First review post of 2023


This is the eleventh calendar year of this project.

I read some of the following comic books after midnight on New Year’s Eve, 2022, so I’m counting them for 2023.

BIRTHRIGHT #33 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Brennan tells Kallista about how he felt abandoned after his brother disappeared. He uses his feelings of rage to power his magic. Mikey finds Brennan, and they fight. In the flashback, the younger Mikey, Rya and Zoshana arrive at a lost city.

AZTEK, THE ULTIMATE MAN #10 (DC, 1997) – “A League of Their Own,” [W] Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, [A] N. Steven Harris. While preparing for his JLA audition, Aztek has to save the JLA from Amazo. Aztek had some potential, but it never developed much of a distinctive identity or premise. N. Steven Harris’s artwork in this issue seems heavily influenced by Walt Simonson.

BIRDS OF PREY #48 (DC, 2002) – “The Chaotic Code Part 2: Crash & Burn,” [W] Terry Moore, [A] Amanda Conner. I can’t remember anything about this issue’s plot, except that it was silly and unoriginal, and Amanda Conner’s artwork is not her best. By this time she was already very good at drawing sexy women, but her visual storytelling and her use of Easter eggs were less impressive than in her later work.

VANGUARD ILLUSTRATED #7 (Pacific, 1984) – “The Ballad of Hardcase Bradley,” [W] Stephen Perry, [A] George Evans. An Old West werewolf story written in verse. George Evans is the only major EC artist who’s not in the Eisner Hall of Fame, and I’m not sure why not. Western stories were not his best genre, though. Next is “Goldyn” by Walter Stuart, a stupid story about time travel and barbarians. Walter Stuart also published another Goldyn one-shot with Blackthorne, but that seems to have been the entire extent of his comics career. The third story is the first appearance of Michael T. Gilbert’s Mr. Monster. This chapter was meant to be the first part of a three-parter, but Pacific went out of business after this issue, so all three parts were published together in Eclipse’s Mr. Monster #1. The fourth story, “The Singular Case of the Missed Universes” by Bill DuBay and Vince Argondezzi, is most notable for being full of Mexican stereotypes.

BLACK BEETLE #3 (Dark Horse, 2013) – “No Way Out,” [W/A] Francesco Francavilla. This series contains some of Francavilla’s best artwork. His draftsmanship, page layouts and coloring are beautiful, creating a powerful sense of mood. But as for its story, Black Beetle is just a ripoff of Batman or the Spirit, with nothing original about it.

EXTREMITY #8 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Daniel Warren Johnson. Rollo and Thea leave Mother Dierdre’s enclave to look for a component to repair Shiloh’s damaged battery, but they get attacked by a giant insect. The insect is a stunning piece of design, as is the two-headed griffin that Rollo and Thea ride. Meanwhile, the Paznina prepare for their assault on Mother Diedre’s home. There are four more issues of this series, and I really want to read them.

FIRST YEAR HEALTHY (Drawn & Quarterly, 2014) – “First Year Healthy,” [W/A] Michael DeForge. This is a hardcover book, but it’s only 32 pages, so it feels more like a comic book than a graphic novel. It tells the story of a man who is released from the hospital and moves in with a coworker and the coworker’s infant son. Each page is just a single panel with a caption. First Year Healthy is full of DeForge’s usual absurdism and body horror. But although it’s gruesome and disturbing, it also feels lyrical, and the narrator’s affection for his coworker’s son is touching.

300 #4 (Dark Horse, 1998) – “Combat,” [W/A] Frank Miller. The Spartans fight the Persians, then they pause to negotiate with Xerxes, then they fight some more. This issue has some striking page compositions, but the crippling problem with 300 is its combination of racism and sexism. In 300, moral virtue is linked to masculinity and whiteness. The Spartans are the good guys because they’re the whitest and manliest. Xerxes, meanwhile, is presented as dark-skinned and effeminate, with thick red lips and piercings all over his face. 300 was published before 9/11, but it fuels the sort of racist Orientalism that became widespread after 9/11. Also, the series presents the Spartans as the freest of all men, ignoring the fact that the majority of the Spartan population were not Spartiates but helots, who were treated so horribly that they were in a constant state of revolt. Kieron Gillen and Ryan Kelly’s Three was intended as an explicit response to 300’s politically motivated abuses of history.

JONAH HEX #15 (DC, 1978) – “Sawdust and Slow Death,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Vicente Alcazar. Jonah joins a circus freakshow, but when he discovers that the circus’s ringmaster is a crime boss, the ringmaster frames him for the murder of the beautiful Sally Colter, the knife thrower’s assistant. Jonah defeats the ringmaster by feeding him to the circus’s lions. It’s strange reading a classic Jonah Hex story that’s not written by Michael Fleisher. “Sawdust and Slow Death” is kind of trite, and it lacks the sarcasm and raucousness of the best Jonah Hex stories.

SCATTERBRAIN #4 (Dark Horse, 198) – [E] Scott Allie & Phil Amara. A collection of humor stories. Aragonés and Evanier’s “Bugged!”, an astronaut gets sick of his wife’s habit of collecting bugs. He murders her, then heads off on a space mission, only to discover that the spacecraft is conducting experiments on bugs. The other stories are by Jay Stephens, Evan Dorkin, Dave Cooper, Daniel Torres, Scott Morse, and Craig Thompson. There’s a lot of beautiful art in these stories, but only the Aragonés story has any narrative depth.

TWO-FISTED TALES #34 (East Coast Comix, 1953/1974) – This was the ninth in a series of EC Comics reprints published in the 1970s. I believe these were the first EC reprints in comic book form, before Russ Cochran undertook the task of reprinting the entire EC corpus. This is the same issue that Russ Cochran reprinted as Two-Fisted Tales #17. “Betsy,” [W/A] Jack Davis. In the Old West, a criminal steals an old man’s horse. The old man goes to his cabin to tell “Miss Betsy” about the theft. The old man returns to town and shoots the criminal dead with his rifle, and the twist ending is that “Betsy” is the rifle’s name. “Trial by Arms!”, [W/A] Wally Wood. One knight accuses another knight of murder and kills him in a trial by combat. The original “murder” victim then turns up alive, and the accuser murders him for real. This story includes an impressive silent combat sequence. East Coast Comix did a brilliant job of recoloring both these stories. “En Crapaudine!”, [W] Jerry De Fuccio, [A] John Severin. During a war against desert natives, a French soldier deserts his post and is punished by being made to lie “en crapaudine” – that is, face-up in the sun with his limbs bound under him. After he dies, we learn that when he allegedly deserted, he in fact went and killed the rebels’ leader. There is some evidence that the French Foreign Legion really did use the crapaudine as a punishment. “Guynemer!”, [W] Harvey Kurtzman, [A] George Evans. An account of the career and death of Georges Guynemer, France’s greatest World War I flying ace. Aviation stories like this are why George Evans should be in the Hall of Fame.

THE DESERT PEACH #3 (Thoughts & Images, 1989) – untitled, [W/A] Donna Barr. Rommel needs to locate some Allied submarines offshore, and Pfirsich (not Pfirsch, I’ve been spelling it wrong) comes up with the idea of looking for the submarines while surfing. This silly idea becomes viable when Pfirsich’s men capture a Hawaiian soldier. The soldier doesn’t know much more about surfing than the Germans do, but the Rommel brothers try surfing anyway. This leads to a lot of hilarious chaos and casual nudity. Desert Peach is a brilliant humor comic. The only reason I haven’t read more of it is because the issues are rather long, and the lettering can be difficult to parse.

STARSTRUCK #3 (IDW, 2009) – “Mirage à Troi” etc., [W] Elaine Lee, [A] Michael Wm. Kaluta. The sexy androids turn their attention to Ronnie Lee; Mary Medea’s baby sister is born; and the Galactic Girl Guides build their robot. The difficulty with reading Starstruck is that there’s a ton of unnecessary worldbuilding, and it’s not clear how the various parts of Starstruck’s universe are connected to each other.

2000 AD #422 (Rebellion, 1985) – Anderson: “Four Dark Judges,” [W] John Wagner & Alan Grant, [A] Brett Ewins. Anderson’s battle with the Dark Judges continues. After this there’s a pinup depicting a statue of Glyph, the character from Halo Jones who no one can remember. Slaine: “The Time Killer,” [W] Pat Mills, [A] David Pugh. Slaine and Murdach continue their battle against the Cythrons and Orgots. Dredd: “Casey’s Day Out,” [W] Wagner & Grant, [A] Ron Smith. Casey Steech completes a twenty-year prison sentence, but his old enemy Champagne Charlie tries to assassinate him. The Judges can’t protect Casey, so he deliberately punches Dredd in the face so that he’ll be sent back to prison. This is sadly not a farfetched story at all. I think I’ve read that it’s common for ex-convicts to intentionally reoffend and get returned to prison, because they can’t cope with life on the outside. Rogue Trooper: “Antigen of Horst,” [W] Gerry Finley-Day, [A] José Ortiz. While Rogue is asleep, Gunnar, Helm and Bagman hold off an invading army without his help. Strontium Dog: “Big Bust of 49,” [W] Alan Grant, [A] Carlos Ezquerra. Johnny and Wulf pursue Xen, a mind-controlling alien who can leap from one human host to another.  

THUNDERBOLTS #168 (Marvel, 2012) – “The World at the Jilted Cage…”, [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Matthew Southworth. Luke Cage tries to round up a number of escaped villains. The most memorable scene in this issue is the one with Ghost, who, as usual, is the most intriguing character in this Thunderbolts run. Meanwhile, Mach V accuses the Thunderbolts of not caring about rehabilitating criminals, since they recruited people like Mr. Hyde and Crossbones. There’s also a clever moment where a representative of Lloyd’s of London gives the Thunderbolts a message that was deposited by their time-traveling teammates in 1888. I suppose if you wanted to deliver a message to a distant point in the future, Lloyd’s would be the safest place to drop it off.

SERGIO ARAGONÉS FUNNIES #6 (Bongo, 2011) – “The Kachina Prophecy” etc., [W/A] Sergio Aragonés. (Sergio wrote this series himself without Evanier’s assistance.) A newspaperman flees Chicago for New Mexico to avoid the mob. While in New Mexico, he photographs a secret kachina ceremony, and is then murdered by the kachinas themselves. I believe it is true that certain Pueblo Indian ceremonies are kept secret from outsiders. There’s also an autobio story, “My Friend Julio,” where a young Sergio and his friend are playing on a train car, and it starts to move and doesn’t stop until they’re in the middle of nowhere. The place where the train stops, Amecameca, is still a pretty small town today, though it’s not far from Mexico City.

BATMAN AND ROBIN #36 (DC, 2015) – “Robin Rises: Chaos,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [A] Patrick Gleason. On Apokolips, the Robins fight the armies of Darkseid, and Darkseid himself makes an appearance on the last page. This issue isn’t very interesting outside the context of the Robin Rises crossover, though Patrick Gleason’s artwork is excellent. I’m glad that Peter Tomasi is finally doing some creator-owned work for Image. He has done one previous creator-owned title, House of Penance, but I’ve never heard of that comic until just now.

JOE THE BARBARIAN #7 (Dark Horse, 2010) – “Labyrinth of the Lost,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Sean Murphy. The Playtown army fights the forces of King Death, and Joe finally reaches the Fountain of Life, i.e. the refrigerator, and collects his soda. But before he drinks it, he goes down to the basement, where the Iron Knight is buried. I assume the Iron Knight is Joe’s father, but besides that, I’m not sure why he has to go to the basement. I haven’t located my copy of issue 8 yet.

DIAL H #7 (DC, 2013) – “Strategies of Multitude,” [W] China Miéville, [A] David Lapham. Dial H was one of the only New 52 titles that attempted to do anything new or original, but it was disappointing anyway. China Miéville had some great ideas for superheroes – for example, this issue introduces the Planktonian, the Tiny Many Champion. But Dial H’s plot is incoherent, and I can’t even tell who its protagonist is. Miéville also did not know how to structure a monthly comic book. The more recent Dial H for Hero series was far more successful.

BOX OFFICE POISON #2 (Antarctic, 1996) – “Horrible as Are the Dead,” [W/A] Alex Robinson. We meet Irving Flavor, the Golden Age cartoonist who Ed is assisting, and Irving tells Ed some depressing things about the comics business. Back in 1996, lots of cartoonists of Irving Flavor’s generation were still alive and working. Now almost all those people have passed away, and the Irving Flavor scenes are even more nostalgic than when originally published. There are some funny metatextual moments in this issue. Ed tells Irving that the best-selling black-and-white comic, Bile (i.e. Hate), sells 30,000 copies, when Irving thinks that a low sales number is 100,000 or 150,000 copies. Stephen does a crossroad where one of the clues is a 15-letter word for “cinematic bomb element”; the answer is not stated, but must be BOX OFFICE POISON. I much prefer the black-and-white version of Box Office Poison to the color version, because the coloring obscures some essential details. In particular, Robinson often embeds hidden messages in the titles of books on bookshelves, and these messages are hard to see in color. This issue’s backup material includes some one-page science fiction strips drawn by Robinson.

UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #13 (Marvel, 1989) – “Double Cross,” [W] Terry Austin, [A] Mike Vosburg. “Double Cross,” an Atlantis Attacks crossover, is the only story published during Claremont’s original run that Claremont did not write. However, it feels like a Claremont story, because it begins with a scene where Dazzler catches Diamondback trying to seduce Wolverine, and when Dazzler gets angry over this, Diamondback responds by implying that Dazzler has been sleeping with Longshot. There’s nothing else of interest in this story. The backup story, “Jubilation Day,” actually is written by Claremont, under the name Sally Pashkow. This name is an inside joke whose meaning is unknown (source). “Jubilation Day” shows Jubilee exploring the X-Men’s outback base. I’ve always thought Jubilee was kind of annoying, but she’s grown on me over time. There’s also a second backup story that narrates part of the history of the Serpent Crown.

BIRTHRIGHT #34 (Image, 2018) – as above. In the present, Mikey and Brennan continue their fight, but Mikey refuses to fight back. In the past, Mikey, Rya and Zoshana continue their magical training, and Zoshana is trapped in a monstrous form. Maybe that explains why Mikey didn’t marry her.

ACTION COMICS #468 (DC, 1977) – “Terra at Nine O’Clock!”, [W] Cary Bates, [A] Curt Swan. Terra-Man starts his own television show and forces Superman to appear on it. This story is continued in the next issue. The Superman stories of the ‘70s offer some interesting depictions of the television industry of the time, though I can’t tell whether these depictions are accurate. “My Son, the Orphan!”, [W] Martin Pasko, [A] Swan. Just as Morgan Edge is scheduled to receive an award, his estranged mother tracks him down and convinces him to reveal that his real name is Morris Edelstein. Based on this name, as well as Morgan’s mother’s stereotypical Jewish-mother behavior, it’s obvious that Morgan changed his name because he was ashamed of his Jewish heritage. This is perhaps the only story ever in which Morgan Edge is depicted as a sympathetic character. This story also reveals that Morgan won the ownership of Galaxy Communications in a poker game.

OUR FIGHTING FORCES #148 (DC, 1974) – “The Last Charge!”, [W] Robert Kanigher, [A] John Severin. While the Losers are fighting in the North African desert, Johnny Cloud falls in love with a native woman. She’s mortally wounded in a battle, and she’s married to Johnny just before she dies. This story is touching, I guess, but also rather trite and implausible – for instance, the native people don’t seem to mind that Johnny isn’t a Muslim. John Severin’s art here is quite good, though his draftsmanship is not his best. Sam Glanzman’s backup story, “Toro,” is about an effeminate young sailor who kills himself because he can’t stand violence. Toro is heavily implied to be gay, though of course the Code would not allow Glanzman to state this explicitly, and this means he’s one of the earliest depictions of a queer character in Code-approved comics. See here for a bit more on this story.

2000 AD #425 (IPC, 1985) – Strontium Dog: “The Slavers of Drule Part 1,” [W] Alan Grant, [A] Carlos Ezquerra. Some humans set up a colony on a utopian planet, but are promptly abducted by slavers. One of the colonists, Mrs. Keeble, survives and decides to hire Johnny Alpha to rescue her abducted children. Slaine: as above. Slaine and Murdach finally make it back to the Cythrons’ planet, where they team up with a woman warrior named Tlachtga. Dredd: “Midnight Surfer,” [W] John Wagner & Alan Grant, [A] Cam Kennedy. Chopper prepares for Supersurf 7, which will be held in Mega-City One, while Dredd prepares to arrest the illegal surfers. Chopper is one of Dredd’s best antagonists, though I can’t call him a villain. Rogue Trooper: as above. Rogue tries to rescue the scientist Dr. Moho, who’s been working on the antigen, from a Nort base, but Dr. Moho is in fact a willing collaborator with the Norts, not a prisoner. Anderson: as above except [A] Cliff Robinson. The Dark Judges continue their assault on the city. Anderson finally gets the Justice Department to allow her to lead the resistance to the Dark Judges. I probably said this before, but Cliff Robinson is the one artist who can most easily be mistaken for Brian Bolland.

FLAMING CARROT COMICS #9 (Renegade, 1985) – “Play Ball,” [W/A] Bob Burden. This issue is signed by Bob Burden, but the signature is dated 1986, so it must have been obtained by a previous owner. I have met Bob Burden, though. This issue is mostly full of typical absurdism, but there is one poignant scene where the Carrot visits his former girlfriend and his illegitimate son. The trouble with this series is that if you’ve read one issue, you’ve read them all.

2000 AD #427 (IPC, 1985) – Anderson: as above. Anderson forcibly returns the Dark Judges to their own dimension, and her fellow Judges discover that when she returned to Deadworld, she was acting under the Dark Judges’ psychic influence. Thus, Anderson’s reputation and career are saved. Slaine: as above except [A] Glenn Fabry. Slaine fights a giant Orgot in the arena, and prepares to use his warp-spasm to defeat it. Slaine’s warp spasm and gae bolga are both borrowed from Cu Chulainn, a character who Slaine greatly resembles. Glenn Fabry is a vastly better artist than David Pugh. Dredd: as above. The Supersurf 7 race begins. Strontium Dog: as above. Slaine and Wulf discover a farm where the enslaved humans are kept. One-shot: “Judge Grexnix,” [W] Oleh Stepaniuk, [A] Anthony Jozwiak. A 2000 AD reader, Carl Coogan, thinks he could be a better judge than Dredd. Tharg sends Carl to Mega-City One in order to prove him wrong.

AZTEK: THE ULTIMATE MAN #7 (DC, 1997) – “Hey Diddle Diddle the Japed and the Japer,” [W] Grant Morrison & Mark Millar, [A] N. Steven Harris. Aztek and Batman team up against the Joker and some other minor villains. This issue is exciting and has some well-crafted dialogue, but again, there’s little to distinguish Aztek from any other superhero comic.

BATMAN #34 (DC, 2014) – “The Meek,” [W] Gerry Duggan w/ Scott Snyder, [A] Matteo Scalera. Batman goes looking for a serial killer who’s been targeting Leslie Thompkins’s patients. The killer’s motivation seems to be that he doesn’t think poor people should be treated with dignity. This story is unnecessarily grim and depressing.

BOX OFFICE POISON COLOR CLASSICS #3 (IDW, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Alex Robinson. This issue actually takes place before Box Office Poison #2, reviewed above. This is because the original Antarctic series of Box Office Poison was preceded by some minicomics, which Antarctic later collected as a zero issue. BOP Color Classics #3 reprints the last bit of the minicomics, the first bit of the Antarctic series, and also some new pages. Anyway, in this issue Sherman and Penny meet for the first time at a party, and then again at the bookstore where Sherman works. Sherman’s bookstore job is another aspect of this series that feels obsolete now. Also, Ed meets with an editor at a major comics publisher. The editor claims to love Ed’s work and promises him a contract, only to cruelly reject that promise because he didn’t have the authority to offer it. That explains why Ed instead ends up working as Irving Flavor’s assistant. As noted earlier, these comics were not meant to be published in color, and the recoloring causes some essential details to be lost.

UNSUPERVISED EXISTENCE #5 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – “Bob Takes a Trip Part III: The Business,” [W/A] Terry LaBan. An American, Bob, runs out of money while traveling in Europe. A street vendor advises him to go to Istanbul, buy some cheap jewelry, and resell it in Paris. Bob does as she says, and to the reader’s surprise, he actually makes some money doing this, but then Bob meets the same street vendor again and sleeps with her, and she runs off with all his money and merchandise. Bob swallows his pride and calls his parents to beg for money to pay for his trip home. But while waiting to go home, he starts dancing his sorrows away, and some bystanders give him so much money that he decides to go to Nepal instead. This is a really entertaining story, mostly due to Bob’s stupidity. At one point, Bob gets lost in Istanbul, and some local people invite him into their home, excited to meet an American – but then Bob flees in terror, thinking they’re going to rob, murder or rape him. Terry LaBan is an extremely underrated cartoonist.

I was in Minneapolis from January 4 to 7. While there, I bought some comics at Half Price Books and DreamHaven, including:

THE WOODS #4 (Boom!, 2014) – untitled, [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Michael Dialynas. My database indicated that I had this issue already, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. It wasn’t in my drawerboxes, where I put comics after I read and review them. So it could only have been in my boxes of unread comics, but I couldn’t find it there, and if I ever did have it, I think I would have read it. Therefore, I assumed my database was wrong, and when I saw another copy of it for $2, I was happy to buy it. This issue, the kids finally confront the fascist gym teacher, and he murders the principal before fleeing. I forget if he ever appears again. Meanwhile, a second group of kids investigates the pyramid, and a third group encounters a party of human warriors. As soon as I can, I need to reread issues 5 through 10, so I can continue my read-through of this series.

CEREBUS #55 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1983) – “Origin of the Wolveroach Part 2: The Why & the Are,” [W/A] Dave Sim. This was the only issue I was missing between #36 and #112. Because it’s a Wolverine parody, it’s unusually expensive, and I thought $5 was a fair price for it. In this issue Cerebus talks with Michelle and the Wolveroach while continuing to write his memoirs. Throughout this issue the Roach constantly smokes, and a hilarious moment occurs when Cerebus asks the Roach what he’s smoking, and the answer is “A small bundle of toothpicks.” In this era, Cerebus was hilarious and brilliantly plotted. When you read these old Cerebus issues, you understand why people stayed with Dave Sim for so long, even after he had abandoned everything that made Cerebus worth reading.

GAY COMIX #3 (Kitchen Sink, 1982) – [E] Howard Cruse. At just $1, this (as well as #5, reviewed below) was an incredible find, although it’s in very low grade. I never see Gay Comix at conventions, and on eBay it tends to be absurdly expensive. Gay Comix #3 includes stories by Howard Cruse, Roberta Gregory, Lee Marrs, and the Dutch artist Theo van den Boogard, as well as some lesser talents. Howard Cruse’s work is at a totally different level than anything else in Gay Comix, at least in terms of draftsmanship. His linework and lettering and pontillist shading are just exquisite. Of the stories by lesser-known artists, by far the most interesting is “I’m Me!” by David Kottler, an account of his transition from AFAB to male. This is the earliest known transgender autobiographical comic, and one of the earliest comics of any kind by a transgender creator. Its art is a bit amateurish, but it’s extremely honest and brave, especially for the time. Sadly we don’t know anything about David Kottler. According to this story, he also did some comics for Gold Key, but they must have appeared under a different name, if they were signed at all.

I went back to Heroes on January 8:

MIRACLEMAN: THE SILVER AGE #3 (Marvel, 2022) – “Trapped… in a World He Never Made!”, [W] Neil Gaiman, [A] Mark Buckingham. This comic’s existence itself is a miracle. The last new issue of Miracleman was published in 1993, when I was just getting into comics. Even if I’d been aware of Miracleman’s existence at the time, I’d have been too young to read it. For imuch of the next few decades, Miracleman seemed permanently unpublishable because of copyright disputes, and even after its ownership was cleared up, no new Miracleman material appeared for many years. The 29-year gap between Miracleman #24 and Miracleman: The Silver Age #3 must be the longest such gap in the history of comic books. I should note that some of the pages in Miracleman: The Silver Age have been published before, in George Khoury’s Kimota! The Miracleman Companion. I recognized the line “by now he’ll have screwed Kay and Qys-only-knows what he’ll have turned into.” As for my reaction to this  comic, I was mostly just in a state of awe at the fact of having a new Miracleman story to read.   

I don’t think it quite lived up to the hype, but nothing could have. The main event this issue is that Dicky Dauntless has a vision of Johnny Bates, then meets a retired superhero, Mister Master. Given this character’s long dark hair and beard and his retired lifestyle, it’s hard not to  identify him with Alan Moore, though that may not have been the creator’s original intent – in 1991, Alan Moore was still active in comics. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to finish reading one of the great unfinished comics, and I can’t wait for the next issue.

WE ONLY FIND THEM WHEN THEY’RE DEAD #15 (Boom!, 2022) – “In Your Image,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Simone Di Meo. In a flashback, we see how the gods were first harvested for resources. In the present, Thierry reaches the gods’ realm and learns that the gods are just the dead bodies of the people who have reached that place, projected back in time. Thierry chooses to instead become a living god, and the series ends. This was an excellent series, but its major flaw was that its timeline was hard to follow. The dates at the beginning of each  sequence are useless if the reader can’t remember whether these dates are earlier or later than the series’ primary time frame.

THE NICE HOUSE ON THE LAKE #12 (DC, 2022) – untitled, [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Alvaro Martinez Bueno. Interspersed with this issue’s main story are messages between Walter and some people who apparently declined their invitations to the house. Or maybe they accepted, and the house in this series isn’t the only one, I’m not sure. The housemates decide to execute Walter and live out their lives in the house. In a final dialogue between Walter and Norah, we learn that Walter is still alive, and that his plan was to get the housemates to think they’d killed him on their own initiative, without realizing he had manipulated them into doing so. This is a rather contrived and depressing ending, though it’s redeemed somewhat by the caption “End of Cycle One” at the end. So there will hopefully be a future Nice House on the Lake miniseries, and maybe the survivors will find a way out of Walter’s prison.

ONCE UPON A TIME AT THE END OF THE WORLD #2 (Boom!, 2022) – “Love in the Wasteland Chapter 2: The Proverbs of Survival,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Alexandre Tefenkgi. Mezzy and Maceo travel together, and there’s a funny montage of all Mezzy’s survival skills, while Maceo appears to know nothing useful. But then the two of them get buried by a sandstorm, and Maceo builds a working generator from scratch. This experience teaches Mezzy that she doesn’t always have to follow the survival skills she learned from the Wasteland Rangers. But meanwhile those same Rangers are following the two of them. Mezzy and Maceo are brilliant foils for each other.  

STRANGE ACADEMY: FINALS #3 (Marvel, 2022) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Humberto Ramos. The kids hold a school festival to raise money to repair the damage they’ve already done. Inevitably the festival causes even more damage, because while trying to make fried calamari, the kids summon Shuma-Gorath. There are some hilarious moments in this sequence, but the main plot point is that Emily tries to recruit Calvin back to her side by returning his jacket to him, and Calvin refuses it. Then Emily and her two remaining allies go to visit Dormammu.

SHE-HULK #9 (Marvel, 2022) – untitled, [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Takeshi Miyazawa. Jen and Jack fight April and Mark, and Jack seemingly dies from using his powers without a containment suit. Also there’s a scene where Jen breaks the fourth wall, in the vein of John Byrne’s version of the character. Rowell’s She-Hulk comics tend to feel quicker and more insubstantial than her Runaways comics, perhaps because She-Hulk has fewer characters, or because Miyazawa’s art style is less detailed than Andres Genolet’s.

DAMN THEM ALL #3 (Boom!, 2022) – untitled, [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Charlie Adlard. Ellie and her allies continue investigating Alfie’s murder. Meanwhile, an African immigrant, Abshir, uses a demon’s power to become Mayor of London, but what he doesn’t realize is that several other people are using their own demons to gain similar positions of power. What I remember most from this issue is how no one knows what the word “xenopilus” means. Damn Them All’s mythology seems to be based on actual medieval and Renaissance demonology.

BOOK OF SLAUGHTER #1 (Boom!, 2022) – untitled, [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. In the aftermath of Aaron Slaughter’s death, which occurred in SIKTC #10, Maxine Slaughter decides to retrain from a White Mask to a Black Mask. Maxine’s story acts as a frame for an illustrated text sequence that serves encyclopedic description of the Order of St. George. Nothing in this encyclopedia really explains why the Order is so obsessed with its own secrecy, to the point where it cares more about keeping itself secret than about its actual mission. Also, it’s interesting that the Order has six Houses in western Europe, but only one each in sub-Saharan Africa and China.

SPIDER-MAN #4 (Marvel, 2023) – “End of the Spider-Verse Part 4: The Unraveling,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Mark Bagley. This is my favorite issue yet, because it’s full of brilliant and funny variations on Spider-Man. The Spiders in this issue include a living Spider-Mobile (from the same issue that introduced Songstress), a video game character, a giant monster, and Spiders-Man, who’s a colony of spiders in a costume. But the best of all is Peter Palmer, the Amazing Spiderman with no hyphen, which is what Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man, was erroneously called in Amazing Spider-Man #1. This issue’s main plot point is that with Peter Parker erased from existence, Peter Palmer takes his place as the Chosen One. This is the sort of clever idea that Slott is so good at.

2000 AD #2293 (Rebellion, 2022) – Dredd: “Special Relationship 05,” [W] Rob Williams, [A] Patrick Goddard. Mega-City One and Brit-Cit’s standoff over the Atlantis colony continues. Dredd reveals that he booby-trapped the base on his way in, and threatens to blow it up unless the Brit Judges evacuate. Brink: “Mercury Retrograde Part 22,” [W] Dan Abnett, [A] INJ Culbard. A worker, Evan, takes Nolan Maslow into the station’s ducts. At last this overlong story is drawing to a conclusion. Skip Tracer: “Valhalla Part 7”, [W] James Peaty, [A] Dylan Marshall. While investigating the Valhalla base, Nolan Blake seems to blow himself up. Confusingly, the protagonists of Brink and Skip Tracer are both named Nolan. Dexter: “Malice in Plunderland Part 5,” [W] Dan Abnett, [A] Tazio Bettin. While Dexter is trying to escape from the new crimelords with his life, he gets a call on the phone from his own crimelord. Also, Dexter keeps having arguments with his own thought balloons. This is not a piece of Deadpool-esque fourth-wall-breaking, but has an in-story explanation which will be revealed soon. Jaegir: “Ferox Three,” [W] Gordon Rennie, [A] Simon Coleby. I can’t make head or tail of this story. All I know is that it’s set in Rogue Trooper’s universe.

NIGHTWING #82 (DC, 2021) – “Leaping Into the Light Part 2,” [W] Tom Taylor, [A] Bruno Redondo, Rick Leonardi & Neil Edwards. I bought this and #83 on eBay. I now need only one issue to complete this run. Most of this issue is a flashback sequence, drawn by guest artists, which explains Meili Lin and Melinda Zucco’s history. Meili was Tony Zucco’s kept woman, but escaped and joined Haly’s Circus. There she had a brief relationship with John Grayson, resulting in Melinda. This was before Dick’s parents were a couple, so Dick’s dad wasn’t a cheater. But while Meili was pregnant, Tony Zucco kidnapped her again, and she escaped just in time for Tony to kill the Graysons. This is a touching story, and it underscores what a horrible monster Tony Zucco is.

FANTASTIC FOUR #3 (Marvel, 2023) – “A Shoptastic Day,” [W] Ryan North, [A] Iban Coello. Johnny Storm disguises himself with dyed hair and a mustache and gets a retail job. His boss, Merrill, is a tyrant who pays starvation wages and endangers his employees’ health, and they can’t do anything about him or they’ll be fired. And Merrill figures out who Johnny is, but isn’t  afraid of him, because he knows Johnny isn’t willing to kill him. Johnny manages to defeat Merrill with the help of his fellow employees. This is another very clever story, and it shows a good understanding of Johnny’s personality. A major flaw of Dan Slott’s FF run was his very unsympathetic depiction of Johnny.

MOSELY #1 (Boom!, 2023) – “Phisher of Men,” [W] Rob Guillory, [A] Sami Lotfi. This is Rob Guillory’s first work as a writer but not an artist. Mosely is set in a world where robots have taken all the good jobs, and most people spend all their time immersed in virtual reality. Our aging protagonist, Marvin Mosley, perceives this world as dystopian, though his adult daughter Ruby is fine with it. On the way home from visiting Ruby, Mosley is mugged by a toddler and his robot drones, and suffers a heart attack. Then he has a vision where he’s told “Free my people!” and he’s given a giant hammer and a suit of armor. This series looks interesting, but it’s not as immediately captivating as Chew or Farmhand. BTW, I hope we get the last Farmhand story arc soon.

BATMAN #131 (DC, 2023) – “The Bat-Man of Gotham Part 1,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Mike Hawthorne. After his battle with Failsafe, Batman finds himself in an alternative reality where there’s no Batman, and Gotham is even bleaker and more horrible than usual. Mike Hawthorne is a capable artist, but without Jorge Jimenez, this series is much less exciting. In the backup story, Tim Drake tries to defend Gotham in Batman’s absence, while insisting, against all evidence, that Batman is still alive.

POISON IVY #8 (DC, 2023) – untitled, [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Atagun Ilhan. Ivy is slowly turning into a plant, and she has to convince Crawley’s employee, Janet, to disobey Crawley and save her. I really like the scene where Crawley accuses Janet of having no loyalty, and in return, Janet accuses her of being “super feminist until it’s time to give employees maternity leave.” Crawley is an example of the toxic “lean in” mentality, which “encourages women to promote themselves individually as “marketable consumer object[s]” for professional advancement, while discouraging solidarity and downplaying the damaging effects of systemic gender bias felt collectively by women in the workplace” (Wikipedia). The problem with this issue is that Atagun Ilhan is very good at drawing plants, which must be why he was hired, but very bad at drawing female faces.

SHANG-CHI AND THE TEN RINGS #6 (Marvel, 2023) – “Game of Rings Finale,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Marcus To. Shen Kuei is possessed by the Wyrm of Desolation, and Red Cannon is forced to shoot him. Then Red Cannon reveals herself as Shi Hua, the character who replaced Fah Lo Suee. Shang chooses to save Shen Kuei’s life rather than steal his rings, and this proves his worthiness as the new keeper of the rings. Unfortunately this is the next-to-last issue.

STILLWATER #17 (Image, 2023) – “Hearts and Minds,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Ramón K. Pérez. The protagonists prepare for their final confrontation with Galen. Daniel tries to stop the fight between Galen’s troops and the people of Stillwater and Coldwater, but he’s torn apart by both sides. I had trouble following this issue because I’ve forgotten who some of the characters are, or which side they’re on. There’s just one issue left.

2000 AD #2294 (Rebellion, 2022) – Dredd: as above. There’s a flashback to an encounter between a Sov agent and someone else, I don’t know who. Then the standoff ends with Brit-Cit ending its alliance with Mega-City One and entering into negotiations with the Sovs. Dredd says “It was only Brit-Cit.” On the next page is an obituary for Alan Grant. Brink: as above. Nolan starts having hallucinations, Evan tells Nolan his plan to use Nolan as a scapegoat, and Nolan says “Vovek sent me.” Who’s Vovek? Skip Tracer: as above. Nolan’s comrade Nerin wakes up in the afterlife. Nolan prepares for a suicide mission.  Dexter: as above. Dexter and his team escape from Plunderland, but I think Sinister is following them. Jaegir: as above. I still have no idea what’s going on here.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #45 (Marvel, 2023) – “Revenge of the Brood Part 3,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Sergio Dávila. Carol and the X-Men fight their way out of the Brood’s captivity. A rather quick and forgettable issue.

FEARLESS DAWN #3 (Asylum, 2010) – “The Case of the Monster Frog!”, [W/A] Steve Mannion. This is a very expensive signed edition, and I think I paid too much for it, but it was almost worth it because of Steve Mannion’s brilliant artwork. He’s like a cross between Dave Stevens and Kevin Nowlan. I do think that the giant frog which is the villain in this issue is kind of unimpressive, and the other Fearless Dawn comics I’ve read were even better drawn than this one.

NIGHTWING #83 (DC, 2021) – “Leaping Into the Light Part 4,” [W] Tom Taylor, [A] Bruno Redondo. Dick escapes from Blockbuster in a brilliant action sequence. One of the great things about Bruno Redondo’s art is that his action sequences are a key selling point of each issue, whereas in so many other superhero comics, the action scenes are mere filler. Then Dick talks to Superman, who mentions Jon for the first time in this run, and then Dick announces the creation of the Alfred Pennyworth Foundation. This issue’s cover shows Dick rapidly changing from his costume to a suit, and belatedly realizing his mask is still on. This cover is a sort of prototype of issue 87.

FOUR COLOR #1024 (Dell, 1959) – “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” [W] unknown, [A] Alex Toth. I ordered this on eBay after learning that it was drawn by Toth. It’s an adaptation of a film which was itself adapted from a book of Irish folkloric short stories. The plot is that Darby O’Gill, an old estate caretaker, captures a leprechaun who can grant three wishes – just as Darby is being forced to retire from his position, and his daughter is being pursued by an immoral young man. Darby makes clever use of the leprechaun’s powers to save the day. This story is charming and clever, but what makes this comic memorable is Toth’s art. Unlike in his disappointing story from Four Color #1041, his art here is highly detailed while still being elegantly simple. He creates what seems like a historically accurate depiction of rural Ireland, with realistic-looking settings and clothing, and he clearly reveals his characters’ personalities through their facial expressions. Toth’s Zorro is justly famous, but it’s too bad that most of his other work for Dell has fallen into obscurity.

THE ROADIE #4 (Dark Horse, 2022) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Fran Galán. Joe discovers he’s not Shelby’s father, but he saves both her and himself by helping her mother overthrow Satan. This series would actually have benefitted from at least one more issue. The most compelling thing about it is Joe and Shelby’s relationship, but with all the plot points that Seeley had to get through, he had limited space in which to develop this relationship.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: SYMBOL OF TRUTH #8 (Marvel, 2022) – “Pax Mohannda Part 2,” [W] Tochi Onyebuchi, [A] R.B. Silva. The Mohannda civil war continues, and Dr. Nightshade returns. This is another boring and insubstantial issue, and it contributed to my loss of patience with this series.

X-MEN RED #10 (Marvel, 2023) – “The New Age,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Stefano Caselli & Jacopo Camagni. Storm succeeds in defeating Vulcan, but Agent Brand escapes. At the end of the issue, we meet a clone of Mr. Sinister who has a spade symbol on his forehead instead of a diamond.  This issue is okay but not amazing.

PETER PARKER & MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MEN DOUBLE TROUBLE #2 (Marvel, 2022) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki & Vita Ayala, [A] GuriHiru. Mysterio takes the transporting can to a supervillain convention held in the Javits center. Then he opens the can, and Miles comes out and has to flee from a horde of supervillains. Besides being hilarious, this issue is impressive for the sheer number of different villains (or people cosplaying as villains) who appear in it. There’s even one person who cosplays as Ego the Living Planet.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES #134 (IDW, 2022) – untitled, [W] Sophie Campbell, [A] Fero Pe. For some reason I got #134 after #135, and I didn’t get #136 at all. I don’t think I’ll even bother to look for a copy of #136, because this series has gone badly off track. There is some good characterization in this issue, but its plot is impossible to follow if the reader isn’t also reading the Armageddon Game miniseries.

2000 AD #2295 (Rebellion, 2022) – Dredd: “Naked Lunch,” [W] Ken Niemand, [A] Dan Cornwell. Another story about Moe Hallam, the security guard who perceives everyone as naked. She was introduced in prog 2217. This issue she helps Dredd prevent a suicide bombing at a ”sausagefest,” i.e. a literal convention of sausage enthusiasts, so of course this story is full of innuendos. This story shows why Ken Niemand is the best current 2000 AD writer. Skip Tracer: as above. Nolan encounters his old enemy Djinndorah, the King of Hell. Brink: as above. Nolan has a horrific vision, then gets murdered, and the story ends with a news broadcast. I don’t understand the appeal of this story. To me it was just a boring talkfest that was about four times as long as it had to be, and I never quite understood its plot. Jaegir: as above. I remain unable to understand this story.

GAY COMIX #5 (Kitchen Sink, 1984) – [E] Robert Triptow. Notable stories include: A Leonard and Larry story by Tim Barela, in which the protagonists come out to their parents. Tim Barela is almost as wordy as Don McGregor, but his art is excellent. Roberta Gregory’s “Just Because,” in which two lesbians get a lesson from a black woman in how to deal with prejudice. This story would not be considered politically correct today. One of the protagonists tells the other that things could be worse, because she could be a blind black lesbian blind terminally ill single mother who lost her child, and then they encounter a woman who meets that exact description. Gregory’s intentions were good, though. Howard Cruse’s “Cabbage Patch Clone,” a reference to the contemporary Cabbage Patch Kids fad. Also lots of interesting material by other artists, though nothing as significant as “I’m Me!” from #3.

MY LITTLE PONY #8 (IDW, 2023) – untitled, [W] Shauna Grant, [A] Andy Price. This is the best issue yet, but only because of the art. The story is pointless and it could have been done better with the characters from the previous generation. All of Andy’s previous pony stories have included a cameo appearance by an Observer from Fringe, but if there was one in this issue, I couldn’t find it. This will be my last issue of this MLP series, unless something changes.

JUGHEAD #211 (Archie, 1972) – “I Gotta Be Me!”, [W] Dick Malmgren, [A] Samm Schwartz, etc. This was included for free with Four Color #1024. In this issue’s lead story, Jughead has a dream where he steals Archie, Reggie and Moose’s girlfriends (Veronica is defined here as Reggie’s girlfriend). In the second story, Jughead is revealed to have an amazing memory. In the last story, Jughead makes his dog sleep outside in the cold, but then regrets it. These stories are the definition of average comics, as Bart Beaty has argued, but they’re not bad.

GOTHAM CITY: YEAR ONE #4 (DC, 2023) – untitled, [W] Tom King, [A] Phil Hester. Slam Bradley gets beaten senseless by the police, then gets in a fight with Richard Wayne. At this point Slam has been beaten up so many times that he ought to be dead already. It’s very frustrating to see him keep suffering all this undeserved corporal punishment. After that, Slam sleeps with Constance Wayne, which suggests the predictable and boring twist that Slam is Bruce’s grandfather. Not that this matters, since we didn’t know anything about Bruce’s grandparents to begin with. Then Slam goes and beats up the corrupt police commissioner, in a scene that’s a blatant ripoff of Gordon’s attack on Flass in Batman: Year One. And this scene also includes a swipe of the trashcan page from Spider-Man #50. During this sequence, Tom King references a lot of old Batman creators, but misspells the names Goodwin, Roussos and Staton. This series is neither original or fun, and I’m not going to read the remaining issues. As another review states: “From Slam’s Korean War backstory to the rehash of Jim Gordon beating Flass in Slam’s beating of the commissioner, it feels like there’s no real verve or zip to the story.”

SECRET INVASION #3 (Marvel, 2023) – “Now I Know You’re Human,” [W] Ryan North, [A] Francesco Mobili. Maria discovers that Tony has been employing a number of Skrulls, and that they’ve been using subcutaneous human blood packs to pass blood tests. Maria comes up with the gross but effective idea of taking a blood sample from Tony’s tongue instead. This proves that he’s human. Then Maria shoots all of Tony’s Skrull employees. This miniseries is another example of Ryan North’s very clever plotting.

ACTION JOURNALISM #4 (Oni, 2023) – “The Superhero Beat?!”, [W] Eric Skillman, [A] Miklós Felvidéki. Much to her annoyance, Kate Kelly gets put on the “superhero beat” and has to report on the activities of the local superhero, the Volunteer. Her assistant, Grant Russell, is a dorky reporter with glasses, so we’re obviously supposed to assume that he’s the Volunteer. But the twist ending is that Kate herself is the Volunteer – or rather, anyone can become the Volunteer if they act heroically. This story will be completed next issue. The backup story is drawn by Dave Baker, who I haven’t heard of.

ASTRONAUT DOWN #5 (Aftershock, 2023) – “The Message,” [W] James Patrick, [A] Rubine. Douglas sacrifices his life to save his home reality, and nine months later, Maddie gives birth to his posthumous child. This was an interesting series, but I think I preferred Campisi and Kaiju Score because of their funny premises.

BLINK #5 (Oni, 2022) – untitled, [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Hayden Sherman. Wren talks with the ruler of Blink, then he shoots himself, and lots of other weird stuff happens. Finally Wren escapes from Blink, but is left even more traumatized than before. This ending doesn’t feel like a conclusion. Hayden Sherman’s page layouts in this issue are amazing.

2000 AD #2296 (Rebellion, 2022) – This is another Regened issue. Cadet Dredd: “Two Tribes,” [W] James Peaty, [A] Luke Horsman. Dredd helps rescue some slaves from mutant slavers, and is forced to acknowledge the unfairness of Mega-City One’s treatment of mutants. Renk: untitled, [W] Paul Starkey, [A] Anna Readman. In an epic fantasy city, Renk, a one-armed dwarf detective, investigates the kidnapping of a king and queen. His client, the princess, proves to be the real culprit. This story includes a disturbing scene with a husband-and-wife pair whose bodies are conjoined. Otherwise it’s pretty standard. Future Shocks: “Leveling Up,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Steve Roberts. A super-rich man gives all his money away, causing money to become worthless, which leads to social collapse. The twist is that he did all this in order to sell Earth to aliens. I think if everyone on Earth really did get a billion dollars, then in the long term, the effect would be the same as if no one received anything. Money only has value if some people have it and others don’t. Department K: “Crisis on Infinite Estabons,” [W] Rory McConville, [A] Nick Dyer. Department K is invaded by alternate versions of the robot judge Estabon. This is rather funny. ‘Splorers: “The Big Splash,” [W] Gordon Rennie & Emma Beeby, [A] Neil Googe. The same plot as Fantastic Voyage, except the body into which the protagonists travel is that of their alien pet. Overall this issue was unimpressive compared to earlier Regened issues.

EARTHDIVERS #4 (IDW, 2023) – “Ladies Man,” [W] Stephen Graham Jones, [A] Davide Gianfelice. The 1492 plotline continues, but by the end of the issue the ships haven’t reached America. The future plotilne also continues, but it still makes no sense. As stated in my review of #3, I think this series would have been better off without the future plotline. I can’t understand it at all, and it’s a distraction from the series’ focus on the colonial encounter.

SACRAMENT #5 (AWA, 2022) – untitled, [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Marcelo Frusin. Vass and Rais finally manage to exorcise the demon, and they continue their career despite Vass’s loss of faith. This series is an effective depiction of religious faith. What makes the demon in this series so demonic is that he tells Vass the worst possible things about himself. He accuses Vass of having selfish motives for everything he does, and of acting in ways that contradict his own values. Everything the demon says is true, yet unfair, in the sense that no one – not even a priest – can be expected to have pure motives or to behave in a consistent way. The interesting thing is that this is also how depression works. When you’re depressed, you listen to the internal voice that tells you what an awful person you are.

MY BAD VOLUME 2 #2 (Ahoy, 2022) – “The Pizza Man Cometh,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Peter Krause. The pizza murders continue, and in the backup features, the former Emperor King goes on a disastrous date. I like this series better than the previous volume, partly because the pizza murder storyline is more compelling than whatever was happening in volume 1. However, I do think My Bad would be better if it had just one full-length story per issue.

2000 AD #2297 (Rebellion, 2022) – Dredd: “Sentientoid’s Big Idea,” [W] Rob Williams, [A] Jake Lynch. A Sov war robot arrives in Mega-City One and starts assassinating people. Sentientoid is an interesting character, but I’d forgotten all about him by the time I read the subsequent story he appears in. Tharg’s 3rillers: “The Crawly Man Part 1,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Lee Milmore. Near the remote Welsh town of Cudd, a creepy man abducts a little girl, Cris. Rather than go to the police, the people of Cudd ask the wizard Herne and his talking dog to rescue the girl. Meanwhile, Caris summons some kind of monster. Skip Tracer: as above. Eden teleports to Valhalla to try to save her father. Dexter: “Bulletopia Chapter 11: The End of the Pier Show Part 1,” [W] Dan Abnett, [A] Steve Yeowell. Dexter and his allies visit a seaside resort village to obtain transport to their next destination, but some assassins are looking for them. Steve Yeowell’s art is somewhat lacking in detail, but he’s an eminent 2000 AD veteran, and it’s nice to see his art again. Jaegir: as above. More incomprehensible nonsense.

SPY SUPERB #1 (Dark Horse, 2023) – untitled, [W/A] Matt Kindt. Spy Superb is known worldwide as the ultimate spy. The trouble is he doesn’t really exist – he’s a myth created by his country’s intelligence service, and his alleged actions are performed by a succession of anonymous people. The latest Spy Superb is a stupid-looking man named Jay Bartholomew, who has no idea he’s supposed to be a super-spy. In a funny sequence, some assassins are sent to kill him, but he kills them all by accident. Spy Superb is off to a good start, but it feels quite similar to Kindt’s earlier series, like Superspy and MIND MGMT and Fear Case.

2000 AD #2298 (Rebellion, 2022) – Dredd: as above. To help against Sentientoid, Dredd consults a character named Buratino, who I don’t remember seeing before. 3rillers: as above. Caris directs a monster, the Crawly Man, to attack her kidnappers, but it also attacks Herne and his dog Shuck. We also learn that the people of Cudd want Caris back so that they can sacrifice her. Skip Tracer: as above. Nolan saves Eden, but then has to sacrifice his own life to complete his mission. Dexter: as above. Dexter learns that the voice speaking in his thought ballons is an artificial intelligence, Lilith, the rival of the rogue AI who’s the villain of this whole storyline. Then the two assassins arrive. I like how this chapter provides an in-story explanation for what seemed like fourth-wall breaking. Jaegir: as above. See earlier reviews.

NEW MUTANTS #33 (Marvel, 2022) – “Let It Burn,” [W] Charlie Jane Anders, [A] Alberto Alburquerque. After some action scenes, Morgan falls off the roof as predicted, but Shela swaps positions with him, and they’re both saved. Shela’s power is clever, though its effects can be confusing. Then we learn that the entire mission was a setup created by Emma Frost and Destiny, which explains why the adult X-Men never tried to rescue the kids. This is the last issue under the present numbering, but Anders’s New Mutants run will continue as a miniseries.  

WEST OF SUNDOWN #7 (Vault, 2022) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley & Aaron Campbell, [A] Jim Terry. I can’t summarize this issue because it has a ton of different plotlines, and I’m not sure how they’re all connected. It does seem like the primary villain of this storyline is Dr. Moreau. The best part of this issue is the argument between Dooley and Constance. I wish this series would focus more on them and less on its increasingly bloated supporting cast.

A CALCULATED MAN #4 (Aftershock, 2023) – “The Numbers Boy,” [W] Paul Tobin, [A] Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque. It really is spelled Alburquerque with an extra R, unlike the city in New Mexico. Jack finishes wiping out the enemy crime family, but then we discover that Jack was actually behind both crime families from the start, as part of a plan he created when he was seven years old. This is frankly hard to believe, and it gives me the sense that Jack is an unrealistic wish fulfillment fantasy (though the above could also be said of most superheroes). A Calculated Man was a disappointing series because it was marketed as being about math, but it really wasn’t.

PINK LEMONADE #4 (Oni, 2022) – untitled, [W/A] Nick Cagnetti. All the characters visit an abandoned film set, where Zavi Xarad reveals that he’s created a robot version of Pink Lemonade. Chaos results, and the factory blows up with Pink still in it. This series is exciting and beautifully drawn, though it still feels like a gender-swapped version of Madman.

IMPOSSIBLE JONES: NAUGHTY OR NICE #1 (Scout, 2022) – “All I Want for Christmas…”, [W] Karl Kesel, [A] David Hahn. My copy of this issue has a printing error in which pages 3 and 4 of the main story are transposed with pages 5 and 6 of the backup story. Until I figured this out, I was extremely confused as to what was going on. Anyway, in this issue, Impossible Jones battles a holiday-themed villain, Holly Daze, while also trying to steal the same thing Holly Daze is attempting to steal – a set of rare Jingle Belle puppets. The reference to Jingle Belle in this issue is appropriate because she’s a rather similar character to Impossible Jones. This was a fun issue, and I hope we see more of this character.

SANDMAN UNIVERSE: DEAD BOY DETECTIVES #1 (DC, 2022) – “Swords of Arkhane,” [W] Pornsak Pichetshote, [A] Jeff Stokely. The two dead detectives, Rowland and Paine, are hired by a young boy to investigate a neighbor who was abducted by ghosts. In their investigation, thy meet a Thai “ghost doctor” who tells them about the different varieties of Thai ghosts. Also, there’s a subplot about Thessaly. This issue is entertaining and creepy, but I especially like its invocation of Thai culture. The key point the Ghost Doctor mentions is that in Western culture there’s just one kind of ghosts, but in Thai culture there are lots of different kinds, all horrible in different ways. This series is a good example of a horror comic that draws upon non-European cultural influences.  

DOCTOR STRANGE: FALL SUNRISE #2 (Marvel, 2022) – “To Those Who Would Destroy Me,” [W/A] Tradd Moore. I bought this off the shelf because the artwork is utterly stunning. I only know Tradd Moore from Luther Strode, where his art is notable mostly for its high degree of gore. But here it’s as if he’s become a new artist. His renderings are hyper-detailed and super-weird and they make fantastic use of color. This comic is a good example of what I mean by “visual imagination” – that is, the ability to conceive of things the reader hasn’t thought of before. The only other Dr. Strange comic that has this level of visual creativity and daring is P. Craig Russell’s What Is It That Disturbs You, Stephen?, and Fall Sunrise is a worthy successor to that comic. Fall Sunrise’s plot is hard to follow, and may not even make rational sense, but Moore’s writing creates a powerful sense of weirdness.

SHANG-CHI: MASTER OF THE TEN RINGS #1 (Marvel, 2023) – “Fathers and Sons,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Michael YG. Shang-Chi and his allies travel back in time to the past, where they meet a kind, noble version of Zheng Zu. Then Shang-Chi and his new girlfriend decide to pursue their relationship further. Sadly this is Gene Luen Yang’s last issue. I was really enjoying this series, and it’s clear that Yang had plans for future stories. Master of the Ten Rings #1 seems like it was condensed from what was intended to be a longer storyline, as the scenes in the past feel rushed, and there’s never any explanation of why Zheng Zu changed from a good man to a villain. I’m glad that DC, unlike Marvel, is willing to support Yang’s current work, as Monkey Prince is playing a major role in DC’s latest crossover.

IMAGE! 30TH ANNIVERSARY ANTHOLOGY #9 (Image, 2022) – [W/A] various. The major attraction of this issue is Brubaker and Phillips’s new Criminal story “Teeg’s Christmas Carol.” On Christmas morning, Teeg wakes up in an unfamiliar woman’s bed. Feeling guilty for being a cheating deadbeat dad, Teeg steals the woman’s kids’ Christmas presents and gives them to his own young sons. But the presents turn out to contain dolls, because the women’s children are girls, and Teeg’s attempt to become a good father is an utter failure. This is a well-crafted story that reminds us what an awful man Teeg is. This issue also includes the conclusion to “Closer,” in which the protagonist sends her creepy stalker ex to hell. The other stories in this issue are mostly the same as usual. Since this issue includes a story set in the Frontiersman-Antioch universe, I will mention here that Antioch #3 and #4 were cancelled. I’m not sorry about this at all, since I was not enjoying Antioch.

2000 AD #2299 (Rebellion, 2022) – Dredd: as above. Sentientoid tries to join the mob, but he has to kill the assembled mob bosses instead. Buratino turns Sentientoid off and takes it into custody. 3rillers: as above. The two kidnappers claim that they were trying to save Caris from being sacrificed, though this claim is rather dubious, given their abusive treatment of her. The Crawly Man kills the kidnappers, and then Herne sends it through a portal back to Cudd, so that the two problems can take care of each other. I liked this story. Dexter: as above. Lilith saves Dexter and crew from the assassins, who are just extensions of the evil AI, by blocking the assassins’ senses. Dexter’s group escapes to Mangapore to continue their battle with the rogue AI. Skip Tracer: as above. Nolan dies, and the rest of Eden’s life is summarized very quickly. Eden dies of old age and wakes up in the previously seen afterlife, where both her parents are together. This is a cute ending, but it seems to preclude the possibility of a sequel, and that’s unfortunate because I liked Skip Tracer. Jaegir: as above. More stuff happens that I don’t understand, and that’s finally the end of this pointless story.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE ARMAGEDDON GAME – THE ALLIANCE #3 (IDW, 2023) – untitled, [W/A] Juni Ba. A solo story starring the dog mutant Alopex. I don’t understand how this story fits into continuity, but Juni Ba’s art is extremely effective, and he emphasizes Alopex’s dog-like way of thinking. I ordered Juni Ba’s graphic novel Djeliya, and I plan on reading it soon, since I’m giving a paper on Africanfuturist comics at ICFA.

BLACK BEETLE #4 (Dark Horse, 2013) – “No Way Out,” [W/A] Francesco Francavilla. Another issue with beautiful art and coloring, but a trite and pointless story. It is pretty cool how the villain’s costume is a giant maze. A second Black Beetle miniseries was announced for 2013, but has never appeared, though Francavilla sometimes claims to still be working on it. I frankly think his time would be better spent drawing other comics.

GINSENG ROOTS #3 (Uncivilized, 2020) – “The 3 Sovereigns,” [W/A] Craig Thompson. This issue starts with a description of Shennong, the Chinese agricultural deity, and his connection to ginseng. Then Craig describes his visit to a ginseng festival in Wausau. Thompson’s previous book Habibi, which I have not read, was accused of Orientalism, but in Ginseng Roots it seems like he’s making a good-faith attempt to understand Chinese texts and perspectives. I also like his account of the insularity of rural Wisconsin. I haven’t read Thompson’s latest two books, Habibi and Space Dumplins, but I can easily believe that Ginseng Roots is his best work since Carnet de Voyage.

THE BLACK DRAGON #3 (Marvel, 1985) – untitled, [W] Chris Claremont, [A] John Bolton. I bought this back when I lived in Atlanta, but I never read it because the previous two issues were kind of tedious. The Black Dragon is a fantasy story set in medieval England. Its plot is too complicated to easily follow – a list of characters would have been useful – and its major appeal is John Bolton’s gorgeous art. In typical Claremontian fashion, this issue is full of nude scenes, and Bolton is very good at drawing female bodies. Two of the characters in this issue are named Jamie and Brian. Those names are also used in Claremont’s Captain Britain and Excalibur.

CATWOMAN #25 (DC, 2004) – “Fire with Fire,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Paul Gulacy. Selina fights a lot of other villains and criminals for control of the East End of Gotham. This issue consists mostly of action sequences, but Paul Gulacy is very good at action sequences – they’re the thing he’s best at, now that he’s stopped doing Steranko-esque page layouts.

NEW GODS #8 (DC, 1972) – “The Death Wish of Terrible Turpin!”, [W/A] Jack Kirby. This is obviously an absolute classic. I’ve read it before, but only in black and white. This issue introduces Dan Turpin, the ultimate tough cop, who insists on trying to arrest Kalibak despite being totally outmatched by him. Also, I think this issue reveals Orion’s real face for the first time. This issue’s action sequences are utterly stunning. It occurs to me that I sometimes think of Kirby’s art as looking like that of Steve Rude and Tom Grummett, when it’s actually the other way around: Kirby is the inspiration for those artists, as well as every other artist of superhero comics. This issue includes a short Fastbak story and a Golden Age Manhunter reprint.

WEIRD WORLDS #3 (DC, 1973) – “Into the Valley of Death,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Murphy Anderson. An adaptation of part of The Gods of Mars. Murphy Anderson’s artwork here is very competent, but a bit boring. For some reason DC’s adaptations of John Carter were much shorter-lived than Marvel’s John Carter title. This issue also includes a Pellucidar story by Len Wein and Alan Weiss, whose art is a bit more exciting than Anderson’s.

VANGUARD ILLUSTRATED #5 (Pacific, 1984) – “Quark,” [W] Mike Baron, [A] Rick Burchett. A rather boring superhero story, starring a character who never appeared again. The backup feature is “A Friend in Need” by Ron Harris, about an astronaut stranded in space. This one is also rather unimpressive. Then there’s a two-pager by Rick Geary, and finally there’s a story by Tim Burgard about an alien spaceship that crashes in the Amazon. I thought Tim Burgard was an underground artist, but I was confusing him with Tim Boxell. Probably the best thing about Vanguard Illustrated #5 is the beautiful cover by Michael Kaluta.

DIAL H #8 (DC, 2013) – “Dozens,” [W] China Miéville, [A] Alberto Ponticelli. Another issue with a confusing plot and no clear protagonist. This time around there are also no interesting new superhero concepts. This issue promises to reveal the “secret history of telephones,” but it never really delivers on that.  

MASTER OF KUNG FU #119 (DC, 1982) – “Brynocki’s Marauders,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Marc Silvestri. Shang-Chi, Leiko, Reston and Dark Angel battle Brynocki and his robot minions. After reading Gene Luen Yang’s Shang-Chi, it’s hard to return to the original MOKF series, which was revolutionary for its time, but also deeply immersed in Orientalist cliches. Marc Silvestri’s storytelling in this issue is not good. He uses lots of unnecessary inset panels that should have been regular panels, and on one page he has to use arrows to indicate the order of the panels. That device is not necessary if a page is laid out properly.

MARVEL MILESTONES: BLADE, MAN-THING AND SATANA #nn (Marvel, 1973/2005) – [W/A] various. This issue reprints Tomb of Dracula #10, which I already have in facsimile form, and Fear #16, which I have in its original form. Why they chose Fear #16 is unclear, since it’s neither Man-Thing’s first appearance, nor Gerber’s best Man-Thing story. The only  thing in this issue that’s new to me is the Satana story from Vampire Tales #2. The recoloring of the Dracula story is really ugly.

CHASE #5 (DC, 1998) – “Better Days,” [W] D. Curtis Johnson, [A] Bob Hall. A flashback story in which Chase teams up with Klarion. The main reason I’m interested in Chase is because of J.H. Williams III’s art, but in this issue he only did a four-page framing sequence, and those pages are all drawn in a very conventional style.

THE BLACK DRAGON #4 (Marvel, 1985) – as above. Even though I read this issue shortly after reading issue 3, I still found it impossible to follow. It’s hard to see how the two issues are connected. This issue introduces Robin Hood into the series, as if there weren’t enough characters already. As with #3, the main appeal of this comic is Bolton’s beautiful art.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #17 (DC, 1994) – “The Scorpion Act 1,” [W] Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle, [A] Guy Davis. Wesley Dodds investigates the murder of a German businessman. At the end of the issue, while the businessman’s partner is beating his servant, he’s interrupted by a masked man carrying a whip. Sandman Mystery Theatre was one of the finest DC comics of its time, and I wish I had time to read the entire run in order. This issue’s murder victim is introduced as Karl Dechert, but later he’s referred to as Harry.

SOLO #8 (DC, 2006) – various stories, [W/A] Teddy Kristiansen, [W] various. This issue begins with a real gem: “On the Stairs,” written by Gaiman, in which Deadman conducts a recently deceased soul to the afterlife. This story is reminiscent of “The Sound of Her Wings,” and it includes an allusion to Death. The other stories in this issue include some beautiful painted art, but are not nearly as well-written. The last three are written by Kristiansen himself, and are mostly pointless.

THE LEGEND OF LUTHER STRODE #5 (Image, 2013) – untitled, [W] Justin Jordan, [A] Tradd Moore. Mostly a series of gruesome action sequences whose context I don’t understand. I want to like Justin Jordan’s work more than I actually do. As stated above, Tradd Moore’s art in this issue is completely different from his recent work in Doctor Strange: Fall Sunrise.

THE SMURFS FCBD (Papercutz, 2013) – “The Ogre and the Smurfs,” [W/A] Peyo, etc. Gargamel tries to get an ogre to destroy the Smurfs, but his plan backfires. This story is a fun example of the Marcinelle school of French comics, though it seems to have been recolored or redrawn or both. The other features in this issue include Annoying Orange, which is aptly titled, and Ariol, by Emmanuel Guibert and Marc Boutavant. The latter story is kind of cute. I have Papercutz volumes of both Smurfs and Ariol – in fact, I probably got both those books at the same convention – and I should get around to reading them at some point.

2000 AD #2300 (Rebellion, 2022) – Dredd: “Judgment Days,” [W] Ken Niemand, [A] Henry Flint, etc. In an alternate-reality version of “Judgment Day,” the Judges decide to defeat Sabbat by dropping dimension bombs on him. This works, but causes an even worse problem: the entire multiverse gets infected with zombies. The remaining vignettes in the issue depict the zombies’ battles with various other 2000 AD characters, including Rogue Trooper, Robo-Hunter, Mean Arena, and Sinister and Dexter. I don’t have the energy to list the creative teams for all these vignettes. This issue is kind of silly, but it’s fun, and it’s full of nostalgic references to old 2000 AD stories.

GO WEST (Le Lombard, 1979) – ten stories, [W] Greg, [A] Dérib. I’m going to count this as both a book and a comic book, because it’s published in the French album format, but it’s twice as long as a standard album, at 112 pages. It’s a collection of a serial which appeared in Tintin magazine in 1971 and 1972. Go West is about two unemployed New Yorkers who decide to travel to California. On the way they pick up many other companions and have adventures with outlaws, Indians, more outlaws, etc. In the concluding story, they negotiate a peaceful resolution to the 1867 Medicine Lodge council, which really did happen. Go West seems to be less well-known than other works by its creators, but it’s impressive anyway. It’s exciting and funny, and the many different characters are given distinctive personalities and appearances. The traveling party includes three children who not only act as comic relief, but often play a major role in the plot. Go West is a story about settler colonialism, but the creators do their best to depict Indians in a sympathetic light. There is one Indian character who speaks in Tonto talk, and one black character who’s drawn in a stereotypical style. But there’s also a story where the protagonists are pursued by Osage Indians, and at the end they admit that the Osage people were just defending their territory. Finishing this comic was quite tough, due to its unusual length and its use of dialects and nonstandard French phrases. Indeed, I bought this book back when I lived in Gainesville, but never felt up to reading it – until I discovered the Google Translate app.  

REVIVAL #5 (Image, 2012) – untitled, [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Mike Norton. Em and May Tao have to escape from an insane kidnapper. Dana only makes a brief appearance. I think this was the last issue of Revival that I hadn’t read.

MS. TREE #11 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1984) – “Deadline Chapter 3: Dancing in the Dark,” [W] Max Allan Collins, [A] Terry Beatty. Ms. Tree investigates the murder of journalist Sid Hargis. She discovers that Hargis and a number of other recent murder victims all went to the same high school, and that Dominic Muerta is involved somehow. This was just an average Ms. Tree story. In the letter column, a reader complains that the guns in the series aren’t depicted correctly. In response, Collins says that he once asked Donald Westlake why Parker’s hair color was inconsistent from one book to another, and Westlake replied “shut up or I’ll throw you down the stairs.”

2000 AD #2301 (Rebellion, 2022) – Dredd: “Half Smart,” [W] Arthur Wyatt, [A] Dave Taylor. Two “very smart persons” meet for a public debate, but the audience mistakenly thinks it’s going to be a prizefight, and a riot breaks out. This story is silly, but has some nice art and coloring. Chimpsky’s Law: “A Terrifically Disturbing Adventure,” [W] Ken Niemand, [A] P.J. Holden. Noam Chimpsky is my favorite character in recent progs. He only appears briefly in this chapter, which is devoted to introducing Timmy and Thruppence, a pair of terrifying murderous children with mind-control powers and no sense of morality. Enemy Earth: “Book One,” [W] Cavan Scott, [A] Luke Horsman. Young Zoe Lincoln is one of the few human survivors in a world where all the plants and animals have turned into man-eaters. In this chapter she discovers another survivor, an even younger orphaned boy named Julius. Future Shocks: “Echo,” [W] Honor Vincent, [A] Liana Kangas. An unsuspecting man is turned into a human host for a pop idol who’s really an artificial intelligence. Hershey: “The Cold in the Bones Book One,” [W] Rob Williams, [A] Simon Fraser. Former Chief Judge and her sidekick Dirty Frank travel to Antarctica for reasons I don’t understand. Simon Fraser’s art here resembles that of his near namesake Frazer Irving.

LUBA #6 (Fantagraphics, 2002) – “Meeting Cute, Fucking Cuter” etc., [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. Fritz falls in love with an awkward guy named Hector, who encountered two of Luba’s younger kids in an earlier issue. Fritz instead sets Hector up with Petra. This comic is called Luba, but it’s really more about Fritz and Petra. In this issue Hector refers to Petra as “Tondelayo,” a name I recognize from the Al Williamson story in Creepy #83. The original source for this name is the 1942 film White Cargo.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #31 (Marvel, 2017) – “Secret Empire Part 3: End of an Empire,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Stuart Immonen. In order to defeat Dr. Octopus’s attempt to take over Parker Industries, Peter has to destroy all of Parker’s intellectual property. This issue is exciting, but its conclusion is very disappointing and anticlimactic. One of Peter’s coworkers even says that she was close to discovering a “perfect green energy source,” and she had to sacrifice all her research. Couldn’t Peter have found a way to defeat Doc Ock without destroying everything he was trying to protect from Doc Ock?

SUPERMAN #51 (DC, 1991) – “Mister Z!”, [W/A] Jerry Ordway. Superman encounters a villain named Mr. Z who has the power to steal people’s souls and imprison them in a gemstone. Superman defeats him by destroying his gem, but a fragment of the gem survives. Also, Perry White resigns as the editor of the Daily Planet. Ordway’s art in this issue is very good.

SUPERBOY #51 (DC, 1998) – “The Last Boy on Earth Part 2: The Test!”, [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Tom Grummett. My copy of this issue is signed by both Kesel and Grummett, though I can’t remember if I got them to sign it, or if the signatures were there when I bought it. In this issue, an amnesiac Superboy finds himself in Kamandi’s world, where he’s forced to take a series of tests, and then he recovers his costume. This Superboy run is probably DC’s best attempt at reviving Kirby’s less-prominent ‘70s characters. As an Easter egg, in the warehouse where Superboy’s costume is kept, there’s also a lifebuoy from the SS Minnow, the ship from Gilligan’s Travels.

WONDER WOMAN #260 (DC, 1979) – “A Warrior in Chains!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] José Delbo. Wonder Woman’s bracelets are stolen, causing her to go berserk, and she gets arrested. This is all part of a plot by Mars, the god of war, and his servant Hercules. Eventually Diana manages to overcome the madness and remain sane with her bracelets removed. I guess it was well-established at the time that “if [the bracelets were] ever broken or removed, the Amazon would go into an uncontrollable destructive frenzy, as Dr. Marston’s allegory for the unfettered destruction by the human ego” (Wikipedia). Also, Diana used to lose her powers if a man chained her bracelets together. Both these curses have rather disturbing implications, and were retconned away after Crisis. This issue’s art is very mediocre, but that’s probably thanks to the inker-who-must-not-be-named.

RICHIE RICH AND CASPER #18 (Harvey, 1977) – “Forty Thieves,” uncredited. Richie Rich, Casper and Wendy encounter Ali Baba and the forty thieves, who have been scared out of Casper’s storybook by the Ghostly Trio. I’m losing my interest in these old Harvey comics because of their stupid and illogical plots. Ali Baba is not included in the earliest versions of the Arabian Nights. The earliest source for his story is Antoine Galland’s 18th-century French version.

AVENGERS VS. ATLAS #3 (Marvel, 2010) – “Earth’s Mightiest Super Heroes Part 3,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Gabriel Hardman. The members of Atlas travel back in time and help the original Avengers fight the Hulk. Venus defeats the Hulk by singing him a lullaby, but this also causes Thor to start making out with Namora. There’s a funny backup story where Venus answers mail from various other Marvel characters.

2000 AD #2302 (Rebellion, 2022) – Dredd: “The Pitch,” [W] Rob Williams & Arthur Wyatt, [A] Boo Cook. Accounts Judge Maitland suggests that Justice Department should spend money on education and social services, rather than on locking people up. Surprisingly, Dredd endorses this idea, and Maitland is allowed to implement her plan in a single district for one year. This story is very unusual in that it suggests the possibility of a brighter future for Mega-City One. Boo Cook’s painted art is quite good. Chimpsky’s Law: as above. Timmy and Thruppence compel two unrelated adults to become their new parents. Then they decide they want Chimpsky to become their new pet. The panel where Chimsky is falling between buildings is a possible homage to the famous opening scene of The Incal. Hope: “In the Shadows Reel Two,” [W] Guy Adams, [A] Jimmy Broxton. A creepy woman visits a diner and orders Salisbury steak. What is going on here is not yet clear. Enemy Earth: as above. Julius’s bunker is invaded by evil insects. BTW, this story is a continuation of a one-shot story from #2256, a Regened issue. I can’t think of another example of a Regened story being continued in the regular progs. Hershey: as above. There’s a flashback to Hershey’s past history, and then a present-day scene in which nothing much happens.  

CEREBUS #139 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1990) – “Melmoth Zero,” [W/A] Dave Sim. Normalroach sits outside Dino’s café, makes ugly faces, and tries and fails to order a glass of tonic water, and that’s literally the entire issue. Melmoth is the point where Cerebus really lost its way. Earlier Cerebus storylines had very fast-paced and dense plots, but starting with Melmoth, or possibly with Jaka’s Story, it became common for multiple issues to go by without anything happening at all. Perhaps the best proof that Cerebus used to be really good is that people were willing to continue reading it even long after it jumped the shark, in the vain hope that it would get good again. This issue’s backup feature is a segment of a 24-hour comic by Steve Bissette.

MEGATON MAN #10 (Kitchen Sink, 1986) – “Overkill!”, [W/A] Don Simpson. Megaton Man swallows the Cosmic Cueball (i.e. the Cosmic Cube) and then fights an equally powerful villain. This story is rather pointless and unfunny, and none of its pages has more than three panels. There’s also a Border Worlds backup story, which is almost more of an illustrated prose text than a comic; it consists of four double-page splashes with captions. I’m not sure if I’m going to order Don Simpson’s new version of the 1963 Annual. His work doesn’t appeal to me all that much, and it’s misleading to describe this comic as the 1963 Annual, given that it wiill be totally different from the original plans for that comic. I don’t think the original 1963 Annual can ever be published, although at one time I would have said the same thing about Miracleman #25. I just realized that the president in Megaton Man is based on Orson Welles.

LUBA’S COMICS AND STORIES #7 (Fantagraphics, 2006) – “Fritz After Dark,” [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. An account of Fritz’s relationships with Mark Herrera, the balding motivational speaker, and various other men. This issue is even more focused on Fritz than Luba #6 was. I think Fritz is a far less interesting protagonist than Luba, and I don’t understand Beto’s fascination with her.

TARZAN: A TALE OF MUGAMBI #1 (Dark Horse, 1995) – untitled, [W] Darko Macan, [A] igor Kordey. This issue begins with a prologue claiming that the black warrior Mugambi is Tarzan’s best friend and foil. This is hard to accept, given that Mugambi only seems to have appeared in one original Tarzan novel, The Beasts of Tarzan. In this issue, an itinerant storyteller visits an African tribe and tells them a mythological story about Tarzan and Mugambi. During the story, a little boy wanders off on his own and is nearly killed by a panther, but Mugambi appears and saves him. We then learn that the old storyteller is Mugambi’s father, the little boy is his illegitimate son, and both are also named Mugambi. Disturbingly, no one in the story seems to care that Mugambi (the second) is a deadbeat dad. Igor Kordey’s art and coloring in this issue are fairly effective. Whenever I see his art, I involuntarily remember how people hated his art on Morrison’s X-Men.

BIG ASS COMICS #2 (Rip Off, 1971) – “Eggs Ackley in Eggs Escapes” etc., [W/A] Robert Crumb. As the title indicates, most of the stories in this issue are blatant gratifications of Crumb’s leg and ass fetish. There’s also a one-pager, “A Word to You Feminist Women,” in which Crumb argues that people who criticize his work’s sexual politics are just trying to  censor him. The further we get from the underground comics era, the more Crumb’s reputation will suffer. He’s a brilliant draftsman, but his work is undeniably sexist and racist. The major virtue of his work is his willingness to reveal his darkest fantasies and compulsions, but I’m not sure if that’s a worthwhile thing to do. And anyway, in most of the stories in this issue, Crumb seems to be just indulging his fantasies, without acknowledging their darker or more disturbing qualities.

SKYWARD #6 (Image, 2018) – “Here There Be Dragonflies Part 1,” [W] Joe Henderson, [A] Lee Garbett. Willa and Edison board a train heading to Kansas City, but Barrow knows Willa is on a train, so he has all the trains stopped. Willa and Edison escape from the train into the forest, but this is an awful idea because the forest is full of man-eating giant dragonflies. There’s an actual in-story excuse for why the dragonflies were selected as the primary monsters in this storyline, but I assume the real reason is because they look cool.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #205 (DC, 1982) – “The Final Hand!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Don Heck. With most of the Justice League rendered comatose by Hector Hammond, the few remaining Leaguers have to fight the Royal Flush Gang. Meanwhile, Martin Stein defeats Hammond in a mental battle. This issue is very average.

IRON MAN #107 (Marvel, 1978) – “And, in the End…”, [W] Bill Mantlo, [A] Keith Pollard. In the conclusion to a six-part story, Tony defeats Midas, but his old mentor Abe Klein is killed, and his girlfriend Marianne Rodgers goes insane. Klein had betrayed Tony to Midas because Midas  claimed to know the whereabouts of Klein’s wife and daughter, who vanished in the Holocaust, but in this issue Midas reveals that Klein’s family are dead. Midas has a very annoying habit of calling everyone “sir.” This issue is better than I expect from Bill Mantlo, but I still have not overcome my distaste for his work.

On my next trip to Heroes, I had lunch at the newly opened Menya Noodle Counter, which is now the best ramen restaurant in Charlotte.

NIGHTWING #100 (DC, 2023) – “Power Vacuum Part 4: The Leap,” [W] Tom Taylor, [A] Bruno Redondo et al. Blockbuster releases all the inmates from Bludhaven’s private prison. In a powerful sequence, Dick jumps off a building, and the next five or six pages are all drawn by different past Nightwing artists, so Dick is symbolically “leaping” from childhood to adulthood. I just wish George Pérez could have drawn one of these pages. With the assistance of the Titans, Dick defeats the escaped prisoners, and then Superman and Wonder Woman offer him the position of leader of the JLA. Which would make sense, because Dick is one of the two superheroes who are most noted for their leadership ability, along with Captain America. Dick and Bruce visit Alfred’s grave, and Dick tells Bruce “I love you, Dad.” I don’t remember Dick ever calling Bruce “dad” before. Then Dick turns down the position of JLA leader, and instead rebuilds the private prison as a new Titans Tower. This scene sets up Taylor’s upcoming Titans series. I would normally be skeptical of any attempt to revive the classic Wolfman/Pérez Titans, since other writers, particularly Devin Grayson, have tried to do this and failed. But if anyone can do it and succeed, it’s Tom Taylor.

SOMETHING IS KILLING THE CHILDREN #28 (Boom!, 2023) – “The Girl and the Hurricane Part 3,” [W] James Tynion IV, [A] Werther Dell’Edera. Cutter murders a bunch of police officers, beats up the sheriff, and then announces her plan to frame Erica not only for the policemen’s murders, but also for the continuing deaths of children. Because Cutter is going to let the Duplicitype go free, and she knows that Erica is going to remain in town to capture it, since Erica, unlike anyone else in the Order, actually cares about saving children. Cutter’s actions in this issue are utterly contemptible. She kills multiple people for no other reason than to make Erica look bad and to satisfy her own passion for violence. With every issue of this series, it becomes more and more clear that the Order is far worse than the monsters it’s supposed to hunt. It has abandoned its original mission and now only cares about maintaining its own secrecy. To quote something I said on Facebook, a constant theme in James Tynion’s work is how organizations forget their original purpose and become devoted entirely to their own survival. We can also see this in Wynd, the faerie general Eks is willing to sacrifice his own men in order to have an excuse for war, and in Department of Truth, the title organization is willing to sink to any depths to protect itself, to the point that it’s not even clear that they’re any better than their opponents. However, in the latest issue of the latter title, the department finally realizes it’s time to make itself public, because its secrecy is doing more harm than good.

GROO: GODS AGAINST GROO #2 (Dark Horse, 2023) – untitled, [W/A] Sergio Aragonés, [W] Mark Evanier. The human and the divine Groo both cause a lot of havoc. The Sage arrives in the new continent with Queen Isaisa’s army, and makes an alliance with some local people in order to invade Mexahuapan, which I believe is the kingdom of the Groo-worshippers. Queen Isaisa condemns the Minstrel to execution. The names of the two kingdoms, Mexahuapan and Tlaxpan, are meant to sound like Nahuatl, and at one point in this issue, a woman is shown  making tortillas on a metate.

BLACK CLOAK #1 (Image, 2023) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Meredith McClaren. Black Cloak is set in the city of Kiros, which is inhabited by elves, mermaids, and various other creatures. Our protagonist, Phaedra Essex, is a former elf princess who is now as a “Black Cloak,” or detective. In this storyline she has to investigate the murder of her former fiancé, Freyal. This issue ends on a cliffhanger when Phaedra is stabbed. I love Kelly Thompson’s work-for-hire comics, and I’m very glad that she’s now doing a creator-owned comic. So far Black Cloak has an interesting premise, good dialogue, and a strong ensemble cast. Meredith McClaren’s art in this issue is better than anything I’ve seen from her before.

KNOW YOUR STATION #2 (Boom!, 2023) – untitled, [W] Sarah Gailey, [A] Liana Kangas. Elise conceals the murder of the cop from last issue, she experiences withdrawal symptoms, and then she discovers another murder. I had trouble understanding this issue. It doesn’t seem to follow logically from last issue, and it doesn’t reference the theme of inequality.

I HATE FAIRYLAND VOL. 2 #3 (Image, 2023) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Brett Bean. Between issues, Gert and the rat have managed to escape from hell. Now they plan to use a “Skipping Bird” to skip all the boring parts of the adventure – this is a really funny idea – but the bird dies before it can get them anywhere. Then Gert accidentally creates a giant army of clones of herself, and has to kill all of them. This issue doesn’t advance the plot very much, but it’s very funny.  

LITTLE MONSTERS #9 (Image, 2023) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. In a flashback, one of the kids, whose name I forget, is fatally wounded by skinheads before one of the vampires saves him. Then there’s a scene with the surviving twin and his human captor, then the good kids help the human kid escape the city, and finally the non-monstrous kids confront Romie and ask him to tell them the truth. Which should be hard since Romie can’t talk.

DARK RIDE #4 (Image, 2023) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Summer and Samhain investigate the Devil’s Due ride and discover Owen’s corpse. A blogger, Theo, is given backstage access to the park, but the mascots force him to put on a mask which is alive and full of teeth, and it eats his head. Then we see that Halloween is responsible for Theo’s murder.

IMMORTAL SERGEANT #1 (Image, 2023) – untitled, [W] Joe Kelly, [A] Ken Niimura. An old police sergeant prepares for retirement. This comic is the much-delayed follow-up to the classic I Kill Giants, but it’s in a very different vein. So far it’s more satirical than serious. Due to Niimura’s manga-influenced style, this issue is a very quick read. However, I have faith in these creators, and I look forward to seeing where this series is going.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #2 (Marvel, 2023) – “Sign Up,” [W] Jordan Ifueko, [A] Alba Glez. Olivia uses her shampoo to kidnap and mind-control people, and when Lunella tries to use Devil Dinosaur as a distraction to escape from the school, Devil is captured and carted away. This is another good issue. I especially like how one of Olivia’s friends has the power to control her hair, but her mother forces her to use hair relaxer so she’ll be “more presentable.” I just ordered Jordan Ifueko’s novel Raybearer.

BONE ORCHARD: TEN THOUSAND BLACK FEATHERS #5 (Image, 2023) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. Trish finds herself in the fantasy setting from the first couple issues. She defeats an antler-headed monster and rescues Jack from a cage. I’m not quite sure what happened here. I assume there will be a sequel to this miniseries, but it hasn’t been announced yet. I haven’t read the Passageway graphic novel.  

SHIRTLESS BEAR-FIGHTER 2 #6 (Image, 2023) – untitled, [W] Jody Leheup, [A] Nil Vendrell. The humans lead a revolution against the bears, which is useless until an army of alternate-reality Shirtless Bear-Fighters appears. (Also an army of salmon, but all they can do is slap people and drown.) One of the alternate Shirtlesses has his torso where his genitals should be, and… we can assume vice versa, since the upper half of his body is blurred out. The cavalry has arrived too late, and Ursa Major turns himself into a god. One more issue left.

EVE: CHILDREN OF THE MOON #4 (Boom!, 2023) – untitled, [W] Victor LaValle, [A] Jo Mi-Gyeong. We start with a sequence where Akai meditates on the destruction of the oceans. Then Eve A convinces Selene to heal Eve B’s injuries, but afterward, one of Selene’s kids stabs Eve A in the back. Akai has to use nanotech to save her. A confusing aspect of this series is that the two protagonists are identical and have the same name, so it’s hard to distinguish between them.

WASP #1 (Marvel, 2023) – untitled, [W] Al Ewing, [A] Kasia Nie. This series’s covers are designed to resemble those of the recent Ant-Man miniseries. However, Wasp has a different narrative structure from Ant-Man. There are only two Wasps (not counting Hank Pym) and so this issue focuses on one of them, whereas the previous miniseries featured a different Ant-Man in each issue. In this issue, Jan and Nadia hang out and fight Jan’s obsessed stalker, Whirlwind, and then we learn that Nadia’s maternal grandfather, Janos Trovaya, is possessed by the same alien creature that killed Jan’s father. This monster appears to be the same one from Tales to Astonish #44, and it’s made a surprising number of appearances since then. I really like how Al Ewing writes both Nadia and Jan, though Kasia Nie is a less exciting artist than Tom Reilly.

BATGIRLS #14 (DC, 2023) – “The Rest is Silence,” [W] Becky Cloonan & Michael W. Conrad, [A] Jonathan Case. In a silent issue, Cass invades GCPD headquarters, pursues a criminal, and discovers Steph’s letter to be opened in the event of her death. On the last page, Cass finds Steph’s apparently dead body. I really hope Steph isn’t dead – she’s already been fridged once. Jonathan Case’s draftsmanship and page layouts in this issue are stunning, but I had some difficultyGiga  following his panel-to-panel continuity.

GIGA #5 (Vault, 2023) – untitled, [W] Alex Paknadel, [A] John Lê. This comic is shockingly late – it’s been more than two years since issue 1, and more than six months since issue 4. Vault has had chronic problems with lateness, but Giga’s lateness is egregious even for them. Because it’s been so long since Giga #4, I’ve forgotten all but the basic outline of the series’ plot, and I don’t understand the way it’s resolved in this issue. This issue does include what feels like an explanation of the Autobot-Decepticon conflict. I was excited about Giga when it was announced, and I still think it was a good idea, but I would have enjoyed it more if it had come out on time.  

MY LITTLE PONY: CLASSICS REIMAGINED #3 (IDW, 2023) – “Little Fillies,” [W] Megan Brown, [A] Jenna Ayoub. This issue covers Beth’s “death” and the start of Jo’s writing career. I’ve been wondering how the series was going to deal with Beth, since characters don’t die in pony comics. What happens instead is that Fluttershy suffers severe exhaustion while rescuing animals from a flood, and is written out of the story, but Discord acknowledges that the reader knows what’s supposed to happen to Beth. Really the best part of this series is the metatextual jokes. On the first page, Twilight Sparkle complains that one of her newspaper’s reporters missed a deadline, and Rarity replies, “It’s not as if we’re putting together twenty-page issues for release on a monthly schedule.” Also, instead of seliing her hair, Jo sells the color out of her hair.

NEW CHAMPION OF SHAZAM #4 (DC, 2023) – “The Last Battle of Mary!”, [W] Josie Campbell, [A] Evan “Doc” Shaner. In a twist that I predicted correctly, the evil professor is revealed as Georgia Sivana. Mary defeats her and becomes the new Shazam, which means she can’t say her own name. The issue ends with a tie-in to Lazarus Planet: We Once Were Gods. This miniseries had excellent art, as I expect from Doc Shaner, and I also grew to appreciate Josie Campbell’s writing.

DARK WEB: MS. MARVEL #2 (Marvel, 2023) – untitled, [W] Sabir Pirzada, [A] Francesco Mortarino. Kamala battles the Inventor and a group of other talking birds based on famous scientists. Meanwhile, the people inside the mosque manage to calm them (i.e. the mosque) down, after they reveals that they’re sick of their congregants’ constant arguments. One of these arguments concerns the date of Eid. From Googling, I learned that the date of Eid is a subject of great controversy, since it depends on the date when the new moon is sighted, and this happens on different dates in different communities. Kamala’s potential love interest, Arjun, does not appear. This was an excellent two-parter that was very much in the spirit of G. Willow Wilson’s original run. I hope we’ll see Kamala again soon.

MONICA RAMBEAU: PHOTON #2 (Marvel, 2023) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Ivan Fiorelli & Luca Maresca. The Beyonder sends Monica back in time to an alternate-reality version of the era when she was the Avengers’ leader. She discovers that in this reality, her parents are dead, and she’s married to Brother Voodoo. Also, her fellow Avengers constantly question her leadership ability. This may be a reference to how in real life, Mark Gruenwald allegedly wanted Captain America to be the leader instead, at least according to a Facebook comment. This issue’s cover is a swipe of Avengers #279, the issue where Monica was elected leader.

WHITE SAVIOR #1 (Dark Horse, 2023) – untitled, [W/A] Eric Nguyen, [W] Scott Burman. I  bought this off the shelf because Henry Jenkins recommended it on Facebook. In this issue, Todd Parker, an Asian-American with an assimilated name, is transported into the past, where he encounters Nathan Garin, an obnoxious white samurai. This issue is a funny parody of white savior narratives like The Last Samurai. I might as well continue reading this series.

THE FLASH #788 (DC, 2022) – “Rogues to Redemption,” [W] Jeremy Adams, [A] Fernando Pasarin. Wally and Linda discover that they’re having another child, and then Wally fights the Rogues Gallery, who have been deputized into the Central City police. Just as Wally is getting his ass kicked, the Pied Piper arrives to save him. I never considered reading this series before, but I bought it because I heard someone recommend it, and also because Wally West is “my” Flash. I don’t have any kind of nostalgia for Barry, and it was nice to see Wally and Linda again – and also their kids, though Jai and Iris only make a brief appearance this issue. I’m going to keep reading this series.

RESIDENT ALIEN: THE BOOK OF LOVE #3 (Dark Horse, 2023) – untitled, [W] Peter Hogan, [A] Steve Parkhouse. Harry’s neighbor Don is in debt to the mob. The local police chief is owed a favor by a mob boss, and he considers calling in the favor to help Don. Meanwhile, two women break into a third woman’s office, I’m not sure why, and a struggle results in which one of the burglars is shot. I previously said that this comic was a slice-of-life story, but that is not true of this issue, since some exciting stuff happens in it.

PETER PARKER & MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MEN DOUBLE TROUBLE #3 (Marvel, 2023) – untitled, [W] Mariko Tamaki & Vita Ayala, [A] GuriHiru. Miles escapes from the villains, but Peter is captured by Mysterio’s junior protégé. Also, the keynote speaker arrives at the villain convention, and it’s Thanos. That’s not a surprise, since he was shown as the keynote speaker in issue 2. This is another very fun issue. The Family-Circus-esque two-page splash, where Miles is dodging all the villains, is a brilliant idea, but it’s very hard to read in the correct order.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: SYMBOL OF TRUTH #9 (Marvel, 2023) – “Pax Mohannda Part 4,” [W] Tochi Onyebuchi, [A] R.B. Silva. This issue has no interesting plot developments, no significant characterization, and no political content. I wanted to like this series, but it’s going nowhere, and this will be my last issue.

CRASHING #5 (IDW, 2023) – untitled, [W] Matthew Klein, [A] Morgan Beem. I somehow missed issue 4, but it appears that in that issue, Rose dug herself into a deeper hole: she operated on a child while high on drugs, causing his death. In this isuse Rose at least manages to save her husband, but she lets the villain, Gordian, go free, even though she has a perfect opportunity to shoot him. It’s pretty bizarre that Rose is too high-minded to kill someone who deserves it. Like, what good does it do her to try to act morally, when her character is already tarnished beyond repair? As long as she’s already committed so many unforgivable sins, what further harm can it do her to commit another sin which would have had a positive outcome? Anyway, afterward, Rose’s husband divorces her and she loses her medical license, so she starts a new job running secret clinics for superpowered people. The trouble with Crashing is that Rose is one of the most unsympathetic protagonists I’ve ever seen. She killed her future husband’s sister while driving under the influence, then married him under false pretenses, and she went on to do all sorts of other horrible stuff. It’s kind of hard to read a story where the protagonist is a complete monster, unless it’s a redemption narrative. And Crashing is not that, because it takes until the end of the series for Rose to even start redeeming herself, and her crimes may well be unredeemable.  

MONKEY PRINCE #10 (2023) – “The Monkey King and I Part 2,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Bernard Chang. Marcus and Supergirl battle the Ultra-Humanite, and then a person who’s been turned into a gorgon by “lazarus rain.” To win these fights, Marcus has to master his power to turn his hair into clones. At the end of the issue, Marcus meets a number of other superheroes. As mentioned above, I’m glad DC is making Monkey Prince a flagship character, because I really like him. However, it takes Marcus quite a long time to realize his grandfather is the Ultra-Humanite, and he still doesn’t seem to acknowledge that his parents are professional criminals. I’m not sure if he’s ignoring their crimes because of filial piety, or if he’s just oblivious.

HOUSE OF SLAUGHTER #11 (Boom!, 2023) – “The Butcher’s Return Part One,” [W] Tate Brombal, [A] Antonio Fuso. Jace spends most of this issue taking care of the children at his camp for monster victims. But the Order of St. George can’t stand the thought that anyone actually cares about protecting children from monsters, so at the end of the issue, an army of White Masks descends on the camp. I’m glad that this series is readable again, after a run of five awful issues.

DAREDEVIL #7 (Marvel, 2023) – “The Red Fist Saga Part 7,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Rafael De Latorre & Marco Checchetto. Matt and his villain allies save some people from being unjustly evicted, and there’s some further development on the Hand/Fist plotline. The best moment in this issue is when Stilt-Man gets a chance to be a hero for once, by using his height to catch a falling child. The eviction sequence takes place in Charlotte, but the city depicted looks nothing like Charlotte at all. (When I bought this comic, the clerk at Heroes called my attention to this scene.)

KAYA #4 (Image, 2023) – untitled, [W/A] Wes Craig. Jin has a divine visitation, Seth reveals to Kaya that he’s betrothed to someone else, and the party have to talk their way into a walled city of fish people. This issue has some gorgeous art. I especially love the panel where a shining hand, wreathed in a snake, comes from above the panel border to touch Jin’s hand. However, I have trouble believing that Kaya and Seth are a couple, since she’s human and he’s a lizard.

WONDER WOMAN #795 (DC, 2023) – “Before the Storm Part 2,” [W] Michael W. Conrad & Becky Cloonan, [A] Amancay Nahuelpan. Diana and Wonder Girl battle Eros and Hyperion, both of whom seem to be working for Hera. At the end of the issue, Diana is assaulted by a horde of admirers. This was a lackluster issue, and I’m annoyed that the boring Young Diana backup stories are still continuing. I still love Paulina Ganucheau’s art, but I wish these stories were written by a better writer.

ALL AGAINST ALL #2 (Image, 2023) – untitled, [W] Alex Paknadel, [A] Caspar Wijngaard. The human survivor, who the aliens have nicknamed Helpless, continues his singlehanded battle against them. The problem with this issue is that it focuses heavily on the aliens’ internal politics, and this part of the issue makes little sense, because I can’t tell the aliens apart. However, Caspar Wijngaard’s art is still excellent. Some of the aliens seem to be named after famous writers like Borges and Pynchon.

ZOOT! VOL. 2 #1 (Hotel Fred, 2017) – various stories, [W/A] Roger Langridge. I ordered this and the following three issues from Langridge’s website. Each issue of this new Zoot! series consists of various stories, of which some are autobiographical, and others are about recurring characters such as Fred the Clown, the Fez, and Art d’Ecco. This issue’s high points are the two autobiographical stories. In the first, Roger meditates on the Brexit vote, and in the second, he and his family visit his native New Zealand for the first time in years. I especially like the moments when Roger’s older child acts like a typical thirteen-year-old. Another highlight is “Venus in Fur,” about a man who tries to capture a yeti. When he opens up a book called HOW TO TRACK AND CAPTURE A YETI, it’s blank except for a note that says “If you work out how to track and capture a yeti, please write it down on the blank pages provided.” Roger Langridge is one of the world’s best cartoonists, and this series includes some of his best work. It’s a pity that it’s not easier to find. I never heard of it until I saw a Facebook post that mentioned one of his other recent self-published comics. In this issue’s editorial section, Langridge states he can’t get any work in commercial comics anymore. Given his level of talent, that is very very sad. However, by the time of issue 4, his career had picked up again slightly.  

OLD DOG #3 (Image, 2023) – “Back Into the Cold,” [W/A] Declan Shalvey. Jack and Retriever visit Russia, where Jack meets an elderly lover of his, Flower. Jack’s purpose is to find out whether Flower is going to be targeted by his enemies, but Flower solves that problem for him by committing suicide. These last couple issues have not fulfilled the promise of issue 1.

SPECS #3 (Boom!, 2023) – untitled, [W] David M. Booher, [A] Chris Shehan. Kenny visits the address where the spectacles were shipped from. There he has a vision in which the spectacles’ previous owner tells him that after he finishes making his wishes, the glasses will kill him. Kenny returns to his hometown, where Ted is being interrogated by a racist cop. Kenny breaks Ted out of jail, but a mob chases after them. They decide to burn the spectacles. Specs is an entertaining series that has much more real-world relevance than Booher’s previous work.

ART BRUT #2 (Image, 2023) – “Key of Dreams Chapter 2”, [W] W. Maxwell Prince, [A] Martín Morazzo. Detective Margot Breslin investigates a case in which some student artists killed themselves by cutting their own tongues out, in a literal realization of a saying by Matisse. Meanwhile, Art Brut and his companions travel through the interior of the Mona Lisa. This issue includes some gorgeous art and coloring, especially in the opening dream sequence where Margot imagines paint coming out of her shower nozzle. However, this issue’s plot is rather mystifying.

NAMOR: CONQUERED SHORES #4 (Marvel, 2023) – “Soul of the Machine,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] Pasqual Ferry. Namor battles the original robot Human Torch, but there’s no particular reason why the reader should care who wins. This series is so boring and pointless that I’m not going to bother finishing it, even though there’s just one issue left.

THE DEAD LUCKY #5 (Image, 2023) – “A Shift in Power,” [W] Melissa Flores, [A] French Carlomagno. Bibi teams up with the Salvation Gang and Shift – who has become the Massiveverse’s flagship villain – and they prepare for a final confrontation with Morrow. This is still the worst Massiveverse title. Each issue of The Dead Lucky includes a phone number and URL for the Veterans Crisis Line, but that gives the false impression that The Dead Lucky is primarily about veterans and PTSD. In fact, Bibi’s veteran experiences are usually not this series’ main focus. It’s more about gentrification in San Francisco, which is a much less exciting topic.  

GRIM #7 (Boom!, 2023) – untitled, [W] Stephanie Williams, [A] Flaviano. In a hospital, all the dying patients suddenly come back to life. Then Jess has a talk with a priest, and a voice tells her that to save life, she has to save death. This issue is much grimmer and more gruesome than the rest of the series, and its only apparent connection to issue 6 is the red marks on everyone’s foreheads.

IMMORTAL X-MEN #10 (Marvel, 2023) – “Hated and Feared,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Lucas Werneck. This issue’s POV character is Professor X. In Xavier’s monologue, he confronts his fundamental creepiness. He admits that he makes people suspicious, and that people are right to be afraid of mutants – especially himself personally, since he’s put a psychic block on all of humanity to prevent nuclear war. The greatest virtue of Kieron Gillen’s X-Men is how it delves very deeply into each of its characters. As for the plot, the Quiet Council seems to defeat Mr. Sinister, but on the last page, Professor X takes off the Cerebro helmet, and we see that he has a diamond on his forehead. This is a shocking revelation, and it makes me excited about Sins of Sinister.

AVENGERS: WAR ACROSS TIME #1 (Marvel, 2023) – “War Across Time!”, [W] Paul Levitz, [A] Alan Davis. Sometime between Avengers #4 and #16, the original Avengers fight a robot Hulk created by Kang. Paul Levitz’s late-career work has mostly not been at the same level as his ‘70s and ‘80s comics, but it’s still exciting to see him writing the Marvel characters for the first time. However, the real attraction of this series is the art by Alan Davis, who is probably the most distinguished active artist of superhero comics. His art here is up to its usual level, but seems cruder and less slick than usual. It occurs to me that this may be because he inked himself, rather than being inked by Mark Farmer. What I think of as Davis’s distinctive style of draftsmanship is really Farmer’s style.

ZOOT! VOL. 2 #2 (Hotel Fred, 2018) – as above. This issue introduces a new recurring character: William McGonagall, the world’s worst poet. Also there’s an autobio story in which Langridge attends an anti-Brexit march, and some wordless Fred the Clown stories. In addition to his other virtues, Langridge is an excellent wordless storyteller.

KROMA #3 (Image, 2023) – untitled, [W/A] Lorenzo De Felici. I had to order this on eBay because Heroes didn’t have it, thanks to a computer error. This issue, Kroma escapes from the crazy old bird-man, then goes looking for her alleged father, the King of Colors. The King lives on top of a crystal mountain, so Kroma climbs the mountain, and while she does, we start seeing evidence that the crocodile creatures are intelligent. When Kroma finally meets the biggest of the crocodiles, she has a cut on her forehead, so her face has the same blue-red-green color sequence as the crocodiles’ eyes. Thus, the crocodiles perceive her as one of them, and she’s able to communicate with them using the old man’s colored pouches. This is another fascinating issue. I especially like the two parallel splash pages where the crocodile and Kroma look at each other.

HUMAN TARGET #10 (DC, 2023) – “Then Kill,” [W] Tom King, [A] Greg Smallwood. This issue reintroduces G’nort, perhaps the most pathetic Green Lantern. Chance gets G’nort to take him to Oa so he can find out where Guy Garnder is. Back on Earth, Chance fights Guy, and there are some panels that seem to be homages to the famous “one punch” scene. TBH, I think that  scene has become a cliché, and because it’s so well remembered, it’s caused people to forget that Giffen and DeMatteis’s JLA often had a very serious tone. I’ve gotten kind of sick of this series, and I’m glad it’s almost over.

DOCTOR STRANGE: FALL SUNRISE #1 (Marvel, 2022) – “Fall Sunrise,” [W/A] Tradd Moore. More absolutely stunning artwork, with brilliant detail, bizarre costumes, vivid coloring, and complicated page layouts. Besides Defenders Beyond, this is the most beautiful Marvel series in recent memory. Like issue 2, this issue has a complicated and difficult plot, and it’s hard to see how it connects to issue 1. But the plot is of secondary importance when the art is this incredible.

DANGER STREET #2 (DC, 2023) – “The Green Team,” [W] Tom King, [A] Jorge Fornes. I really like the idea of doing a single comic with all the First Issue Special characters. However, now that the novelty of that idea has worn off, I realize that the problem with Danger Street is that thirteen protagonists is perhaps too many. Danger Street #2 has a ton of different plotlines, and it’s not clear how or if they all relate to each other. And all these plotlines seem to be equally important, which means that this issue is lacking a central focus.

HIGHBALL #5 (Ahoy, 2023) – “Revolutions Per Second Part 2,” [W] Stuart Moore, [A] Fred Harper. Highball’s teammates rescue him from the Mentoks’ torture, and then the Mentoks go after the guy from last issue’s cover. Assuming this is the last issue, it doesn’t offer much of a resolution, and I didn’t like Highball as much as Captain Ginger or Bronze Age Boogie.

LEGION OF X #9 (Marvel, 2023) – “A Voice in the Wilderness,” [W] Si Spurrier, [A] Netho Diaz. Kurt confronts Margali, who’s working with Orchis, and meanwhile Professor X visits Legion inside the latter’s mind. I want to like this series, and it has its good moments. But it also has an excessively large cast and a lack of plot direction or theme. It’s not clear whether Nightcrawler or Legion is its real protagonist, and I’m also not sure how their stories are supposed to fit together.

ZOOT! VOL. 2 #3 (Hotel Fred, 2019) – as above. This issue has a framing sequence in which Roger thinks of various story ideas while lying awake at night. The first of these is a haunted house story starring Art D’Ecco and the Gump. In the next story, William McGonagall is defrauded by a person claiming to be Dion Boucicault, the celebrity actor and theatre producer. Langridge presents McGonagall as an idiot who’s blind to his own lack of talent, as well as a neglectful husband and father. However, Langridge also seems to admire McGonagall’s perseverance in the face of failure and mockery.

AVENGERS: EVERYDAY HEROES #1 (Marvel, 2022) – untitled, [W] Paul Allor, [A] Paco Diaz. I got this for free at Walgreens when I went there for a vaccination. It’s a free public service comic – the first such comic I’ve seen in a long time – and it was sponsored by Pfizer in support of COVID vaccination. For a free promotional comic, it’s not bad. At first it doesn’t seem to be about vaccination at all. Instead, most of the issue is a conversation between patients at a vaccine clinic, on the subject of the Avengers’ constant battles with Ultron. The patients talk about how Ultron constantly adapts himself to become more dangerous, and how the Avengers have to adapt their own strategies to keep defeating him. The reader is expected to realize that this is a clever metaphor, where Ultron and the Avengers stand for diseases and vaccines. According to Brian Cronin, Paul Allor received a lot of criticism from anti-vaxxers for writing this issue, even though if Allor hadn’t written it, someone else would have.

VIOLATOR #2 (Image, 1994) – “The World,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] Bart Sears. The Violator tries to escape from his four brothers, as well as another character who’s a parody of the Punisher and/or Nuke from Daredevil: Born Again. This miniseries is one of the less distinguished of Alan’s ‘90s comics for Image, but it’s necessary for an Alan Moore completist like me. This issue’s editorial page mentions a forthcoming Angela miniseries written by Neil Gaiman. This miniseries actually was published, and somehow I don’t recall ever seeing or hearing of it.

2000 AD #2303 (Rebellion, 2022) – Dredd: “Buratino Must Die 01,” [W] Rob Williams, [A] Henry Flint. In a flashback, Dredd has to decide what to do with two captured Sov agents, Buratino and Izaaks. Henry Flint’s rendition of Judge Anderson is gorgeous. There’s one particular page that’s built around a giant close-up of her face. Chimpsky’s Law: as #2302 above. Timmy and Thruppence try to mind-control Noam, but it doesn’t work because he’s not human. Then Noam beats up a criminal who’s a Wally Squad judge in disguise, and Timmy and Thruppence force the criminal to shoot himself. Hope: as above. A coven of witches purchases the former Trinity site in New Mexico, and President Truman comes to visit. One of the characters in this chapter is Norma Desmond, the villain from Sunset Blvd. Enemy Earth: as above. Zoe refuses to help Julius and runs away, but then she changes her mind and comes back for him. Hershey: as above. The judges in Antarctica City are looking for drug dealers. Hershey introduces herself to them, calling herself Julia Wagner.

THE MARQUIS OF ANAON T.1 (Dargaud, 2002/Cinebook, 2015) – The Isle of Brac, [W] Fabien Vehlmann, [A] Mathieu Bonhomme. I’ve been meaning to read this for a while, but I finally got around to it. It was so good that I finished it in one sitting, even though I was exhausted at the time. In the 1720s, our protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Poulain, travels to a remote island in Brittany in order to tutor the local baron’s son. But when he arrives, the son is found dead, and he can’t get transportation off the island. Poulain discovers that the baron is responsible for the murder, and that he’s been kidnapping local children and subjecting them to cruel and fatal medical experiments. In the climax, the baron chases a wounded Poulain into the water, only to be sucked into a pool of quicksand that appeared out of nowhere. The people of the island give Poulain the name “Marquis of Anaon,” the last word being Breton for lost souls. This story has no actual supernatural content, yet it has a constant mood of mysticism and magic. Mathieu Bonhomme’s art is not flashy, but it’s very atmospheric and moody, and his visual storytelling is excellent. I already have the second volume of this series, but I want to read some other BD albums first.

THE PHANTOM #1505 (Frew, 2008) – “The Great Deception Part 2,” [W] Claes Reimerthi, [A] Cesar Spadari. In the 16th century, the first Phantom’s son is falsely accused of a conspiracy, thanks to the machinations of the Singh Brotherhood, and the Phantom has to save him. This is a typically exciting Phantom story, but the confusing part is that it includes two characters who look very similar and who both use the title Don. One of them is much fatter than the other, but I still wasn’t sure at first if they were the same person or not. In the editorial column, Jim Shepherd discusses how this story may contradict Lee Falk’s version of the early Phantoms’ history.

ZOOT! VOL. 2 #4 (Hotel Fred, 2020) – as above. This issue begins with a silent story about a ventriloquist and his animate dummy. In the other long story, McGonagall receives five pounds – a large amount at the time – from the real Dion Boucicault, as an apology for the deception that was practiced upon McGonagall in Boucicault’s name. Like the asshole he is, McGonagall uses the money to travel to London, giving his wife only one shilling for his children’s upkeep. What happens to him in London is not shown. Langridge has continued doing a regular webcomic on his blog, but there hasn’t been another Zoot! comic since 2020.

2000 AD #2304 (Rebellion, 2022) – Dredd: as above. Dredd confronts Buratino and his talking horse, and discovers that Buratino has the deactivated Sentientoid in his possession. There’s a gratuitous but cute scene with Anderson, and then a mysterious hooded man enters Mega-City One. Chimpsky’s Law: as above. Timmy and Thruppence frame some random guy for the murder of the undercover Judge, and then they get another person to throw Chimpsky off a building. Enemy Earth: as above. Julius’s robot, Nanni, is about to be destroyed by carnivorous plants, but Zoe uses an armored vehicle to rescue Nanni. Hope: as above. The witches assassinate President Truman. I have no idea what’s going on in this series, and it has nothing to do with the previous Hope story arc. Hershey: as above. Hershey and Dirty Frank continue looking for the drugs. This story has some nice painted art, but it’s boring, and it requires knowledge of Hershey’s prior history.

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS: ZERO’S JOURNEY #0 (Tokyopop, 2018) – untitled, [W] D.J. Milky, [A] Kei Ishiyama. A manga sequel to The Nightmare Before Christmas. This comic is stupid, and I just read it because it was short.

KOBRA #2 (DC, 1976) – “Code Name: Gemini!”, [W] Martin Pasko, [A] Chic Stone. Kobra battles another villain named Solaris, and we learn that Kobra and his twin Jason Burr can feel each other’s sensations. That must make it awkward when Jason has sex with his girlfriend. Kobra was a pointless and stupid concept, and this issue is a chore to read. Pasko said that he “wrote all of Kobra with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek—it was a preposterous exercise dumped in my lap” (Wikipedia). According to that same Wikipedia page, Kobra #1 was fully written and drawn by Kirby, but before it was published, it was extensively rewritten and redrawn. It would be nice if Kirby’s original version of that issue could be published. Some of the original pages from that issue were reprinted in Jack Kirby Collector #22, but I don’t know if the rest of the pages have survived.

BIRTHRIGHT #35 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. Mikey uses his magical talents to defeat Brennan and Kallista, because as much as he hates magic, Mikey is still willing to use it to save his brother. In the flashback, Zoshanna turns herself into an even worse monster. I can’t remember if she ever appeared again, or if so, what happened to her.

HARLEY QUINN #27 (DC, 2016) – “Tool Boxed In,” [W] Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti, [A] John Timms. Harley battles Red Tool, an obvious stand-in for Deadpool. There are some funny jokes in this issue, but Harley and Deadpool are the two most annoyingly overexposed characters at their respective companies, and they’re even more annoying together than alone.

THE FLY #1 (Archie, 1983) – “The Return of the Sinister Spider!”, [W] Jack C. Harris, [A] James Sherman. I didn’t even realize who drew this story until now – I thought it was Rich Buckler, because his name appears second in the credits. Now that I realize it’s Sherman, I actually appreciate the art more. When I thought it was Buckler, I assumed that every panel in the issue was swiped from some other artist. However, I still think this story is rather boring. The first backup story reintroduces the Shield, another old Archie hero. Rich Buckler both wrote and drew this story, and his art is blatantly ripped off from Kirby. The second backup story, starring Mr. Justice, is by Chris Adames and Trevor von Eeden, and it has some extremely awkward page layouts.

CHEVAL NOIR #42 (Dark Horse, 1993) – “Suburban Nightmares: Secrets,” [W/A] Michael Cherkas, [W] Larry Hancock, etc. The highlight of this issue is Cherkas’s disturbing story set in ‘50s America. I’ve never read much of this creator’s work, but maybe it’s worth seeking out more of it. This issue also includes a boring manga chapter by Masashi Tanaka, and “Soup Line” by Antonio Cossu and Michel Jasmin, in which some poor people are served soup which is heavily implied to be made with human meat. By this point in its run, Cheval Noir had mostly abandoned its original mandate to publish high-quality French comics.  

SGT. ROCK #312 (DC, 1978) – “No Name Hill!”, [W] Robert Kanigher, [A] Frank Redondo. Rock and Easy Company are ordered to defend a hill. When they arrive there, they find no hill at all, but then they create a hill of enemy corpses. In the backup story, a pious soldier saves his unit from some Japanese soldiers. This story is uncredited, but I correctly identified its artist as Tom Yeates, and I’m very proud that I got this right.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #280 (DC, 1982) – “General Scar’s Army of Crime!”, [W] Cary Burkett, [A] Rich Buckler. Superman and Batman fight General Scar and his team of military-themed villains (Major Disaster, Captain Sulfur, etc.). This story is just average. The highlight of the issue is Joey Cavalieri and Trevor Von Eeden’s Green Arrow story, in which Ollie saves a woman from a cult. The cult appears to be based on the Moonies, since it holds mass weddings  between strangers. Von Eeden’s draftsmanship is much better here than in some of his other comics, and his unusual page layouts are exciting rather than confusing. Next there’s a terrible Hawkman story by Rozakis and Saviuk, and a Captain Marvel story by E. Nelson Bridwell and Don Newton, which retells Kid Eternity’s origin.

2000 AD #2305 (Rebellion, 2022) – Dredd: as above. A young Judge, Huang, is hailed as the greatest Psi-Judge since Anderson, but she’s assassinated by a Sov agent, Vasilisa. Chimpsky’s Law: as above. Chimpsky saves himself from a fatal fall, but then he’s chased by a mob of Timmy and Thruppence’s mind-controlled slaves. Hope: as above. This chapter reintroduces Hope himself, or at least I think it does, but I have no idea what he’s doing. Enemy Earth: as above. Zoe and Julius travel to the Scottish Highlands in pursuit of a signal from government forces. Hershey: as above. Hershy and Dirty Frank use a tracking device to follow a drug dealer. This is the last issue in the most recent Prog Pack that I received.

SECRET SIX #28 (DC, 2011) – “The Reptile Brain Part 4: The Skull Just Beneath the Flesh,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] Jim Calafiore. Two different Secret Six teams battle each other in hell, and then they team up to fight ̨Machiste from Warlord, who is possessed by Deimos from the same series. At the end of the issue, Amanda Waller manipulates the team in her characteristic fashion. Then Giganta assassinates Dwarfstar, who murdered Giganta’s boyfriend, Ryan Choi,  during the Brightest Day crossover. This issue has some good scenes, but it’s hard to understand.

SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE #26 (DC, 1995) – “Night of the Butcher Act 2,” [W] Matt Wagner & Steven T. Seagle, [A] Guy Davis. Wesley meets Dian Belmont after a long separation, but she doesn’t want to see him. Wesley and the police separately investigate some murders where the criminal appears to have escaped through the sewers. Throughout the issue, Wesley meditates about two of his father’s servants who seemed to have a perfect marriage. A funny moment in this issue is when a sewer worker tells a cop that it’s impractical to travel through the sewers because of the fumes, and the cop replies “Yeah, those fumes’ll kill you” while lighting a cigar.

THE LEGEND OF LUTHER STRODE #3 (Image, 2013) – untitled, [W] Justin Jordan, [A] Tradd Moore. Another issue full of ultraviolent, gruesome mayhem. Again, I want to like this series, but it’s too gory for my tastes.

ANNIHILATION #4 (Legendary, 2014) – “None More Dark,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Frazer Irving. This issue includes some excellent painted art, but like many of Morrison’s recent comics, it makes absolutely no sense at all. The only way I’d be able to understand this series is if I read the whole thing in order, and even then I doubt I’d be able to follow it. Its plot seems to revolve around two supernatural entities called Nomax and Vada.

JLA/HITMAN #2 (DC, 2007) – “On the Darkside Part 2,” [W] Garth Ennis, [A] John McCrea. When the Justice League are depowered by Bloodlines parasites, Hitman is the only one who can save them, since he’s not a superhero, and therefore he’s able to kill enemies. I hate Hitman’s own series, so I was prepared to hate this issue too. But its ending, in which Superman reflects on the now-deceased Hitman’s memory, is surprisingly poignant. Garth Ennis is capable of being a good writer when he’s not wasting his talents on vulgar low comedy.

A VOICE IN THE DARK #1 (Image, 2013) – “Blood Makes Noise Part 1,” [W/A] Larime Taylor. This creator is mostly famous because he’s disabled and he draws by holding a pen in his mouth. However, that’s not the only notable thing about A Voice in the Dark – it also has an intriguing plot. The protagonist, new college student Zoey Aarons, is a murderer, having killed a high school classmate who was bullying her best friend. Now Zoey has constant intrusive fantasies of murdering other people. This issue is an effective piece of psychological horror, and I’d like to read more of this series.

JUNKWAFFEL #4 (Print Mint, 1972) – various stories, [W/A] Vaughn Bodē. This issue is a miscellany consisting of many different features, including a Cobalt-60 story and a series of diagrams of “Tongball” vehicles. None of the stories in this issue are effective uses of the comics medium. They’re either static diagrams, or they consist of illustrations interspersed with excessively long blocks of text. Vaughn Bodē was a brilliant draftsman, but I get the sense that he wasn’t much good at panel-to-panel continuity.  

VANGUARD ILLUSTRATED #6 (Pacific, 1984) – [E] David Scroggy. The best thing in this issue is a four-pager by Joey Cavalieri and George Pérez, a wordless story about teenage graffiti artists. “Struggle’s End” by Rex Lindsey is a boring science fiction story with an art style that’s derivative of Ditko. Peter Milligan and George Freeman’s “The God Run” has some interesting art, but its story feels like an inferior prototype for Milligan’s Sacrament. Bill DuBay and Vince Argondezzi’s “Hump Hammersmith, Buttkicker-at-Large” is as silly as its title suggests.

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