color for their magic, and the colors let us see which wizard is doing what.

TEEN TITANS GO #19 (DC, 2017) – “Precog Sniffin’”, [W] Paul Morrissey & Heather Nuhfer, [A] Marcelo DiChiara. The first “story” in this issue is a plotless non-story about nothing. The backup story at least has a plot, albeit a dumb one: Beast Boy tries to heal his sick pet herring and is declared the king of a tribe of Vikings. I don’t like Teen Titans Go very much, and I actively hate its version of Starfire.

SCOOBY APOCALYPSE #8 (DC, 2017) – “The Doctor Will Kill You Now!”, [W] Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Dale Eaglesham & Ron Wagner. I ordered this because it was part of a package deal with some other Hanna-Barbera comics. I don’t know what to make of it. It’s a semi-serious take on Scooby-Doo, drawn in a realistic style. Giffen and DeMatteis’s storytelling is reasonably good. But unlike, say, Afterlife with Archie, or Mark Russell’s Hanna-Barbera comics, or Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids, Scooby Apocalypse doesn’t seem ironic at all. It takes itself completely seriously, despite its unserious subject matter. As a result, it doesn’t work for me.

INCORRUPTIBLE #4 (Boom!, 2010) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Jean Diaz. Max Damage fights another villain named Amberjack. This is a very early issue and it’s not as deep or complex as later issues, though it’s fun.

THE MAXX MAXXIMIZED #13 (IDW, 2014) – untitled, [W/A] Sam Kieth, [W] William Messner-Loebs. This issue is mostly about Sarah’s elderly grandfather, who keeps trying to escape his nursing home, thinking he’s boarding a spaceship. As usual, Sam Kieth’s draftsmanship and page layouts are stunning. I’m not sure what precisely are the differences between this reprint and the original Image publication.

RUMBLE #1 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] John Arcudi, [A] James Harren. A fantasy comic in which a young man somehow acquires a magic sword, but a bunch of villains are trying to take it for themselves. I bought this when it came out, but didn’t read it. If I had read it, I wouldn’t have ordered issue 2. Rumble #1 has impressive art, but its dialogue is stupid, and I don’t care about its protagonist or its plot.

CATWOMAN #39 (DC, 2015) – “Better than He Does Himself,” [W] Genevieve Valentine, [A] Garry Brown. A boring, visually unappealing talkfest, in which Catwoman gets involved in an intrigue between crime families. Genevieve Valentine tries to give her story a literary air by including quotations from Cesare Borgia, but there’s very little of any interest in this comic.

GOD HATES ASTRONAUTS #6 (Image, 2015) – “Cosmic Apocalypse,” [W/A] Ryan Browne. More of Browne’s usual unfunny nonsense. This issue includes none of the diagonal panel borders I remarked in my review of Curse Words #10, so I guess they’re not part of Browne’s natural style.

CURSE WORDS #13 (Image, 2018) – “The Hole Damned World Part Three,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Sizzajee tells Jacques a biased version of the Hole World’s history. Margaret befriends one of the magicians who are holding her captive. Wizord and Ruby Stitch realize they can’t find Margaret, so Ruby Stitch decides to terrorize New York’s people by making it rain blood. Thus we come to the last issue of Curse Words that I ordered:

CURSE WORDS #14 (Image, 2018) – “The Hole Damned World Part Four,” [W] Charles Soule, [A] Ryan Browne. Ruby Stitch’s rain of blood drains her powers. Margaret comes up with an escape plan. On the last page, Platinum Johnny shows up with his pregnant girlfriend. After finishing this issue, I wished I had continued ordering this comic, even though I stopped reading it after issue 2. It lasted until issue 25, and I hope I can find the remaining issues at some convention or other. Curse Words is a genuinely entertaining comic, with a unique and compelling plot.

MISTER X VOL. 2 #10 (Vortex, 1990) – “Dedicated User,” [W] Jeffrey Morgan, [A] Disraeli. Jeffrey Morgan is best known as a music journalist. This series is his only significant comics credit, though he was a well-known letterhack. Mr. X vol. 2 #10 has pretty good artwork and dialogue, although it includes some excessively gruesome scenes. However, by this point, Mr. X had drifted very far from Dean Motter and Paul Rivoche’s original concept. The name Dean Motter doesn’t seem to appear anywhere on this comic.

THE BEEF #3 (Image, 2018) – “Tainted Love Part Three: Red, White & Blue,” [W] Richard Starkings, [A] Shaky Kane. This issue is another gruesome exploration of the beef industry’s inhumane practices, and also of the connection between beef and American masculinity. However, Richard Starkings’s captions are overwritten, and they get in the way of Starkings’s art. I feel that Shaky Kane’s minimalist art style demands equally minimalist writing, as in That’s Because You’re a Robot and Captain Dinosaur.

ANIMOSITY: EVOLUTION #5 (AfterShock, 2018) – “Lex Animata: Part 3,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Eric Gapstur. In addition to all the usual problems with Animosity, this issue suffers from lazy art. There’s one two-page splash where the image is just a close-up of a tiger’s eyes, and the tiger gives a speech that requires 19 separate word balloons. Also, as I read this comic, I realized that the “villains” in this series are just trying to feed themselves the only way they know how, i.e. by eating other animals. The “heroine,” Wintermute, has imposed an artificial form of government that doesn’t work for anyone. Wintermute is only the hero because the writer says so.

DARE #2 (Fantagraphics, 1992) – two stories, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Rian Hughes. Dan Dare travels to the north of England, where he witnesses the squalor and human misery caused by the government he supports. Rian Hughes’s art in this series is incredible. He is perhaps the best Clear Line artist in Anglophone comics. He must have read lots more Clear Line comics than were ever available in English. It is a bit odd that Rian Hughes is using such a slick, utopian, futuristic style to depict a future that turns out to be the opposite of a utopia. But I guess that irony is deliberate.

SEA OF THIEVES #4 (Titan, 2018) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Rhoald Marcellius. I was expecting to dislike this, but I enjoyed it because of Jeremy’s witty dialogue and characterization. Even though this comic is just a video game tie-in, Jeremy writes it with as much energy as if it were Princeless. This issue is a fun, low-stakes pirate adventure with some queer content. The female co-protagonist falls in love with another girl who apparently dies, but the love interest turns up alive at the end.

BLOODSHOT: SALVATION #10 (Valiant, 2018) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Doug Braithwaite. In the future, Bloodshot fights an ankylosaurus. In the present, Bloodshot’s daughter Jessie uses the Internet to become superintelligent, but she causes such a drain on the Internet that it reveals her location to her enemies. The Jessie sequences in this issue are powerful and emotional, but the Bloodshot scenes are boring, and Braithwaite’s art is stiff and verly derivative of Kubert.

MISTER X VOL. 1 #12 (Vortex, 1988) – “Nightclubs and Daydreams,” [W] Dean Motter, [A] Seth. I didn’t understand this comic’s plot, but Seth’s art is really good. There’s one page where some people are sitting in a bar discussing Mister X, and below them, you can see Mr. X himself, sitting among a bunch of pipes and furnaces. The second half of the issue includes a dream squence illustrated entirely in black and white. This issue is worth reading to see how Seth developed his craft.

THE MAXX MAXIMIZED #15 (IDW, 2015) – as above. Maxx and Sarah react to Julie’s surprise pregnancy. Meanwhile, some character I don’t recognize is in jail for some reason, and Mr. Gone is his cellmate. This issue includes some interesting if potentially offensive discussions of slut-shaming.

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