Post-Heroes-Con, pre-Comic-Con reviews

New comics received on Thursday, June 27:

RUNAWAYS #22 (Marvel, 2019) – “But You Can’t Hide IV,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andrés Genolet. Karolina saves a falling window washer. Molly makes another failed attempt to feed Gib. But the main part of the issue focuses on the Chase/Gert/Victor love triangle.  It turns out Chase was waiting for Gert to get older so that their age gap wouldn’t be an issue, and now he’s pissed that she didn’t wait for him. Chase’s angry reaction to Gert and Victor’s relationship is understandable, but he’s clearly wrong to think that he has “dibs” on Gert. Oh, also, Victor resurrects the Doombot, but without the failsafe that stopped it from being evil. Runaways is technically a superhero comic, but in most superhero comics, the soap opera and day-in-the-life elements are secondary to the superheroic action, whereas in Runaways, the exploration of the characters’ relationships is the whole point of the series.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #7 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Life & Death of Conan Part Seven: Barbarian Love,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. Each issue of this storyline has examined on a different aspect of Conan, and this issue explores Conan’s sexy side. Conan hires five prostitutes, but not for the usual reason; instead, he takes them on a mysterious secret mission. We eventually realize that this story takes place just after Bêlit’s death, and Conan is using the five women as part of his plot to assassinate one of Bêlit’s old enemies. Of course, after the mission is accomplished, Conan sleeps with all five women at once. This is actually not the sexiest Conan story I’ve read, but it’s not bad. A line of dialogue at the end of the issue suggests that Conan and Zenobia only had one son; in the earlier Marvel continuity, they also had a second son.

DIAL H FOR HERO #4 (DC, 2019) – “Detroit City Blues,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. This is the most visually striking issue yet, and that’s saying a lot. Miguel and Summer visit the JLA’s old Detroit headquarters, where they find Snapper Carr. Then they’re attacked by robots, and all three of them use the dial. Summer turns into Chimp Change, based on Frank Miller’s Sin City; Snapper turns into Alien Ice Cream Man, based on Moebius; and Miguel becomes Lil Miguelito, based on Dennis the Menace. Disappointed, Miguel dials again and turns into Nancy, Cathy, and Hagar the Horrible. Maybe the highlight of the whole series so far is the panel where Miguel has a Nancy hairstyle, a Hagar the Horrible helmet, and a T-shirt that says SUMMER IS LIT – a reference to the “Sluggo is lit” meme.  Joe Quinones deserves an Eisner nomination for the artistic virtuosity he’s shown in this series, and Sam Humphries’s writing isn’t bad either.

FANTASTIC FOUR #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “License to Quantum Drive,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] four artists. Franklin and Valeria have to take a driving test in order to be able to pilot the Fantasticar. This leads to some massive sibling rivalry, because Valeria is so much smarter than Franklin and seems guaranteed to pass the test, and Franklin resents her for it. Of course, the driving test is interrupted by a villain from Microworld, and Franklin ends up passing the test while Valeria fails. I’m a bit surprised by Dan Slott’s depiction of Franklin, but I think it’s reasonable. For most of his history, Franklin was too young to have a clearly defined personality. His main distinguishing quality was his extreme power, and it makes sense that his loss of that power troubles him so much. Dan Slott seems to share Brian K. Vaughan’s love of water bears.

ISOLA #8 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brenden Fletcher, [W/A] Karl Kerschl, [A] Msassyk. In this issue, Rook falls ill and is nursed by a witch named Miluše. But it soon becomes clear that Miluše kidnapped the kids from the mining town in issue 7. Besides Christian Ward, Karl Kerschl is the best artist in comic books right now. It’s just too bad that this comic comes out so infrequently, because it’s hard to remember what happened last issue.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #4 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. This issue is narrated by Kamala, and explores how Kamala sometimes feels stifled by her parents. I like the sequence where Kamala says “Sometimes, when my head is echoing with everyone else’s stories about me… I have to raise my voice to tell mine.” I’m not from Kamala’s culture, but her relationship with her parents seems very realistic. This issue also includes some further development of her relationship with Bruno, though he only appears in flashback. The plot isn’t as interesting as the characterization; the main event is that the Beast Legions turn out to be real. By the way, this is off-topic, but I just read David Low’s book chapter about the depiction of charter schools in Bendis and Pichelli’s first Miles Morales story. I don’t believe Saladin’s Miles Morales series has ever commented on the politics of charter schools, and I think it would be nice if he examined this question. I’ll say more about this the next time I write a review of Miles Morales.

STEEL CAGE #1 (Ahoy, 2019) – three stories, [E] Tom Peyer. This comic’s gimmick is “3 Comics Enter… 1 Comic Leaves!” It includes three stories by different creators, and readers are invited to vote on which of them should become an ongoing series. The first story, Peyer and Alan Robinson’s “True Identity,” stars a Superman knock-off who represents the next-to-last stage in human evolution. So he’s far more evolved than normal humans, but still feels inferior in comparison to the ultimate humans who created him. Next is Stuart Moore and Peter Gross’s “Bright Boy,” starring a brilliant but insufferable scientist who repeatedly saves the world, but leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. Finally, Mark Waid and Lanna Souvanny’s “Noah Zark” features a young space explorer who’s searching for homes for his menagerie of bizarre alien creatures. But he doesn’t know where to find his own home, Earth. After reading this issue, I immediately went online and voted for Noah Zark. This series’s premise is touching, and Lanna Souvanny’s alien creatures are adorably weird. I really want to see more of this comic. True Identity’s premise is intriguing, but seems to have limited potential. Meanwhile, Bright Boy has a loathsome protagonist, and I’m not sure what its main premise is. However, I definitely plan on buying whichever of these comics wins the contest.

MARILYN MANOR #1 (IDW, 2019) – “Living on Video,” [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Marley Zarcone. Mags Visaggio’s latest new series is about the president’s daughter, a bratty teenager who enjoys throwing parties in the White House and dodging her Secret Service agent. The president in this story is a sort of combination of Kennedy and Clinton, but like Morning in America, the series is set in the ‘80s. This comic is a lot of fun, but feels less deep and substantial than Mags’s other work.

ASCENDER #3 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. Andy and Mila’s journey to Telsa is interrupted by flashbacks to Mila’s birth and infancy. The last of these flashbacks shows how Effie got killed. Incidentally, I can’t recall if Andy and Effie ever had sex during the Descender series, and I wonder if Mila was conceived before they got divorced. At the end of the issue, Bandit shows off its previously unknown “guard dog” mode.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #44 (Marvel, 2019) – “Your Place in the World,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Alitha E. Martinez. Lunella accidentally time-travels to the 1960s, where she meets her own grandmother, JoJo. In a rather sad development, she has to prevent her grandmother from taking an advanced placement test, rather than allow the timeline to be compromised. Because this is a time travel story with a black female protagonist, it calls Octavia Butler’s Kindred to mind; however, Montclare doesn’t explicitly refer to racial issues. (Actually it’ s kind of progressive how this series doesn’t present Lunella as unusual or different because of her race.) Doctor Strange appears in the ‘60s sequence as an adult. I initially thought this was a huge continuity problem – how can he be so much older than Lunella’s grandmother? – but it turns out he also got there by time travel.

BOOKS OF MAGIC #9 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Storytime, [W] Kat Howard, [A] Tom Fowler. Another complete waste of an issue, full of scenes that could have been narrated in one page, but are stretched out across three or four pages. The scene where Ellie escapes from a prison made of words is kind of cool, but it wasn’t worth a whole issue. Also, Kat Howard missed an opportunity for something even cooler. Instead of burning the words, Ellie could have escaped by rewriting them; for example, the words include “lock” and “unbreakable,” so she could have just changed them to “unlock” and “breakable.” I’m not getting issue 10.

MARVEL RISING #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Heroes of the Round Table!”, [W] Nilah Magruder, [A] Roberto Di Salvo & Georges Duarte. Another extremely disappointing issue. It’s just a completely generic superhero comic. The characters are impossible to tell apart, the fights are boring, the humor is unfunny, and nothing about this comic is creative or original. Marvel’s younger readers deserve much better than this. In a flashback in this issue, we see that King Arthur killed Morgaine le Fay’s mother. That was a weird thing for him to do, since Morgaine’s mother was King Arthur’s mother too. Maybe this will be explained next issue, but I won’t be reading that issue.

XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS #2 (Dynamite, 2019) – untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Olympia Sweetman. I thought I hadn’t ordered this, but it turned out I did order it, and my copy slipped between some boxes. It’s a thoroughly average comic, of interest only to existing Xena fans.

WONDER WOMAN #73 (DC, 2019) – “The Queen and the Empress,” [W] Steve Orlando, [A] Aaron Lopestri. This is a fill-in issue, but not a bad one. Steve Orlando was a good Wonder Woman writer, though not as good as Willow. This issue explains what Dimension Chi is: an evil mirror universe created by Hippolyta. Most of the issue is a flashback in which Hippolyta battles her evil duplicate with the aid of a young Diana.

MY LITTLE PONY: SPIRIT OF THE FOREST #2 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Brenda Hickey. The CMC disguise themselves as the Spirit of the Forest and convince Filthy Rich to close down the lumber mill, but Filthy Rich discovers the deception and reopens the mill. Throughout the issue the CMC’s big sisters are notably unsympathetic and unhelpful. There’s a cute metatextual moment on page one, when Applejack correctly predicts that there’s about to be a crisis.

EVE STRANGER #2 (IDW, 2019) – “Nowhere to Run,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Philip Bond. In flashbacks, we learn that Eve’s superpowers and memory loss are the result of her father’s nanotech. Also, Eve has some more bizarre adventures, including escorting a little person through the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Philip Bond’s artwork continues to be amazing. Eve calls her father Pabbi, and he calls her Fiflar; these terms appear to be Icelandic.

THE TERRIFICS #17 (DC, 2019) – “The God Game, Part 3,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Stephen Segovia. The Terrifics fight some more plagues. This series is no longer as good as when Jeff Lemire was writing it, but it’s good enough to continue reading. Considering what the tenth plague was, Plastic Man’s firstborn son is in some danger.

TRANSMETROPOLITAN #36 (Vertigo, 2000) – “Gouge Away Part Three,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Darick Robertson. Spider Jerusalem has just implicated a presidential aide in a sex scandal. This issue, the aide commits suicide, and the White House goes into crisis mode. Spider’s employer fires him, but Spider already has an escape plan prepared. There’s also a scene in this issue where a woman is killed by a sniper, probably the same one from #44. Transmetropolitan does three things really well: it has a bizarre and funny setting, Spider Jerusalem is a fascinating protagonist, and the series investigates serious questions about journalism and truth.

PUNKS NOT DEAD: LONDON CALLING #5 (Black Crown, 2019) – “…To the Underworld,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Martin Simmonds. Julie dies and goes to the afterlife with Beleth. Sid survives – if that’s the right word, since he was already dead – and he and Fergie head off to New York. This was another really fun miniseries with great art, and I hope there’s another sequel. Asif’s father’s story about the snow leopard woman appears to be based on a story collected by the anthropologist John Mock: https://snowleopardconservancy.org/text/myth/pakmyths.htm. All the Google hits for the place name “Lenarz Keshk” are references to this source.

SECRET ROMANCE #37 (Charlton, 1976) – “Bus Ride Blues,” [W] unknown, [A] Demetrio Sánchez Gómez, plus two other stories. The stories in this issue are of no interest, but the first story has some fascinating art. Demetrio Sánchez Gómez is very similar to Enrique Nieto because he was a Spanish artist whose only U.S. work was for Charlton, and he put much more effort into his work than was justified by Charlton’s page rates. In “Bus Ride Blues,” Demetrio shows great skill at drawing clothing and hair, and he draws a lot of abstract decorative swirls in the background. As a result, his pages look kind of like psychedelic posters or something. The second story in the issue is by Nicholas and Alascia, and the third one is by Jorge Badia Romero, the brother of the Modesty Blaise artist Enrique Romero.

VICTOR LAVALLE’S DESTROYER #5 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] Victor LaValle, [A] Dietrich Smith. There’s a lot of fascinating stuff in this issue, but the most fascinating thing is the flashback to Akai’s murder. It turns out that a woman called the cops on him because she saw him walking down her street with a baseball bat, and she mistook him for an adult with a rifle. And her willful blindness had tragic consequences. In a sense, the police are the same sort of destructive monstrosity as Destroyer’s fictional Frankenstein creatures. As previously stated, this is a brilliant comic, and it might be a good comic to teach.

WAR OF THE REALMS: NEW AGENTS OF ATLAS #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Fire and Ice Chapter 4,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Gang Hyuk Lim, Moy R. & Pop Mhan. The Agents of Atlas defeat the Queen of Cinders, and it turns out that Pele is a simulacrum, not the real thing. And that leads us into the next miniseries. This issue is mostly just fight scenes rather than character interactions, but I do like the characterization of Sun Wukong as a showboating attention seeker.

THOR #14 (Marvel, 2019) – “To Hell with Hammers,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Scott Hepburn. Malekith has kidnapped Odin and Freya and has magically prevented anyone except Thor from coming to rescue them. So Thor recruits his past and future selves, as well as Jane Foster, as his allies. During the course of the ensuing fight with Malekith-plus-Venom, Thor’s younger self becomes worthy to lift Mjolnir for the first time. This is a pretty fun issue, with lots of funny dialogue between Thor’s three selves.

WAR OF THE REALMS #6 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Storm of Thors,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Russell Dauterman. This issue retells some of the same events as Thor #14, but from a different perspective – Thor #14 was narrated by the younger Thor. In War of the Realms #4, Thor forges a new Mjolnir out of the last chip of the old one, and uses it to finally defeat Malekith. Afterward, Thor becomes the new All-Father. This is kind of a predictable conclusion, since we all knew Thor would get Mjolnir back eventually. But War of the Realms is better than a typical crossover because it’s the culmination of seven years of Thor comics, and it has a top-tier creative team. It’s a reasonable conclusion to the second or third best era of Thor.

BLACK PANTHER #13 (Marvel, 2019) – “Two Thousand Seasons,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Daniel Acuna. Another issue in which not a lot happens, except that the Wakandans from Earth-616 finally contact T’Challa. Surprisingly, one of the highlights of TNC’s Black Panther run is Storm. I always thought T’Challa and Ororo’s marriage was a publicity stunt, but TNC writes Storm really well, and he makes me believe that she and T’Challa love each other.

MR. & MRS. X #12 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Lady & the Tiger Part 2,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Javier Pina. Rogue and Gambit defeat Belladonna and Candra, then return home to their cats. It turns out they’re not ready for kids yet, but maybe someday. This was a truly entertaining series, probably Marvel’s most realistic portrayal of a married couple, and I’m sorry it only lasted twelve issues. It was too good for the current industry.

GLOW #3 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tini Howard, [A] Hannah Templer. This issue is a spotlight on Carmen, one of the GLOW girls, who takes it upon herself to become the coach of the others.  Glow is a reasonably enjoyable comic, but the cast is so large that it’s impossible to remember all the character’s names, and only a few of them get any significant development.

LETTER 44 #16 (Oni, 2015) – untitled, [W] Charles Soule, [A] Alberto Jiménez Albuquerque. Two major events this issue: newborn Astra has a heart-to-heart talk with her mother, and the President stops his Secret Service agent from kidnapping the First Lady. Then the First Lady murders the agent in cold blood, and I don’t blame her at all. This is a really entertaining and well-written series, but I wish I wasn’t reading it out of order.

CANTO #1 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] David M. Booher, [A] Drew Zucker. I was skeptical about this series because I don’t like its art style, but Canto #1 is a strong debut. Canto is an example of clockwork fantasy, if there is such a genre. Its protagonists are nameless clockwork robots who are enslaved by a race of beast-men. One of them gives himself a name and falls in love, and he goes on a quest to retrieve his lover’s stolen heart. Canto is a powerful and evocative story, although at times its storytelling is hard to follow. I couldn’t understand the sequence where Canto picks up the stone and then the beast knocks it out of his hand.

ANIMOSITY #13 (Aftershock, 2018) – “Howl,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Rafael De Latorre. This series concludes the story arc about the bee colony, and then at the end, an older man kidnaps Jesse and takes her to the Walled City. I’ve already stated what I think about this series, but the bee story is better than most Animosity comics, because it revolves around animals that have an alien way of thinking. Most of the animals in Animosity act exactly like humans, and that’s one of the major flaws of the series.

ANIMOSITY: EVOLUTION #3 (Aftershock, 2018) – “Lex Animata: Part 1,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Eric Gapstur. This is a more typical issue of Animosity. In this issue, an important witness in a corruption trial is murdered by a poison-arrow frog, which gets into the witness’s room by crawling through the vents. This is an example of the absurdity of this comic’s premise. Animals can do literally anything, and therefore, there are no meaningful constraints on what can happen in this comic’s plot. As a tangent, this year I’ve been trying to read every new comic book I receive each week, before the next week’s shipment arrives. I’ve mostly succeeded, and because of this, if I’m not enjoying a comic, I can quit ordering it immediately. In the past I didn’t have this policy, and as a result, I often kept ordering comics out of a sense of obligation, even though I hadn’t read the earlier issues of those comics. That’s how I ended up with so many unread issues of Animosity, as well as other comics like DC Comics Bombshells, Ringside, Curse Words, Black Cloud, etc.

SUPERGIRL #71 (DC, 2002) – “Pyramid Schemes,” [W] Peter David, [A] Jamal Igle. At this point in the series, Linda Danvers and Mary Marvel are searching for Supergirl, who has become a separate entity from Linda. They follow Supergirl to the Mexican archaeological site of Teotihuacan, where they fight some native people who have traveled forward in time. That leads us into…

SUPERGIRL #72 (DC, 2002) – “Spiders and Snakes,” [W] Peter David, [A] Leonard Kirk. Linda and Mary battle the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, along with a spider deity. The Pyramid Schemes/Spiders and Snakes two-parter is impressive because of Linda and Mary’s interactions and because of PAD’s use of Jewish mysticism. PAD makes intelligent use of concepts like the Shekhinah and the angel Metatron. What’s less impressive about this series is its depiction of ancient Mexican natives as bloody savages. Obviously even the most extreme moral relativists will have trouble defending human sacrifice. However, this comic implies that Aztecs practiced human sacrifice solely because they wanted to be evil.

STUMPTOWN #8 (Oni, 2015) – “The Case of a Cup of Joe: Part Three,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Justin Greenwood. In this installment of the coffee story, Dex defeats an attempt to steal her coffee beans, but then her awful sister pretends to have been kidnapped in order to extort Dex for reward money. This issue is full of coffee jokes. Overall, “The Case of a Cup of Joe” is an excellent story, perhaps the high point of Stumptown volume three. See below for more thoughts about the Stumptown series.

ARTBABE #1 (Fantagraphics, 1997) – “As I Live and Breathe,” [W/A] Jessica Abel. I believe I have this story in the Mirror, Window collection, but I’ve had that book for years without reading it. I’m much more likely to read comic books than graphic novels. “As I Live and Breathe” is a slice-of-life story about an awkward relationship. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s a sensitive and nuanced story about relationships. It demonstrates Jessica’s intelligence and her ability to see multiple perspectives.

X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN – X-TINCTION #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Ed Piskor. This issue covers everything up to the X-Tinction Agenda, But when we get to the end of that story arc, it doesn’t end the way it did in the published comics. Instead, the U.S. drops a bunch of nukes on Genosha, and this triggers the Days of Future Past timeline. The series ends with the adult Kitty Pryde being sent back in time to the past. It’s suggested that her mission succeeds, and that from this point, things are going to happen the same way they did in the 616 universe. I’m not sure how to interpret this ending, but it feels like instead of adapting the actual end of Claremont’s X-Men, Ed is trying to imagine what would have happened if Claremont had been able to continue his story. Claremont had plans for X-Men #300 and beyond, but he fired or was quit after #279. And even before that point, Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio had already taken over the plotting, according to Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Therefore, X-Men: Grand Design offers us an intriguing glimpse of how Claremont’s “grand design” might have continued, if he had been allowed to tell it.

THE AVANT-GUARDS #6 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carly Usdin, [A] Noah Hayes. The Avant-Guards defeat the College of Endocrinology, then their next game is against the Royal Academy of Punk Rock. But in one of the funniest moments in the series, the punks forfeit the game because they can’t be bothered to wear regulation uniforms. Finally, the Avant-Guards lose in a heartbreaker to the Institute of Internet Influencers. Of course there’s also a ton of relationship drama. The Avant-Guards is an entertaining series that reminds me a bit of Giant Days. I especially like all the weird other colleges in this issue.

SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Spider-Ham in : Boared Again!”, [W] Jason Latour, [A] David Lafuente. Based on the cover, you would think this was Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham #1, and it stars that character. This annual is full of animal jokes, many of which went over my head – accordnig to the beginning of the issue, you can get a No-Prize for identifying all the animal-themed villains, nut I was not able to do it. David Lafuente’s artwork is reasonably good. But I think Jason Latour overestimates how funny Spider-Ham is, and overall I was not thrilled with this issue.

MIRACLEMAN #14 (Eclipse, 1988) – “Book III Chapter Four: Pantheon,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] John Totleben. A ton of stuff happens in this issue. Winter heads off to outer space, the Firedrake Huey Moon is introduced, Liz leaves Michael Moran for good, and then Michael says “Kimota” for the last time and symbolically commits suicide. That all happens by page ten, out of a sixteen-page story. But the most significant event this issue is when Johnny Bates is raped by his classmates, and saves himself by turning into Kid Miracleman. And then he kills not only his tormentors, but also the one person who was nice to him, and we all know what he goes on to do next.  As noted in my review of issue 13 above, Miracleman is an idiot; after he heard Johnny say “Miracleman” without transforming (in issue 2), he naively assumed that Johnny was no threat, and allowed him to be neglected and abused. As a result, the blood of every murdered person in London is on Miracleman’s hands. This issue also includes a backup story by Doug Moench and Jim Sullivan, which reads like a rejected submission to Alien Worlds or Twisted Tales. I now have every issue of Miracleman up to #14, but an interesting quandary is whether I should hang on to my Marvel reprints of #13 and #14, now that I have the originals. Those issues include some reprinted Mick Anglo stories, but I wouldn’t have bought them if I’d already had the original Eclipse issues.

GHOST TREE #3 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Bobby Curnow, [A] Simon Gane. It turns out Bobby Curnow is the editor of the My Little Pony comics, so I’d like to interview him sometime. However, Ghost Tree is a pretty average comic. The only thing I really like about it is Simon Gane’s art, and even that’s not as good as his art on They’re Not Like Us.

INVISIBLES #2 (Vertigo, 1994) – “Down and Out in Heaven and Hell Part 1,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. Dane McGowan meets Tom o’Bedlam, the same one from Macbeth, who gives him a basic education in being an Invisible. At the end of the issue, Dane encounters some men in dark glasses and fox-hunting clothes. The highlight of this issue is Tom o’Bedlam’s brilliantly written dialogue. He has a fantastically bizarre speech pattern, and even when he’s not directly quoting Shakespeare, he sounds like he is. His best line is “Could you give us some money? I won’t lie, sir, it’s for drink. I’m alcoholic and must have drink, that’s all.” Invisibles #3 also includes the first reference to Barbelith.

SUPERGIRL #22 (DC, 1998) – “Comet’s Tale,” [W] Peter David, [A] Leonard Kirk. In this issue PAD comes up with a funny way to rehabilitate a rather embarrassing and creepy old character. His version of Comet the Super-Horse is a jockey who was paralyzed in a racing accident and was “healed” by being implanted with horse DNA. Other than that, this is an average comic. I have other unread issues of PAD’s Supergirl, and I’m more likely to read them now that I understand the premise of the series.

BONE #11 (Cartoon Books, 1994) – untitled, [W/A] Jeff Smith. I read this after reading Annette Wannamaker’s brilliant book chapter “‘ This Is a Well-Loved Book’: Weighing (in on) Jeff Smith’s Bone,” which analyzes the different materialities of the various versions of Bone. (For full disclosure, I also wrote a chapter of the book in which this essay appeared.) I already had the Image reprint of Bone #11, and the Cartoon Books version of that issue is exactly the same as the Image version; they even both include the same letters page. The only difference is that the Cartoon Books printing has different ads.

CRIMINAL #5 (Marvel, 2008) – “Bad Night Part Two,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. I should have read this before issue 6. This issue, Iris and her boyfriend Danny force Jacob (who is indeed the same Jacob from “Bad Weekend”) to make them a fake FBI badge. Then Danny strongarms Jacob into accompanying them on a heist. Afterward, when things inevitably go badly, Iris and Jacob are forced to kill Danny. This issue creates a powerful sense of suspense: Jacob is terrified of Danny, but can’t report him to the police because of his own criminal history. There’s also a gimmick where the Dick Tracy-esque protagonist of jacob’s comic strip keeps appearing and giving him advice.

DEADFACE #1 (Harrier, 1987) – untitled (“Immortality Isn’t Forever Part 1,” [W/A] Eddie Campbell. This is the same story as Bacchus #1 (1995), which I already have. However, the 1987 printing of “Immortality Isn’t Forever” is very different from the later versions, because the reprinted versions are extensively redrawn. Most notably, in the 1995 version, Bacchus is redrawn to have a much bulkier body and a more sardonic, world-weary facial expression. In the 1987 version, Bacchus looked like a skinny scarecrow, and his facial expressions were manic and half-crazed. See https://www.instagram.com/p/BzZU14ah_nr/for an example of the differences between the two versions. As a result, these these two comics have exactly the same dialogue, the same visual content, and even the same lettering, and yet they feel like different comics. Comparing the two versions offers a fascinating example of how even minor alterations to a comic can completely change the way it looks and feels.

FLASH GORDON #25 (Gold Key, 1979) – “Volcano!”, [W] Gary Poole, [A] Carlos Garzón. This comic has a pretty formulaic story, but Carlos Garzón’s artwork is quite good. He’s mostly remembered today as an inker and assistant to Al Williamson, but he was one of the foremost comics artists in his native Colombia. His artwork in this issue is very similar to Williamson’s, to the point where it’s hard to tell the difference if you don’t look too closely.

INVISIBLES #3 (Vertigo, 1994) – “Down and Out in Heaven and Hell Part 2,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. Tom hangs out with Danny some more, and shows him a bunch of weird visions. Tom gives a weird speech about how cities are viruses, and then he tells Danny that they’re going to jump off the Canary Wharf building. Steve Yeowell’s artwork in this storyline is quite sober and ordinary, creating a contrast with the bizarre writing.

HEAD LOPPER #12 (Image, 2019) – “Head Lopper and the Knights of Venora, Part 4,” [W/A] Andrew MacLean. Norgal and Brishka fight a bunch of giant flying snakes, Norgal uses the power of Agatha’s head to save Venora, and at the end of the issue, some mysterious figure on a throne learns that Norgal is alive. I’m glad this story arc is over because it was very difficult to follow. A complicated plot and a quarterly publication schedule don’t mix.

TRUE BELIEVERS: SPIDER-MAN VS. MYSTERIO #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Menace of… Mysterio!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Steve Ditko. A reprint of Mysterio’s first appearance from Amazing Spider-Man #13. I already had the issue of Spider-Man Classics that reprinted this story, but the True Believers reprint has the original cover and is printed on better paper. The best part of ASM #13 is the scene where Peter flirts with Liz, and then Flash says Liz is beautiful with her new hairstyle, and she says (in a word balloon with an icy border), “Really, Mister Thompson?? And what was I before, pray tell?”

THOR #131 (Marvel, 1966) – “They Strike from Space!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. A great comic which is unfortunately hampered by the worst inker in comics history, whose name will not be mentioned here. On the first page, Thor and Hercules teleport into Olympus, and there’s a giant expanse of white space below their feet. I have little doubt that Kirby originally drew something there, and the inker erased it. Otherwise, this is a good issue that leads directly into the classic Ego/Black Galaxy storyline. This issue, Tana Nile reveals herself as a Rigellian Colonizer. The Colonizers are both awe-inspiring and funny, reminding me of some of Kirby’s later ‘70s creations. I especially like the scene where an old lady sees one of the Rigellians and says “Can this be one of those avant-garde New York happenings that I sometimes read about?” This story also includes a collage panel, though it’s printed so dark that it’s hard to appreciate. In addition, this issue has a Tales of Asgard backup story, about Harokin and the Warlock’s Eye (not the same as the Evil Eye).

HUNGRY GHOSTS #2 (Dark Horse, 2018) – “Salty Horse” and “The Heads,” [W] Anthony Bourdain & Joel Rose, [A] Leonardo Manco and Mateus Santolouco. I wasn’t impressed with the first issue of this miniseries, but #2 is better because it combines humor with horror. “Salty Horse” is about a wealthy horse breeder who’s so obsessed with horsemeat that he eats all his horses, and is finally possessed by a horse ghost. Leonardo Manco makes horsemeat look delicious, so that we feel that the protagonist’s problem is not that he eats horse in the first place, but that he overindulges in it. The backup story, about floating head demons, is not as good. I just read Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential after reading this comic, and it turns out he was a skilled writer of both fiction and memoirs, as well as being a celebrity chef.

NEOZOIC #5 (Red 5, 2008) – “Outside Bad, Inside Worse,” [W] Paul Ens, [A] J. Korim. A boring fantasy story about dinosaurs, with ugly lettering. This comic was published by the same company as Atomic Robo, but it ain’t Atomic Robo.

HENCHGIRL #9 (Scout, 2016) – untitled, [W/A] Kristen Gudsnuk. I already have the trade paperback of Henchgirl, so I feel kind of guilty for having bought one of the single issues, but it was only 50 cents. Also, Kristen Gudsnuk’s work is so dense that it’s hard to read in large doses; it’s full of sight gags and hidden messages. I read the Henchgirl collection so quickly that it was hard to fully appreciate it. Therefore, I don’t mind reading it again. In this issue, Mary Posa/Henchgirl saves her parents and her golden-girl sister from a villain named Gunpowder. But she kills Gunpowder while doing it, so instead of getting any credit, she gets arrested.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #115 (Marvel, 1969) – “Now Begins the Nightmare!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] John Buscema. The Red Skull gets the Cosmic Cube again and uses it to torment Cap, including switching his and Cap’s minds. John Buscema’s art in this issue is excellent, but the plot depends on the Red Skull being an idiot. Like Green Lantern’s ring, the Cosmic Cube has no limits except its wielder’s imagination, and every time the Red Skull gets the Cosmic Cube, he can’t imagine anything to do with it except humiliate Cap.

G.I. JOE #76 (Marvel, 1988) – “All’s Fair,” [W] Larry Hama, [A] Ron Wagner. The G.I. Joes intervene in the Cobra civil war between Cobra Commander and Serpentor. G.I. Joe #76 is much better than #37 because it feels realistic. Despite the wildly implausible characters, vehicles and weapons, it feels like an accurate depiction of war, from the perspective of both strategists and common soldiers. The war is resolved when Zartan kills Serpentor by shooting him in the eye with an arrow, as supposedly happened to Harold Godwinson at Hastings. Serpentor’s gimmick is that he keeps making references to military history. However, at one point he mistakenly claims that “von Student” tried to assassinate Hitler despite having just one eye and one arm. Here either Larry Hama or Serpentor has confused Kurt Student with Claus von Stauffenberg. One of the Joes appearing in this issue is a stealth pilot, and there’s a running joke where no one can remember his name. The explanation is that this character’s official name was “Ghost Rider.” Marvel didn’t want to refer to him by name because they already had a different character named Ghost Rider. So instead Larry came up with a joke where Ghost Rider, the G.I. Joe character, was so stealthy that no one could remember his name.

STUMPTOWN #2 (Oni, 2014) – “The Case of the King of Clubs, Part 2,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Justin Greenwood. Dex investigates the beating of a fan at a Portland Timbers game, and encounters rumors that Seattle soccer fans might be responsible. This would be the MLS’s worst nightmare because it could lead to European-style football violence. Stumptown is one of Greg Rucka’s less ambitious projects, but also one of his best, despite Justin Greenwood’s pedestrian art. Stumptown creates a powerful sense of local specificity, and it makes the reader feel affection for Dex, her disabled brother, and their city.

STRANGE ADVENTURES #209 (DC, 1968) – “How Many Times Can a Guy Die? Part 3,” [W] Jack Miller, [A] Neal Adams. As uusal, Neal’s artwork on this issue is incredible. He was head and shoulders above any other DC artist at the time. I especially like the opening two pages, a silent sequence in which where a worker removes a poster of Boston Brand and replaces it with a poster of an acrobat called the Eagle. This issue follows the typical Deadman formula where Deadman mistakes a criminal – in this case, the aforementioned Eagle – for his killer. During the climactic fight scene, Deadman seems to temporarily forget that he can jump out of the body he’s occupying and possess the Eagle’s body.

INCREDIBLE HULK #128 (Marvel, 1970) – “And in This Corner… the Avengers!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Herb Trimpe. The Hulk is traveling underground in the direction of the San Andreas fault, and the Avengers are summoned to prevent the Hulk from starting an earthquake. This leads to an entertaining fight scene. Herb Trimpe’s art in this era of Hulk comics was fantastic. This issue may have been the first time the Hulk met the Vision.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #219 (Dell, 1958) – untitled coyote story, [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. I love how I can actually afford to own comics with original Carl Barks stories. In this issue’s Barks ten-pager, Donald and the nephews are staying at Grandma’s farm when a baby coyote starts eating Grandma’s chickens. The ducks try to tame the coyote, but it turns out to be much smarter and fiercer than them. The coyote’s thoughts are depicted using visual thought balloons, a device I haven’t seen Barks using elsewhere. Otherwise this story is a light but funny piece of slapstick. This issue also includes a Mickey Mouse story by Paul Murry, along with some lesser material.

SANDMAN #3 (DC, 1989) – “…Dream a Little Dream of Me,” [W] Neil Gaiman, [A] Sam Kieth & Mike Dringenberg. Morpheus requests John Constantine’s aid to get back his missing pouch of dust. The first Sandman story arc shows some of what TVTropes calls “Early Installment Weirdness.” In this storyline Morpheus acts like a superhero with well-defined powers (e.g. the ability to travel through dreams) and accessories (the helmet, pouch and ruby). Later in the series, Morpheus’s superhero trappings tended to be taken for granted, and Morpheus himself was often de-emphasized in favor of the other characters around him. However, Sandman #3 still has some really good writing, and the interactions between Sandman and Constantine are entertaining. I especially like how throughout the issue, whenever the radio is on, it’s playing a song about the Sandman or dreams.

THE INVISIBLES #4 (DC, 1994) – “Down and Out in Heaven and Hell Part 3,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. Tom o’Bedlam dies and bequeaths his position to Dane McGowan, a.k.a. Jack Frost. Dane/Jack meets the other Invisibles for the first time, including King Mob and Ragged Robin. This first story arc is a good introduction to the series, though I still don’t get just what the Invisibles are fighting against.

TRANSMETROPOLITAN #20 (Vertigo, 1999) – “The New Scum 2: New City,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Darick Robertson. This issue consists of a bunch of loosely related scenes which all revolve around the upcoming presidential election. Spider saves a man from being stoned to death by Christian fundamentalists, then gets hit by an “information bomb,” then later there’s a splash page depicting a cannibal restaurant called “Top of the Food Chain.” In the stoning scene, one of the fundamentalists gives a long list of sins, one of which is “fogletism.” I thought this was some kind of inside joke, but apparently a “foglet” is a type of nanotech creature that was introduced in an earlier issue. At the end of the issue, Spider is offered an interview with the President.

STARSTRUCK #5 (IDW, 2010) – “Hugs and Kisses,” [W] Elaine Lee, [A] Michael Wm. Kaluta. On her 21st birthday, Molly/Galatia 9 is imprisoned, then allowed to escape on the orders of her evil sister. There’s also a Galactic Girl Guides backup story. Starstruck is a fascinating series with beautiful art, though it’s very dense and difficult.

THE UNWRITTEN #24 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Stairway to Heaven,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. This issue was deservedly nominated for an Eisner. It’s a standalone issue starring Pauly Bruckner, who was imprisoned in a storybook by Wilson Taylor, as previously depicted in issue 12. In “Stairway to Heaven,” Pauly escapes into a world where a bunch of fairytale animals are climbing an endless stairway. He becomes their leader and the lover of the Moomintroll-esque Quark Maiden, who narrates the story. He even has three kittens by her, but at the end of the story, he cravenly abandons the other animals and escapes. However, Quark Maiden and the other animals take inspiration from him and continue their quest. Peter Gross’s artwork in this issue an amazing combination of lighthearted fairytale whimsy and Gothic grimness, thanks in large part to the finishes by Al Davison.

SAUCER COUNTRY #9 (Vertigo, 2013) – “The Reticulan Candidate Part Two,” [W] Paul Cornell, [A] Ryan Kelly. Some dude tries to assassinate Arcadia, the presidential candidate who is this series’ main protagonist. There’s also a plot thread that explains the origin of the “men in black” trope. This series is okay, but not nearly as good as another comic that blended science fiction with politics, Letter 44.

WYTCHES #4 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Jock. Sailor has been kidnapped by a witch, and her parents are scrambling to find her.I read this issue and #3 in the wrong order, but it doesn’t matter because I don’t like this series anyway; I think Snyder is a very overrated writer. Jock’s art in this comic is actually kind of pedestrian, but includes some striking coloring effects.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #135 (Marvel, 1971) – “More Monster than Man!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Gene Colan. I bought this years ago, but never read it because of its poor condition. In this issue, Cap and Falcon battle a scientist named Dr. Gorbo who turns himself into a human ape. Curiously, Dr. Gorbo already looks like an ape even in his human form. Gene Colan’s artwork in this issue is amazing, perhaps due to very precise inking by Tom Palmer.

GREEN LANTERN CORPS #44 (DC, 2010) – “Red Badge of Rage Part 2,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [A] Patrick Gleason. A bunch of Green Lanterns battle Guy Gardner, who has been turned into a Red Lantern. Despite having the same creative team as Super Sons, this is a pretty boring crossover installment.

MADAME XANADU #16 (Vertigo, 2009) – “Broken House of Cards Chapter One: Ladise’ Harm Journal,” [W] Matt Wagner, [A] Amy Reeder Hadley. In 1957, a housewife is experiencing bizarre magical effects. She consults Madame Xanadu, who discovers that someone has cursed her. I disliked this issue at first because of its shallow depiction of ‘50s domesticity; it seems much less historically accurate than Lady Killer or Hex Wives. However, Wagner and Reeder Hadley do a good job of arousing the reader’s curiosity. By the end of the issue, I was really curious as to who cursed Mrs. Reynolds and why.

DETECTIVE COMICS #820 (DC, 2006) – “Face the Face Part 7 of 8,” [W] James Robinson, [A] Leonard Kirk & Andy Clarke. James Robinson had a bizarre career trajectory. In the ‘90s he wrote Starman, the best DC superhero comic of its time, as well as Leave It to Chance, an excellent kids’ comic. But none of his subsequent comics was anywhere near that level, and some of them, like Justice League, Cry for Justice, were horrendous. Detective Comics #820 is such an average comic that it would be hard to even summarize what it’s about. The main event is that Scarecrow makes Batman and Robin think they’re fighting other versions of themselves, and also Superboy-Prime.

SUPERMAN #700 (DC, 2010) – “The Comeback,” [W] James Robinson, [A] Bernard Chang, plus two other stories. This issue begins with a boring story where Superman saves Lois from the Parasite. Next, “Geometry” by Dan Jurgens, is the best of this issue’s three stories, though it’s much more about Robin than Superman. The last story, by J. Michael Straczynski and Eddy Barrows, a woman slaps Superman at a press conference. She explains that her husband died of a cancer that only Superman could have cured, because Superman was away in space. As a result of this, Superman decides that he’s lost touch with the common people, and he decides to spend some time seeing the real world. This entire story is a bunch of emotionally manipulative nonsense. If Superman hadn’t been doing whatever he was doing in space, many more people would have died. There have been many far better and more subtle treatments of the theme of superheroes failing to save people. See for example Superman vol. 2 #64, in which Superman fails to save a man from dying of a brain tumor. But instead of feeling guilty, Superman accepts the fact that he can’t save everyone. (Other less directly relevant examples are Spectacular Spider-Man #310 or Flash #87-89). Worse, this story is the prologue to “Grounded,” the worst Superman story ever published.

New comics received on Saturday, July 6:

GIANT DAYS #52 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. Esther has her job interview, but discovers that investment banking is not for her. Esther leverages her connections with Ken Lord to get Shelley Winters a publishing contract, and in return, one of Ken’s friends hires Esther for a publishing position. Giant Days #52 is another brilliant issue of a comic that will be sorely missed. The best part of the issue is when Esther’s future coworkers talk about attending a “money and cocaine party”.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #46 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. I complain sometimes about Ryan North’s writing style, but this issue reminds me what a brilliant writer he is. At the start of the issue, Squirrel Girl reveals her plan to defeat the frost giants by eliminating their food source, which, as she explains, is the same way the province of Alberta got rid of rats. Alberta is so cold that there’s nothing there for rats to eat, except humans’ food, and the Alberta government takes aggressive measures to exterminate any rats found on houses or farms. When I read this sequence, I hadn’t heard of Alberta’s control policy before, but I instantly knew that Ryan North’s description of it must be accurate. He wouldn’t put something like that in his comic unless it was true. And indeed his account is substantially true. Ryan’s prose style is condescending sometimes, but he shows utmost respect for his readers by always providing them with accurate facts. And somehow those facts are always weirder than anything he could make up. Anyway, on the next page Ryan mentions “the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea.” I love Stan Rogers’s music, and I was delighted at this reference to “Northwest Passage,” Canada’s unofficial national anthem. Besides that, there’s a ton of other great stuff in this issue, including a fight between whales and frost giants, and a scene in which Doreen and Rachel convince the Frost Giants to turn on their leader by reading to them from John Locke.

THE WORLD OF BLACK HAMMER ENCYCLOPEDIA (Dark Horse, 2019) – many vignettes, [W] Tate Brombal w/ Jeff Lemire, [A] various. A Black Hammer version of the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe or Who’s Who in the DC Universe. This comic (if that’s the proper term) is full of fascinating data on Black Hammer’s characters and settings, some of which we haven’t seen yet. The highlight for me is the entry on the Quantum League, in which we finally get a complete list of all 27 Leaguers. However, I’m disappointed that there’s no entry on the Star Sheriffs. Dr. Star is referred to as Dr. Andromeda throughout this issue, even in the ad at the end. There’s no official explanation for this yet, but the speculation is that someone else has the rights to the name Dr. Star.

SEA OF STARS #1 (Image, 2019) – “Lost in the Wild Heavens,” [W] Jason Aaron & Dennis Hallum. The idea behind this comic is that it’s two series in one: a lighthearted adventure story about a little boy lost in space, and a grim, mature story about the boy’s father’s search for his son. Sea of Stars #1 is a thrilling debut issue that effectively sets up both stories. Kadyn is an adorable little brat, and Stephen Green’s artwork is gorgeous; he’s great at drawing both technology and alien creatures. He reminds me a bit of Sean Murphy. Rico Renzi’s moody, dark coloring also helps a lot. I look forward to reading more of this series.

BLACK HAMMER: AGE OF DOOM #11 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dean Ormston. In New World (aka New Genesis or the Rock of Eternity), Lucy encounters her father, who’s not dead. He tells her that Anti-God is coming back because the balance between good and evil is broken, and the only way to stop Anti-God is to keep the other heroes from returning to Earth. Then there’s a sequence where the other heroes recruit Madame Dragonfly, who’s masquerading as a suburban housewife. This was an okay issue. I strongly suspect that Lucy’s dad is lying to her.

PRINCELESS VOL. 8: PRINCESSES #3 (Action Lab, 2019) – “Chapter Three: Angoisse,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Newt Taber & Takeia Marie. I thought I’d forgotten to order this, but I did order it, they just delivered it out of order. In this issue, Angoisse stops some unauthorized logging, and then her goblin friends have an election, which is an obvious parody of the 2016 presidential campaign. The goblin election sequence is funny, but has nothing to do with Adrienne and her sisters’ story. The Black Knight doesn’t appear in this issue, as she did in #1, #2 and #4.

NO ONE LEFT TO FIGHT #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Aubrey Sitterson, [A] Fico Ossio. Vale, a wandering martial artist, visits his identical friend Timor, now married with a family, and old tensions start to boil over. This series is explicitly based on Dragon Ball; it’s been advertised as an examination of what happens to Goku when, as the series indicates, he runs out of people to fight. I have only mild familiarity with Dragon Ball, so I’m sure I missed a lot of the references in this comic. I assume that Vale = Goku, Timor = Vegeta, and Krysta = Bulma. But even without knowledge of Dragon Ball, I enjoyed this comic. Fico Ossio’s art and coloring are excellent, and I really like the pet octopus.

CROWDED #7 (Image, 2019) – “Time to Pretend,” [W] Christoper Sebela, [A] Ro Stein & Ted Brandt. I’m glad that my favorite Chris Sebela comic is back. This issue, Charlie and Vita take a train to Las Vegas, defeating an assassination attempt on the way. But when they arrive, it turns out there’s a Reapr convention in town. Funny things in this issue include Charlie’s “Loose Slots Here” shirt, the bench that “reaches melting temperature after 1 hour,” and “Marie’s Condos, minimum space, maximum joy.”

ADVENTURES OF THE SUPER SONS #12 (DC, 2019) – “Gang War Conclusion,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [A] Carlo Barberi. Jon and Damian meet the living hypercube who created the planet of kid supervillains. They defeat the villains and make it back in time for school. The series ends with another framing sequence with the elderly Jon and Damian and their grandkids. This comic was a lot of fun, but 12 issues may have been too many. Long before this comic was finished, it had already been rendered obsolete by developments elsewhere in the DCU, and it no longer felt relevant.

MS. MARVEL ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Sting,” [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Jon Lam. Kamala encounters a new superhero, Captain Hero. It turns out Captain Hero is really the Super-Skrull, seeking revenge for the destruction of the Skrull Throneworld. A friend of mine wrote an as yet unpublished review which critiques this comic’s politics. I don’t have the same objections as my friend does, but that’s mostly because in my opinion, this comic’s politics are too incoherent to be worth criticizing. In the end, Kamala tells Kl’rt that the past isn’t coming back and they need to build a better future, which is a completely vapid principle. Also, it’s weird how Kl’rt waited until now to take revenge for Throneworld’s destruction, which happened over thirty years ago in real-world time. Overall this issue is far below Mags’s usual standards, and I didn’t like the art either. And the new character introduced in this issue, Shebang, is a complete cipher. This issue may be the first time we’ve seen Kamala’s mother with her hair uncovered. I forget whether she’s usually shown wearing a headscarf around the house.

THE DREAMING #11 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Understanding,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. Dora and Matthew arrive at the Worlds’ End inn, where all the patrons are listening to three people telling stories. The three stories belong to different genres (fantasy, SF and crime) and are drawn in different styles, but each story ends with a person starting to tell one of the other stories, so none of the stories ever ends. And everyone else is so mesmerized by the stories that they don’t realize the inn is burning down. In the end, Dora saves the day by narrating her own ending to all the stories at once. This issue is a brilliant piece of experimental narration, as well as a meditation on the power of storytelling – a power which can be destructive, because the desire for narrative closure is so strong. Besides drawing in multiple different styles, Bilquis Evely does a great job of depicting the bizarre creatures that hang out at Worlds’ End.

BLACK AF: DEVIL’S DYE #4 (Black Mask, 2019) – untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Liana Kangas. I shouldn’t have ordered this, but it’s too late now. I’m totally unable to follow this comic’s plot, and I fail to understand the appeal of Liana Kangas’s art. I suppose her storytelling is good, but her linework is sloppy and ugly. I really want Black to be good, but it’s not, and I won’t be ordering the next Black miniseries.

LOIS LANE #1 (DC, 2019) – “Enemy of the People,” [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Mike Perkins. Lois investigates stories about Russian interference and human trafficking. Greg Rucka has written lots of comics starring confident, super-competent women – Queen & Country, Lazarus, Black Magick, Stumptown, etc. His version of Lois is just as formidable as any of those series’ protagonists, and I like her so far. This comic also has some obvious relevance to current politics. It’s notable that Lois’s son is only mentioned once in this issue. Over the past few years, Lois has been essentially defined by her role as a mother, and I actually thought at first that this comic must be taking place before Jon was born. I still think it’s odd that Jon is nowhere to be seen in this comic. On the other hand, Peter Tomasi’s portrayal of Lois was borderline sexism at times, and I’m glad that this series is exploring other aspects of Lois’s life besides her relationship to her family.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #79 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sam Maggs, [A] Toni Kuusisto. The second worst pony comic IDW has published, after issue 40, the one that depicted Twilight Sparkle as a preteen single mother. The main problem with this issue is its complete lack of a plot. Apple Bloom distracts Mayor Mare so that the other ponies can arrange a surprise anniversary celebration. Then Mayor Mare comes back to city hall, and Sunset Shimmer plays a concert. That’s literally the whole issue. On top of that, the storytelling is incoherent at times, especially on the page with Bulk Biceps’s audition. Sam Maggs is best known as a journalist and critic, and she clearly has limited experience writing comics.

HEATHEN #7 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Natasha Alterici. Frigga and Odin have an argument, and then Aydis falls overboard in a storm, and one of the pirates rescues her but loses a foot as a result. This issue was difficult to follow, but Natasha Alterici’s artwork is brilliant. I love her light-dark contrasts and the way she draws diverse body types. Issue 8 is the last one that’s been solicited so far, and I don’t see how this story can be completed in one more issue. Maybe more issues will be solicited later.

THE LONG CON #10 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W] Dylan Meconis & Ben Coleman, [A] E.A. Denich. Destiny and Victor finally make it in to see the Special Guest, a fictionalized version of Gene Roddenberry. In a flashback, we learn that the catastrophe was caused by Marla, the computer from the Skylarks franchise. It turns out that Marla was real, and she kept getting smarter and more obsessed with maintaining continuity. And according to Skylarks continuity, a worldwide apocalypse happened in the year 2018 (like how in Star Trek continuity, the Eugenics Wars started in 1993), so when that year came around and there wasn’t an apocalypse, Marla made one happen. Marla’s next step is to launch everyone at the convention into deep space. But just in time, Victor and Dez realize that Marla’s true goal is to keep the fans happy, and they convince her that this is inherently impossible, thus saving the day. This ending is brilliantly metatextual, and overall, The Long Con is one of the best miniseries of the past year. It’s an incisive satire of fandom. I wish people were paying more attention to it.

HASHTAG: DANGER #3 (Ahoy, 2019) – “The Ape in the Iron Mask!”, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Chris Giarrusso. The team goes to the moon to look for a supervillain who turns out to not exist. There’s no mention of the cliffhanger from last issue, where Sugar becomes a supervillain. This issue includes a backup story in which a Trump supporter gets punched in the face. Hashtag: Danger is probably my least favorite Ahoy title, though it’s still good.

BIRTHRIGHT #37 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. The good guys prepare for a mission to recruit Mastema, the daughter of the primary villain, Lore. We also encounter Mikey and Aaron’s grandfather Samael, who is himself some kind of wizard. Birthright is one of those series where there’s not much difference between one issue and another.

SWEET TOOTH #15 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Animal Armies 3,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. This issue includes two parallel plot threads, one about Gus and the other about Tommy Jepperd. The highlight of the issue is when Gus and Tommy are both dreaming, and for two consecutive two-page spreads, the left page depicts Tommy’s dream while the right page depicts Gus’s dream. Then on the following two-page spread, the two dreams merge into a single big thought balloon, and Gus and Tommy both wake up in shock. This effect is easier to see than to describe, and it’s the sort of trick Jeff Lemire is really good at.

IMMORTAL HULK #20 (Marvel, 2019) – “Metatron,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. The Hulk dies from having his heart cut out, but dying restarts his healing factor, and he and the Harpy team up to defeat the Abomination. Then there’s an enigmatic sequence where Bruce Banner encounters the angel Metatron. Immortal Hulk may be the best Hulk comic since PAD’s first run.

TEST #1 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Jen Hickman. Chris Sebela seems to be competing with Mags Visaggio to see who can start the most new series. This comic stars Aleph Null (a name derived from mathematics, specifically set theory), a “professional guinea pig” who makes a living by being experimented upon. Like the protagonist of Jen Hickman’s previous series Moth & Whisper, Aleph Null appears to be transgender; at one point their gender is stated as “various given.” In this issue, Aleph Null travels to a mysterious midwestern town called Laurelwood. I’m not sure yet what this series is about, but it’s interesting so far.

GREEN LANTERN #9 (DC, 2019) – “The Day the Stars Fell Down!”, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. This issue starts with a sequence where a cosmic villain destroys a world full of superheroes, including Vartox. Then the scene shifts to a fantasy world called Athmoora, where Hal is taking a vacation. While there, he encounters an other-dimensional version of Abin Sur, and then he’s attacked by the same villain from the first sequence. It’s called Qwa-Man (Qwa = Qward?) and seems to be some kind of reverse version of Hal. Then the issue ends with Hal being recruited by three alternate Hal Jordans from other realities. This was a very dense issue, and I don’t quite understand this storyline yet. I do like how every issue of Grant’s Green Lantern has been very different from the others.

DOOM PATROL: WEIGHT OF THE WORLDS #1 (DC, 2019) – “Damaged,” [W] Gerard Way, [A] James Harvey. This excellent but chronically delayed series is finally back. I was disappointed by the lack of Nick Derington art, but James Harvey, who I haven’t heard of before, is equally brilliant in a different way. He does amazing stuff with coloring and lettering and page layout. This issue, the new Doom Patrol visits a planet where the naturally sphere-shaped inhabitants have been forced to contort themselves into human shapes. Meanwhile, the newly human Cliff Steele is rejected by his elderly father, and in grief, Cliff drives himself off a cliff, trying to replicate the accident that made him Robotman.

SECTION ZERO #4 (Image, 2019) – “A Long Time Dead,” [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Tom Grummett.  Confusingly, this issue starts 18 years after #3. I guess that’s because this is the first new issue, while the first three were reprints from the original Gorilla series. In this issue, the Section Zero characters visit a daycare where all the children turn out to be changelings.

TALES TO ASTONISH #86 (Marvel, 1966) – “The Wrath of Warlord Krang!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jerry Grandenetti, and “The Birth of… the Hulk-Killer!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] John Buscema. In this issue’s Namor story, Namor tries to rescue Dorma from Warlord Krang. Dorma was a pretty boring superhero girlfriend, and overall this is an average story. The Hulk story is a bit better, although the villain is Boomerang, whose costume is hideous. In general, Tales to Astonish was one of the lesser ‘60s Marvel titles

IGNITED #2 (Humanoids, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid & Kwanza Osajyefo, [A] Phil Briones. In the wake of the shooting and the superheroes’ appearance, tensions at the school erupt into violence. There’s also a backup story written by Carla Speed McNeil. This issue is just okay; it lacks the impact of issue 1.

PUMA BLUES #3 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1986) – “Strings,” [W] Stephen Murphy, [A] Michael Zulli. Another issue that has a minimal plot, but creates a powerful sense of mood and atmosphere. The overarching theme of Puma Blues is ecological catastrophe, and this issue narrates that theme from several viewpoints. Sequences in this issue include a dream about nuclear war, narrated by a college professor, and a TV movie about the Rapture.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #108 (Marvel, 1968) – “The Snares of the Trapster!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Jack Kirby. A thrilling story full of epic action sequences. Unfortunately it stars Marvel’s dumbest villain ever. At least by this point he’s calling himself the Trapster instead of Paste Pot Pete, but he still has a bizarre belief that there’s no problem that can’t be solved with paste.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #154 (DC, 1965) – “The Sons of Batman and Superman!”, [W] Edmond Hamilton, [A] Curt Swan. This issue introduces the Super Sons, though they’re distinctly different from the ‘70s versions of those characters. Notably, these Super Sons’ mothers are named as Lois Lane and Kathy Kane, while in Bob Haney’s Super Sons stories, their mothers were never identified. This first Super Sons story is very cute and lighthearted.  A very young Kal-El Jr and Bruce Jr get into a fight, and their mothers forbid them to see each other. They decide to run off together, but Kal Jr gets kidnapped by a villain, and Bruce Jr rescues him. Kal Jr and Bruce Jr appeared again a few issues later, then were forgotten until the ‘70s. World’s Finest #154 also includes a reprinted Green Arrow backup story.

WYTCHES #3 (DC, 2014) – untitled, [W] Scott Snyder, [A] Jock. Sailor Rooks’s dad searches for his kidnapped daughter and instead finds a man who’s been stuffed inside a tree. There’s also an extended flashback depicting Sailor and her parents at a playground. This is an okay comic, but not great. I’m not surprised there wasn’t a sequel after the initial six issues.

THE UNWRITTEN #20 (Vertigo, 2011) – “Leviathan 2,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. Tom Taylor and Lizzie Hexam visit Pittsfield, Massachusetts for the annual Moby Dick festival, which is sadly not a real thing, although Herman Melville was in fact born in that town. Tom gets sucked inside the book and discovers that his father is Captain Ahab. There’s a flashback in which a young Tom and Lizzie discuss the difference between “real truth” and “story truth.” As usual, this issue is fascinating; it’s full of literary references and metatextual moments.

HUNGRY GHOSTS #3 (Dark Horse, 2018) – “Deep” and “Boil in the Belly,” [W] Anthony Bourdain & Joel Rose, [A] Sebastian Cabrot and Paul Pope. “Deep” is about a chef who’s sexually harassed by a senior coworker. Another coworker kills the evil chef by summoning a kappa to rip out his shirikodama, or the ball in his ass – apparently this business about the ball is a real part of kappa mythology. This story is inspired by Bourdain’s own experiences working in abusive, hierarchical restaurant kitchens. At one point, a senior chef says “I make two chefs like you in the toilet every day!” In Kitchen Confidential,Bourdain attributes this exact same insult to his culinary school professor. The backup story is about a man who develops a second mouth in his belly, and because it’s drawn by Paul Pope, it has the best art in the entire miniseries.

HUNGRY GHOSTS #4 (Dark Horse, 2018) – “The Snow Woman” and “The Cow Head,” [W] Anthony Bourdain & Joel Rose, [A] Irene Koh and Francesco Francavilla. “The Snow Woman” is about an encounter with Yuki-Onna, the snow spirit. This story is disappointing because it’s not about food at all. “The Cow Head” is about a minotaur who visits a famine-starved town, where the people kill and eat him. It has some pretty good artwork, though I’ve seen better art from Francavilla. Overall, Hungry Ghosts is a moderately successful experiment. Bourdain’s stories benefit from his expert knowledge of food, but most of them are unsatisfying in terms of narrative; they’re too short and their twist endings are nonsensical. Sadly, he never got the chance to develop his comics writing skills any further.

TRUE BELIEVERS: WOLVERINE VS. SABRETOOTH #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “24 Hours,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] John Buscema. This story is reprinted from Wolverine #10. It intercuts between two sequences: a flashback to the day Sabretooth killed Silver Fox, and a present-day sequence in which Wolverine hunts for Sabretooth in Madripoor. The latter story thread guest-stars Jessica Drew and her partner Lindsey McCabe, two old Claremont characters. “24 Hours” is very well-constructed and exciting, and effectively reveals the characters of both Wolverine and Sabretooth. It’s a small gem, and it was well worth reprinting. However, John Buscema’s pencils and Bill Sienkiewicz’s inks don’t mix well.

CRIMINAL #4 (Icon, 2007) – “Coward Part Four,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue’s protagonist is a career criminal named Leo. His friend Ivan dies from overdosing on some stolen heroin, and Leo heads off to town to deal with the owners of the heroin, leaving his girlfriend Greta alone in the country with the drugs. At the end of the issue, we realize that the people Leo is looking for in town have already tracked down Greta in the country. I’m not quite sure what the larger context of this story is, but it’s an exciting story. I think Criminal is probably Ed Brubaker’s masterpiece.

ANIMOSITY: EVOLUTION #6 (AfterShock, 2018) – “Lex Machina: Part 1,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Eric Gapstur. Someone has just killed all the animal-machine hybrids except Wintermute herself, who barely survived, and this issue deals with the aftermath of that. There’s one scene in this issue where a pig explains that when the animals all came alive, the humans and their pets felt like they had lost their freedoms. But “their freedoms were astonishing luxuries that the rest of us” (i.e. the other animals) “could never dream of… ‘the most meager step towards equality’ will, to those in power, always feel like ‘relentless oppression.’” Here we see what Animosity could have been. It could have been the ultimate expression of the principle that “when you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” It could have explored the feelings of animals who have been tortured and killed for generations, and who are finally free to become something more than food. However, the series wasted this potential by failing to treat the animals as animals. As I’ve said many times before, the animals in Animosity are just humans in smaller bodies. They all think and talk like humans, except the bees. They seek for freedom and equality entirely on human terms. Therefore, Animosity can’t seriously explore the question of what it might mean for mice or cows or bats to be equal to people. It just assumes that an animal’s version of freedom and equality is the same as a human’s version. Animosity also fails to seriously confront other problems with its premise, like the fact that some animals have to eat other animals to live. In the end, Animosity promised far more than it could deliver.

ZAP COMIX #7 (Last Gasp, 1974) – “Sangrella,” [W/A] Spain, plus other stories. This comic is an expression of the underground movement at its peak, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. Zap #7 is an incredible demonstration of graphic virtuosity, to such an extent that it’s a rather labor-intensive reading experience. There’s a major story by Spain, two stories by Robt. Williams (both of which are heavily influenced by classic animation), multiple stories and pinups by S. Clay Wilson, and short pieces by Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso. Compared with all this material, the two stories by Crumb almost feel like breaks from the difficulty and complexity of the rest of the issue. While the stories in Zap #7 are visually brilliant, they’re also full of testosterone and misogyny. S. Clay Wilson’s stories are some of the most gruesome material ever printed in a non-pornographic comic, and the entire issue is full of male sex fantasies. Even though Spain’s “Sangrella” has a female protagonist, it too seems intended to appeal to the male gaze. A comic like this shows you why It Ain’t Me, Babe and Wimmen’s Comix were necessary correctives.

GRIP: THE STRANGE WORLD OF MEN #1 (Dark Horse, 2002) – “Grip of Fear,” [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. This issue is less difficult than some of the later issues of the series, but still very weird. A man wakes up with no memory and no idea who he is. He encounters various other bizarre people, and we gradually realize that his skin and his body belong to different people. On the last page, his empty skin is found in his bed, with no body inside it. Grip has the same sort of disturbing body horror as Blubber, but unlike Blubber, Grip also has a coherent story.

HATE #13 (Fantagraphics, 1993) – “In Search of the Enigmatic George Cecil Hamilton the Third,” [W/A] Peter Bagge. Buddy’s old roommate, George, writes an article slandering Buddy as an example of the worst qualities of Generation X, and publishes the article in a free newspaper with nationwide distribution. After making a futile attempt to steal all the copies of the newspaper, Buddy tracks down George and forces him to publish a retraction. The sequence where Buddy discovers the slanderous article is hilarious; I was laughing my ass off as I read. The second half of the issue isn’t as funny. There’s also a backup story that shows what happened to Leonard/Stinky after “Follow That Dream.”

MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE ANNUAL #1 (Marvel, 2018) – untitled, [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Declan Shalvey. Dr. Doom and Ben Grimm visit an alternate reality, where they fight a different version of Doom. This comic has some useful insights into the relationship between Doom and the FF, but it’s not nearly as entertaining as the current FF series. Surprisingly, this issue shows both versions of Doom with bare faces, although it doesn’t technically break the taboo on showing Dr. Doom’s face: one of the Dooms is from an alternate reality, and the other has previously had his face healed.

WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES #140 (Dell, 1952) – untitled Gladstone story, [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. In this issue’s Barks story, Donald and the nephews are sick of Gladstone’s constant good luck. They decide that he must have some kind of good luck charm, so they visit his house and find that he has a locked safe. With Scrooge’s help, they break into Gladstone’s house and open the safe, which turns out to contain a dime. Gladstone explains that this dime is the only money he ever earned by working, and he was so ashamed of it that he hid it in the safe. The symmetry of this is brilliant. Scrooge’s Old Number One dime represents the beginning of his life of hard work and honest earning. Gladstone’s dime is the exact opposite; it represents his allergy to work, and his faith that random chance will provide for his needs. In general, Gladstone represents the exception to the Protestant logic of Scrooge’s universe, according to which success is the reward for hard work. As with most of these old WDC&S comics, the non-Barks stories in this issue are of no interest at all, though the Grandma Duck story has some good artwork.

TRUE BELIEVERS: MARVEL KNIGHTS 20TH ANNIVERSARY – IRON FIST BY THOMAS & KANE #1 (Marvel, 2018) – “The Fury of Iron Fist!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Gil Kane. This reprints Marvel Premiere #15, Iron Fist’s first appearance and origin story. This issue is valuable because I didn’t actually know Iron Fist’s origin before; I knew some of the separate pieces of this story, but I wasn’t sure how they fit together. “The Fury of Iron Fist!” introduces a number of important concepts and characters, like Danny’s parents, Howard Meachum, K’un L’un, and the August Personage in Jade. Gil Kane’s art in this issue is excellent, though I’m not sure he understood how to draw martial arts action, as opposed to Western styles of combat.

STORMWATCH #50 (Image, 1997) – “Change or Die Part 3,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Tom Raney. This is the storyline that leads into The Authority, but not directly; prior to The Authority, there was a second volume of Stormwatch. Reading this issue, I was confused as to how Warren, in the space of one issue, could advance the story to the point where The Authority begins, but it turns out he didn’t have to. Besides that, Stormwatch #50 creates further confusion because it has a ton of characters who aren’t clearly identified, and Tom Raney’s art is kind of bad. But besides all that, “Change or Die” is an important story. The basic idea is that Stormwatch battles a group of superheroes, the Changers, who want to remake the world on their terms. Stormwatch wins, but later, some of the Stormwatch members decide that the Changers’ goal was correct, though their methods were flawed. And that’s how we get to The Authority.

THE UNWRITTEN #13 (Vertigo, 2010) – “Dead Man’s Knock: Monsters,” [W] Mike Carey, [A] Peter Gross. Tom Taylor, Lizzie Hexam and Savoy are in London searching for Wilson Taylor. Meanwhile, the impending release of the fourteenth Tom Taylor book has led to a massive media frenzy, but what no one realizes is that the book is a complete train wreck, full of obvious plagiarism. This issue is full of fascinating stuff; its most striking moment is a two-page splash depicting a giant whale made up of people carrying umbrellas.

THE UNWRITTEN #14 (Vertigo, 2010) – “Dead Man’s Knock: Atrocities,” as above. While searching through my boxes, I discovered that I also have #9 and #11, but I decided to read #14 first. It begins with an excerpt from the new Tom Taylor novel, in which we encounter a black runesword that hungres for souls, a “Powder, with a capital P” that “is the raw stuff of sentience,” an “emerald telescope,” and a “blade of subtlety.” These obvious plagiarisms of Michael Moorcock and Philip Pullman are very funny. Next, Lizzie Hexam contacts Wilson Taylor by cutting her hand and throwing the blood onto the pages of a book, but Wilson’s message is that she’s on her own. Then Tom and Savoy fend off an attack by agents of some unknown power, and the issue ends with Lizzie projecting herself into the world of a Dickens novel. I’m not sure how all the pieces of this story fit together, but Unwritten is an amazing comic. It’s an inspired piece of metatextual playfulness, and it also offers a satisfying story.

DOMINO #6 (Marvel, 2018) – “Killer Instinct Conclusion,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] David Baldeon. I only read this because I was tired and wanted to read something simple, and I didn’t expect to enjoy it. Surprisingly, I did. My main complaint about this series is its lack of passion, but in her fight with Topaz, Domino displays a lot of passion. Also, this comic’s dialogue is very funny, and David Baldeon’s art is excellent. I take back some of the negative things I said about Gail’s writing.

First batch of post-Heroes Con reviews

6-26-19

I received a new comics shipment on June 13, the day before Heroes Con. Before picking up these comics, I had actually been to Heroes Con already to get my badge and meet Andy Kunka for dinner.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #45 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. Squirrel Girl and Ratatoskr have a disagreement and break up, but then they team up again to fight the frost giants. Also, Ratatoskr mind-controls a frost giant named Daisy and makes her sing a song. The best part of the issue is the sequence where Doreen feeds a deer while reciting “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” This is perhaps the sweetest and most lyrical moment in the series. And it’s true that this poem recently did enter the public domain.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #78 (IDW, 2019) – “Cosmos Episode Five: I Hate Myself for Loving You,” [W] Katie Cook, [A] Andy Price. The ponies and Discord finally defeat Cosmos by having Spike eat her stars. This may or may not be a reference to Matter-Eater Lad eating the Miracle Machine. This whole story is another masterpiece from Katie and Andy, with clever writing and gorgeous art. As usual, it’s full of references that younger fans will miss (e.g. “Beratis Kesla Redjac” is a Star Trek reference), and it’s one of the grimmest pony comics yet. At Heroes Con, I moderated a My Little Pony panel with Katie, Andy, and Jeremy Whitley, and it was an amazing experience. Besides being brilliant creators, all three of them are a delight to talk to.

GRUMBLE #7 (Albatross, 2019) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. Tala and Eddie execute a complicated plot to kidnap Jimmy the Keeper. As part of the plot, Eddie sells his soul to the devil, or an aspect thereof. This was only an average issue, compared to the previous few. The panel with Jimmy the Keeper swallowing a car is horrifying.

BRONZE AGE BOOGIE #3 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Who Watches the Walkman?”, [W] Stuart Moore, [A] Alberto Pontichelli. Jackson Li and Lynda Darrk use a magical teleporting Walkman to escape back to Brita Constantina’s time period. But now Jackson is in the hands of the Martians, while Brita and Lynda are stuck in the past. I forget if I mentioned this before, but Jackson’s sequences are narrated in second person, just like Doug Moench’s Master of Kung Fu. This issue includes another chapter of Major Ursa, which is by far the best of Ahoy’s backup features.

PRINCELESS VOL. 8: PRINCESSES #4 (Action Lab, 2019) – “Chapter 4: Antonia & Andrea,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Robin Kaplan. I must have forgotten to order issue 3, and Jeremy didn’t have any single issues for sale at Heroes Con. This issue, Antonia and Andrea turn each other into a cat and a rabbit, leading to a ton of funny moments. Besides looking like a bunny, Andrea is terrified and has a craving for carrots, and Antonia feels compelled to pounce on people and rub up against objects. After some additional mayhem, Antonia and Andrea are recruited by the Black Knight, like all their sisters were.

CALAMITY KATE #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Corin Howell. Kate leaves LA and, I guess, decides to get to work on herself. Thirteen years later, a now grown-up Jade becomes a monster hunter herself and discovers that she’s been given Kate’s car. And that’s the end of the series. Calamity Kate was excellent but short; it could have used a couple more issues. On Twitter, I saw where someone claimed that this series was plagiarized from an independent comic which is also about transgender monster hunters. Even if this accusation is true, and there is some circumstantial evidence to support it, I don’t think it matters. Calamity Kate seems to have only superficial similarities to the other series; if Mags did borrow the other series’s premise, she took it in a direction of her own, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In Calamity Kate, the monster hunting is not the point; the comic is about Kate’s internal struggles, and it’s not clear whether the monsters are even “real” or whether they’re just a metaphor.

GOGOR #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing. Armano and Gogor continue their journey and meet some more weird creatures. At the end of the issue, they encounter the sorceress Tetra Hedron, who promises to explain what’s going on. This is a fascinating comic with distinctive artwork and writing. It reminds me of the Hulk or Swamp Thing on one hand, and Weirdworld or Wally Wood’s The Wizard King on the other hand, but it doesn’t resemble any of these very much. It feels like a sui generis thing. I didn’t see any of Ken Garing’s other comics at Heroes Con, but I expect I will come across them sooner or later.

WONDER TWINS #5 (DC, 2019) – “Magic and Games,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. This issue is a parody of recent incidents in which white people have killed black people and gotten off scot-free. Sylvia from the League of Annoyance zaps Filo Math with a Kryptonian cell phone, apparently killing him, though in fact she just sends him to the Phantom Zone. She becomes “Cell Phone Sylvia” (like BBQ Becky), and the media narrative focuses entirely on her victimhood, ignoring Filo Math. At the end of the issue, Scrambler decides he’s sick of this sort of injustice, so he enforces the Rawlsian veil of ignorance: he announces that in thirty days, he’ll scramble the brains of everyone on earth, because “the powerful will only make a system that works for everybody today if they don’t know whether they are going to be powerful tomorrow.” Another great one-liner, in the previous panel, is that “those worth the power to change the world don’t have any incentive to do so.” BTW, I am really glad that this series and Dial H for Hero have both been extended to 12 issues.

IRONHEART #7 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. Riri teams up with Nadia van Dyne to battle a zombie apocalypse. Like Faith Erin Hicks’s Zombies Calling, this issue derives much of its humor from the characters’ knowledge of the conventions of the zombie genre. It wasn’t the best issue of Ironheart, but I like how Marvel has such a big stable of teen heroes. I hope Nadia will continue to appear in other titles even though her own series was cancelled again.

OUTER DARKNESS #7 (Image, 2019) – “Castrophony of Hate Pt. 7: Haunted,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. The ship encounters a medieval church floating in space. Inside is a 20th-century nun, Sister Magdalena Antonia, who becomes the newest crew member. This is a rather slow issue, but the image of the floating, glow-in-the-dark church is brilliant. It reminds me of something out of Star Trek: TOS, which is of course the inspiration for this series.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #10 (DC, 2019) – “But Some of Us Were Brave,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. The kids escape from the wyvern with Damballah’s help, but Erzulie loses her storytelling contest with Ananse, and things aren’t looking good for her. This is the best current Vertigo title, although this issue was anticlimactic.

And then it was time for Heroes Con. This was an incredible convention, one of the most enjoyable cons I’ve ever attended. Highlights included the two panels I moderated (the one on My Little Pony, as mentioned above, and another on all-ages comics), the Don Ault tribute panel that Craig Fischer organized, and the after-party at the Heroes store. I don’t know who did the catering for that party, but the food was some of the best BBQ I’ve had in Charlotte. In general, I’m starting to feel like an actual member of the local comics community, rather than just a spectator, and that makes Heroes Con even more fun.

Some of the comics I bought at the con, as well as the remaining comics from the June 13 shipment:

MIRACLEMAN #23 (Eclipse, 1992) – “The Secret Origin of Young Miracleman!”, [W] Neil Gaiman, [A] Mark Buckingham. Near the end of the con, I found this in a $5 box. I was amazed because this comic has been on my want list for decades, and I’ve never had much hope of owning it. Miracleman #23 and #24 had low print runs and have never been reprinted in any form, although Marvel keeps promising that they’ll reprint these issues as well as the completion of the Silver Age storyline. Miracleman #23 begins with a scene where three of Miracleman’s superpowered children play-fight with each other, causing massive property damage. Then Miracleman resurrects his dead sidekick Young Miracleman, aka Dicky Dauntless, who turns out to be totally unprepared for life in the post-Olympus world. My overwhelming reaction to this issue is that Miracleman is kind of an idiot; he seems to have failed to anticipate Dicky’s reaction to waking up in a completely unrecognizable world. Dicky is also kind of a naïve idiot with outdated racist values, and maybe he should have been allowed to rest in peace (on this point see also Dash Shaw’s Doctors, which I just read this morning). The scenes with Miracleman’s kids are funny, but also disturbing because of the kids’ lack of respect for the damage they’re causing. This issue’s letters page includes a blatantly homophobic letter from a JD Ryder.

TRUST FALL #1 (Aftershock, 2019) – “New Meanings to Old Worlds,” [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Chris Visions. This series appears to be about a girl who belongs to a family of superpowered criminals. It resembles House Amok or Lazarus, in that the protagonist has spent her life in a toxic environment with skewed values, and therefore fails to understand that her situation isn’t normal. However, Trust Fall’s plot is hard to follow, and Chris Visions’s unclear storytelling adds to the confusion. His style is very distinctive and unusual style, but it doesn’t appeal to me.

CATWOMAN #12 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joëlle Jones, [A] Fernando Blanco & Hugo Petrus. Selma steals an ancient Mesoamerican mask and has a couple encounters with cops. I don’t remember much about this issue, either because it was a rather uneventful issue, or because I was exhausted and drunk when I read it. This issue includes several panels depicting Selina’s cats.

WONDER WOMAN #72 (DC, 2019) – “Love is a Battlefield Finale,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Jesús Merino & Tom Derenick. Diana and Maggie defeat the minotaur, then with Atlantiades’s help, they battle some frog monsters and find the way to Themyscira. This issue is a pretty quick read, but the interactions between Diana and her allies are very entertaining.

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #310 (Marvel, 2018) – “Finale,” [W/A] Chip Zdarsky. I was glad to find this at the convention because I forgot to order it, and it was the most acclaimed issue of its run; it’s currently up for an Eisner. After reading this issue, I believe it’s probably the best comic Chip has written. It’s his equivalent of “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man.” “Finale” is framed as a series of interviews with random people about Spider-Man, but the main plot is that Spider-Man defeats some criminals and discovers that one of them is a young boy, Kyle. Spidey befriends Kyle and even helps him with school, but tragically, the other criminals think Kyle betrayed them to Spider-Man, so they murder him (i.e. Kyle). And then we see that Spider-Man’s kindness to his friends is matched only by his fearfulness to his foes. A key reason this story works so well is its tastefulness and subtlety. Another writer might have concentrated on Peter’s guilt over his role in Kyle’s death. Chip instead emphasizes that Peter “tries to do the right thing” but “can’t save everyone.” Overall, this story is a perfect summary of who Spider-Man is.

UNCLE SCROOGE #49 (Gold Key, 1964) – “The Loony Lunar Gold Rush,” [W/A] Carl Barks. As mentioned above, at Heroes Con I was on a tribute panel to my late mentor Don Ault. Don must have read Uncle Scrooge #49 when it came out, but at the time, he only knew its creator as the Good Duck Artist (he didn’t learn the name Carl Barks until several years later). “The Loony Lunar Gold Rush” is a late Barks story, but it reveals the storytelling genius that earned Barks his nickname. It must have been inspired by the Apollo space program, because it begins with astronauts discovering gold on the moon, leading to a gold rush. Obviously, Scrooge can’t resist going to the moon himself. Despite the best efforts of a villain named Dan McShrew (a reference to Robert W. Service’s “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”), Scrooge makes a fortune by selling supplies at inflated prices to all the other prospectors. This story implies that during the Yukon gold rush, Scrooge made his original fortune as a shopkeeper rather than as a prosectpr. That contradicts a lot of other continuity, but Barks wasn’t all that worried about continuity.

BY NIGHT #12 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Christine Larsen. A confusing and anticlimactic ending to a bad series. I think the problem with By Night was that it tried to be a self-contained story of novelistic scope, and that’s not the type of story that John Allison is good at. His talent lends itself to writing short stories or vignettes that eventually combine into a bigger tapestry. His next series, Steeple, will only be five issues, and I hope that length will suit him better.

ORPHAN AGE #3 (Aftershock, 2019) – “Wild,” [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Nuno Piati. Daniel, Willa and Princess encounter a wild man who was raised by animals after his parents died in the apocalypse. Princess feels sorry for the feral man and tries to feed him, but in the end, Willa has to kill him. At times Orphan Age feels like just a generic postapocalyptic story, but this issue shows an interesting way in which this apocalypse is different from others. If all the adults died, then naturally there would be lots of kids who grew up with no human contact. Anderson’s portrayal of the wild man seems quite plausible. As usual, one of the highlights of this issue is Plati and João Lemos’s coloring.

X-MEN #129 (Marvel, 1980) – “God Spare the Child!”, [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Terry Austin. This was another of my best finds at Heroes Con. It’s a genuine key issue, and I was shocked when I got it for just $5, though of course my copy is in low grade. X-Men #129 starts with the team’s return from Scotland, and the scene where Jean says “And I you, Scott, with all my heart” for the first time. I’ve always hated this line of dialogue, but unfortunately it’s consistent with Claremont’s usual prose style. Notice how in this scene, Byrne creates a greater sense of emphasis on Scott and Jean by not including backgrounds or panel borders; later in his career, he avoided drawing backgrounds because of simple laziness. Anyway, the main event in this issue is the second half, where Kitty Pryde and Emma Frost make their first appearances. Kitty’s first encounter with the X-Men includes the unfortunate “we got black kids in our school” line, but besides that, what stands out in this scene is that in Kitty’s first appearance, she was already a well-developed character. We already see that she loves to dance, that she’s worried about puberty and about the collapse of her parents’ marriage, and that she’s very brave.

DETECTIVE COMICS #475 (DC, 1978) – “The Laughing Fish!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Marshall Rogers. This was the last of my three best finds at Heroes Con, and like Miracleman #24 and X-Men #129, it only cost me $5. It’s the only Englehart/Rogers Batman issue I was missing. In my opinion, “The Laughing Fish” is the best Joker story ever published. It depicts a Joker who is terrifying and insane, but whose actions are logically consistent. His “plan” in this story is to put Joker faces on fish, then claim intellectual property rights to the fish. That’s ridiculous, but it also makes a certain kind of sense. This issue also includes some important scenes with Englehart’s two major supporting characters, Silver St. Cloud and Rupert Thorne. Pages 2 and 3 of this issue, where Batman visits Silver in her apartment, are analyzed in R.C. Harvey’s The Art of the Comic Book.

USAGI YOJIMBO #10 (Mirage, 1994) – “Slavers Part 2,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Stan was one of the guests of honor at Heroes Con. I only got to exchange a few words with him, because there was always a massive line at his table (and an even longer line for Sergio Aragonés, who was also there). I hope I see him again at Comic-Con. This issue is the sequel to one that I read last year; see https://ogresfeathers.wordpress.com/2018/05/12/enormous-review-post/#uy9for a summary. This issue, it turns out that the village boy who escaped the slavers wasn’t actually dead, and he helps Usagi defeat the slavers. But the head slaver escapes with Usagi’s swords, which leads into the next storyline. There’s also a backup story in which Jei encounters a very unfortunate fisherman.

ADAM STRANGE/FUTURE QUEST SPECIAL #1 (DC, 2017) – “Strangequest,” [W] Jeff Parker & Marc Andreyko, [A] Steve Lieber. I somehow forgot to order this, even though it was the most appealing of the DC/Hanna-Barbera crossover titles. “Strangequest” is a pretty straightforward adventure story, but it’s exciting, and seeing the Quest family again is really fun. Also, Steve Lieber is an excellent and underrated artist.  As a minor note, it’s nice how when Benton Quest meets Adam, he introduces both Hadji and Jonny as his sons. Other Jonny Quest stories often give the impression that Hadji isn’t really Benton Quest’s son.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #146 (Marvel, 1975) – “Scorpion… Where is Thy Sting?”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Ross Andru. Much of this issue is devoted to a fight between Spider-Man and the Scorpion. There’s a cute scene at the end where Spidey forces the Scorpion to apologize to Aunt May for scaring her, and Aunt May tells him off. But the most important part of this issue is the subplot involving the Jackal and the clone of Gwen. There’s a rather depressing scene where “Gwen” kisses Peter and is hurt by his lack of response. Gwen doesn’t know that since “her” death, Peter has fallen in love with Mary Jane.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #14 (Marvel, 2006) – “Invincible,” [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Cory Walker. This is a crossover between Spider-Man and Invincible, but really it’s an issue of Invincible that guest-stars Spider-Man. Unlike most crossover stories, this one has a premise that makes sense. At the time Invincible had been fighting Angstrom Levy, who had been sending him into a bunch of different dimensions – and it turns out that one of those dimensions was the Marvel Universe. I don’t think Kirkman’s writing style is appropriate for Spider-Man, because he’s fundamentally too dark. But as a one-time thing, this issue is lots of fun, and it derives a lot of humor from the two heroes’ unfamiliarity with each other. For example, Spidey calls Invincible Hair-Boy.

NANCY #166 (Dell, 1959) – various stories, [W] John Stanley, [A] Dan Gormley. This issue is in such poor condition that I hesitate to remove it from its bag. Its cover split in half as I was reading it. John Stanley’s Nancy is very similar to his Little Lulu, except that the jokes revolve around Sluggo’s poor hygiene instead of Tubby’s obesity. The most notable story in the issue is about Oona Goosepimple, a character Stanley created. She resembles Wednesday Addams and has a labyrinthine house that people get lost in. There’s also a story about an escaped prisoner who tunnels into a cage at the zoo.

BARBIE #18 (Marvel, 1992) – “Planes, Boats, Trains & Cars,” [W] Trina Robbins, [A] Anna-Maria Cool. I was actively looking for Barbie comics at Heroes Con. I just submitted a draft of a book chapter about Amethyst, Angel Love, and other ‘80s girls comics published by the Big Two. The idea of the article was to examine earlier efforts to market comic books to girls, prior to the contemporary “blue age” of comics, as Adrienne Resha calls it. In doing research for this article, I realized that Marvel’s Barbie comics are an important part of this history, and that I need to start collecting them. I even included some material about Barbie in a previous draft of the Amethyst/Angel Love essay, but it had to be cut for lack of space.

I’ve talked to three Barbie comics creators so far – Barbara Slate, June Brigman and Lisa Trusiani, the last two of whom were at Heroes Con. The impression I’m getting is that working on Barbie was a challenge because of the severe restrictions imposed by Mattel. Barbie couldn’t make mistakes, and she couldn’t do anything the doll couldn’t. This issue is hurt by those constraints, because it doesn’t have much of a conflict. Barbie and her bandmates accept a challenge to perform a concert in all 50 states (in a possible homage to Around the World in 80 Days), and they succeed without much of a challenge. The artwork in this issue is rather static, and the characters really do look like dolls.

IMMORTAL HULK #19 (Marvel, 2019) – “Butterfly,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. The Hulk’s fight with the Abomination goes rather poorly, since the Abomination’s spit neutralizes the Hulk’s healing factor. Betty Ross Banner shows up in the form of the Harpy, but instead of saving the Hulk, she rips his heart out and eats it. This continues to be the best and most original Hulk comic in many years.

XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS #3 (Dynamite, 2019) – untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Jordi Pérez. This isn’t terrible, but it’s not memorable in any way, and I’m not a fan of the Xena franchise. I shouldn’t have ordered this comic.

SPIDER-MAN: LIFE STORY #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Brothers in Arms,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Mark Bagley. It’s the ‘90s. Aunt May is finally dead for good, and Peter is dating Jessica Jones. Otherwise, Peter’s life is not going well. When Ben Reilly shows up and is (falsely) revealed as the original Peter Parker instead of the clone, Peter is happy to surrender his life and identity to Ben. The issue ends with Peter returning to MJ and their children. This series gets more depressing with every issue, because all the familiar characters keep getting older. This whole series is a good demonstration of why Marvel and DC characters can’t be allowed to age in real time. Of course if this was the real Spider-Man series, Peter would probably have been replaced as the main character by his children, just like in Savage Dragon.

SHE COULD FLY: THE LOST PILOT #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Harold,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] Martin Morazzo. This issuse includes some more excellent depictions of mental illness. I especially like the scene where Luna thinks she’s hit someone with her car. This seems to be a common manifestation of OCD. However, this series’s plot is getting so confusing that I can barely follow it.

MORNING IN AMERICA #4 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Claudia Aguirre. This issue focuses on the Latina protagonist, Nancy. She witnesses her parents splitting up, then infiltrates the Marathon factory, where we see some scientists talking about a plot to summon alien beings through a wormhole. I don’t remember this issue very well, but Morning in America has been a pretty fun series so far.

GLOW #2 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tini Howard, [A] Hannah Templer. The GLOW girls prepare for their match against a team of more serious female wrestlers. I’ve lost my enthusiasm for Tini Howard’s writing, but this series has some witty dialogue and good art. It also has a feminist message, because it’s about the struggles of women in a male-dominated field. Overall it feels like a Boom! Box comic, which is why I’m reading it. However, there are so many characters in Glow that I can’t tell them apart.

SMOOTH CRIMINALS #6 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kurt Lustgarten, Kiwi Smith & Amy Roy. The Net of Indra is moved to a new facility, so Mia and Brenda have to completely rethink their plans. But of course something goes wrong – specifically, Mia’s mother betrays them. The interactions between Mia and Brenda are really fun, but I think Smooth Criminals’s story is getting stretched too thin; it’s too insubstantial of a story to support a twelve-issue maxiseries.

ATOMIC CITY TALES #1 (Black Eye, 1994) – “Atomic City Tales,” [W/A] Jay Stephens. This is the first Jay Stephens comic I’ve read. I bought an issue of Land of Nod last year, but haven’t gotten to it yet. Atomic City Tales #1 is about an encounter between Stephens himself and a superhero named Big Bang. It feels very similar to Madman, because it’s influenced by Silver Age comics and ‘60s hipster culture, and its goal is to be entertaining in a campy way. However, unlike Madman, it doesn’t have much of a plot, and Big Bang is a blatant wish fulfillment fantasy. Despite all that, Jay Stephens’s style is really interesting, and I want to read more of his work.

MANHUNT #1 (Print Mint, 1973) – various stories, [E] Terry Richards. I’m not sure what the origin of this comic was, but it’s an underground comic with both male and female creators, and it feels like a parody of romance comics. As usual with underground comics, the stories in this issue are of widely varying quality. The highlight of the issue is probably Sharon Rudahl’s strip about Calamity Jane, on the inside back cover. Other creators include Shary Flenniken (under a pseudonym), Aline Kominsky and Bobby London. Aline Kominsky’s strip “My Fat Came Between Us” is intentionally disgusting. Willy Murphy’s “Henry Henpeck Breaks Out” appears to be a parody of The Lockhorns.

BATGIRL #10 (DC, 2017) – “Son of Penguin Part 4,” [W] Hope Larson, [A] Chris Wildgoose. Babs breaks up with Ethan and has a heart-to-heart chat with Dick Grayson, while continuing to try to defeat Ethan’s plot. The issue ends with a confrontation between Ethan and his father, the Penguin. This isn’t my favorite Hope Larson Batgirl issue, but it’s not bad. The relationship drama is more interesting than the plot.

SUPERGIRL #1 (DC, 1996) – “Body & Soul,” [W] Peter David, [A] Gary Frank. I’ve never quite understood this series’ premise, so I was glad to finally find a copy of the first issue. As Supergirl #1 begins, a woman wakes up with no memories. She discovers that her name is Linda Danvers, and that she was believed to have been murdered by her boyfriend Buzz. But it’s more complicated than that, because “Linda” is really Supergirl, aka the shapeshifting Matrix. As the original Linda died, Matrix somehow absorbed her memories and personality. It’s a fascinating premise, which transforms the rather boring post-Crisis Supergirl into an interesting character. Now that I know what’s going on in this series, I look forward to reading more of it.

INVISIBLES #1 (DC, 1994) – “Dead Beatles,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. The first issue of Invisibles focuses on Dane McGowan, a Liverpool teenage boy who has no interests other than committing crimes and causing property damage. After an encounter with the ghosts of John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe, he commits a further crime and is sentenced to Harmony House, a Dickensian workhouse that tries to destroy its inmates’ emotions. But King Mob, one of the so-called Invisibles, shows up and rescues him. Invisibles #1 doesn’t make it entirely clear what the series is about; so far, it seems to have a rather simplistic message about the superiority of emotion to reason. But there’s a lot of fascinating stuff in this issue, and it displays deep research and erudition (especially in the Lennon/Sutcliffe scene). I plan on actively collecting this series.

DAREDEVIL #37 (Marvel, 1967) – “Don’t Look Now, but It’s… Dr. Doom!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Gene Colan. This issue has a simple but iconic cover, showing Daredevil fighting Dr. Doom on a black background. As the issue begins, Daredevil fights Doom and obviously loses because he’s overmatched. In a flashback, we see how Doom survived crashing into Galactus’s barrier in Fantastic Four #60. Then Doom switches bodies with Daredevil for some reason. I assume that the next issue begins with Doom discovering the hard way that Daredevil is blind. This was an okay issue, but not a classic.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #32 (Marvel, 2017) – “Personal Demon,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Greg Smallwood. This issue is a Norman Osborn solo story. Prior to this issue, Spider-Man injected Norman with nanites that prevent his super-strength serum from working. In the tradition of Baron Mordo and Dr. Strange, Norman Osborn goes to a remote mountain monastery to get his powers back. The monks train him and endow him with magic powers, which he uses to kill Spider-Man. Then he turns his powers on the monks as well. But at that point we learn that Norman’s training and the subsequent events never really happened. The monks were testing him by making him think he had powers, so that so they could see what he would do with those powers. And Norman failed the test. This is a surprising twist, and the entire issue, with its echoes of Dr. Strange, is a good example of Dan Slott’s ability to connect different parts of the Marvel Universe.

STRANGEHAVEN #5 (Abiogenesis, 1996) – “Cooking for Alex,” [W/A] Gary Spencer Millidge. Strangehaven takes place in a remote English village where the protagonist, Alex, has recently arrived as a teacher. The main event of the issue is that Alex has dinner with a local woman named Janey, but deeply hurts her when he rejects her sexual advances. Throughout the issue there are hints that something… strange is going on in Strangehaven, but Millidge is less interested in plot than in creating a mood and a sense of local specificity. He portrays rural England with great verisimilitude; it seems like he has intimate knowledge of villages like Strangehaven. I hope I come across some more issues of this series. One panel early in the issue depicts a shop window full of fake ads, including an ad for Alec McGarry’s home-brewed wine and ale.

PRISM STALKER #1 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Sloane Leong. This series was well-reviewed when it came out, and I regret that I didn’t order it. Prism Stalker starts out very confusingly, but we eventually realize that it’s about humans who are enslaved by aliens. In return for the aliens saving them from extinction, the humans have to “uproot” the aliens’ eggs by singing to them. But then the protagonist, Vep, is ordered to travel to a different planet to attend a “Chorus Academy.” Prism Stalker’s main attractions are its weirdness and its lyricism. The aliens have a bizarre biology and culture, which is presented to us with weird artwork and with captions like “Infinite blue instead of wet hive-green.” Prism Stalker has a very similar sensibility to Brandon Graham’s Prophet, and its aliens look a lot like one of the alien species from that series. This is no coincidence, because Sloane Leong worked on Prophet.

CHEW #6 (Image, 2019) – “International Flavor Part 1 of 5,” [W] John Layman, [A] Rob Guillory. I was surprised to discover that I’m missing a bunch of issues of Chew. I kind of assumed that I had all of them except the first few. This issue is mostly about Tony Chu and John Colby’s troubled relationship. They spend the issue investigating a black market chicken operation, but at the end, Tony discovers that the “chicken” is in fact Gallsaberry, a plant that tastes just like chicken. A notable moment in this issue is when Chu and Colby decide to do some conventional detective work to track down the criminals, when they could have gotten the same information by eating a pile of feces.

HAUNT OF FEAR #8 (Russ Cochran, 1994) – four stories, [E] Al Feldstein. This issue begins with Graham Ingels’s “Hounded to Death!”, about a woman unhappily married to a hunter who abuses his dogs. Like so many other wives in EC comics, she cheats on her husband with another man, and her husband murders her lover by throwing her to his dogs. The lover comes back as a zombie and kills the husband, Ingels’s artwork in this story is brilliant. George Roussos’s “The Very Strange Mummy!” is a generic mummy story, with the twist that the mummy is also a vampire. In Ed Smalle’s “Diminishing Returns,” an explorer lures a wealthy client to his death at the hands of Ecuadorean headhunters, but the client’s shrunken head somehow comes to life and kills the explorer. Ed Smalle worked in comics from about 1940 to 1956, but this was his only story for EC. The best story in the issue is Jack Davis’s “The Irony of Death.” Steel mill foreman Jeffrey Slag (heh) wants to marry the mill owner’s daughter, but the owner refuses, so Jeffrey murders him by throwing him into a vat of molten iron. Then he takes further sadistic revenge by using the iron from the vat to make tools. But two of the ingots from the vat are misplaced. Later, while visiting a museum, Jeffrey gets inside an iron maiden to see how it works. Of course, the iron maiden closes on him and kills him, and it turns out to have been made from the two missing ingots.

GREEN LANTERN #82 (DC, 1971) – “How Do You Fight a Nightmare?”, [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Neal Adams. This is the one where Sinestro teams up with a bunch of alien harpies and Amazons (no apparent relation to the Amazons from Wonder Woman). It’s the worst issue of O’Neil and Adams’s Green Lantern, because its plot is confusing, and its treatment of feminism is very superficial. The villain Medusa is a straw feminist who just wants vengeance against all men. Dinah’s line “It would forever stain our honor as women to slay man at the bidding of man” rubs me the wrong way; it’s as if Dinah is saying that she and Medusa should have common interests, simply because they’re both women. However, even the worst issue of GL/GA still includes all sorts of amazing artwork. I especially like the panel with Ollie shooting an arrow through a ring. Also, this issue does have some cute scenes between Ollie and Dinah.

VICTOR LAVALLE’S DESTROYER #3 (Boom!, 2017) – untitled, [W] Victor LaValle, [A] Dietrich Smith. This series’ plot is very intricate, and I have not found issue 1 yet, so I didn’t understand everything in issue 3. But the parts I do understand are fascinating. The main protagonist, Dr.  Baker, is a black female nanotechnologist. Her young son Akai was murdered by police on the way home from a baseball game (more on this in my review of issue 5, much later). She used her nanotech processes to resurrect him, thus turning him into a modern Frankenstein’s monster. And now Dr. Baker and Akai are being pursued by both the government and the original Frankenstein’s monster. This series is a brilliant combination of the Frankenstein myth with the contemporary police brutality crisis. An especially powerful moment is when Dr. Baker draws a connection between her son’s murder and that of Medgar Evers. I hope that Destroyer won’t be Victor LaValle’s only work in comics.

TRANSMETROPOLITAN #44 (Vertigo, 2001) – “Dirge Part 2,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Darick Robertson. A sniper is going around killing people at random. The cops are all off work because of “blue flu” (i.e. a strike disguised as a sickout), and the weather is terrible. This all creates a situation where Spider Jerusalem and his “filthy assistants” are the only people on the city streets. This story creates a great sense of suspense, and I’d like to know what happens in issue 45. As with Invincibles, I’ve decided to start actively trying for a complete run of Transmetropolitan.

BATMAN #322 (DC, 1980) – “Chaos – Coming and Going!”, [W] Len Wein, [A] Irv Novick. Captain Boomerang shows up in Gotham and blackmails a newspaper called the Gotham Guardian. It turns out the Gotham Guardian is run by Gregorian Falstaff, who was the primary villain of this era of Batman. Meanwhile, Selina Kyle is trying to go straight, but she learns that she has a rare disease which can only be cured by certain herbs that were known to the ancient Egyptians. And conveniently, there’s an Egyptian exhibit going on at a Gotham museum. Batman #322 isn’t the best Batman comic, but it’s a lot of fun. Len Wein brought a Marvel-esque sensibility to the character.

INCREDIBLE HULK #123 (Marvel, 1969) – “No More the Monster!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Herb Trimpe. Bruce Banner finally gains the ability to control his transformations into the Hulk. Overjoyed, he proposes marriage to Betty Ross. But just as Bruce is enjoying a rare moment of happiness, Thunderbolt Ross recruits him to test a new weapons system, and the Leader shows up and tries to steal it. I believe it’s next issue where Bruce is forcibly transformed into the Hulk during his own wedding. Herb Trimpe’s artwork in Hulk #123 is brilliant. The next issue blurb is funny: Bruce says “This I swear… that I will never become the Hulk… not even… if my life depends on it!” Caption at bottom: “Next issue: IT DOES!”

METAL MEN #47 (DC, 1976) – “The ‘X’ Effect,” [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Walt Simonson. In Antarctica, the Metal Men battle the Plutonium Man and his robot, which can take on the properties of any element. This issue’s story is only average, but Walt Simonson’s artwork is spectacular. Both the compositions and the draftsmanship are dynamic and exciting. Simonson’s Metal Men is an important transitional chapter between his two greatest works, Manhunter and Thor.

KANE #9 (Dancing Elephant, 1995) – “His Story,” [W/A] Paul Grist. This issue is the origin story of Oscar Darke, the series’ primary villain. This comic’s plot is difficult to follow; I had to look up who Oscar Darke was. Paul Grist’s artwork is extremely minimalistic, and his panel compositions are stark and simple. He uses the absolute minimum of linework to tell his story, and as a result he reminds me of Alex Toth. His artwork in Jack Staff is usually much more complex, though still quite minimalistic.

AVENGERS #37 (Marvel, 1966) – “To Conquer a Colossus!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Don Heck. The Avengers battle Ixar the Invincible, a boring villain who never appeared again. Black Widow saves the day by threatening to kill Ixar unless he surrenders. This would be a violation of the Avengers’ oath, but at this point Natasha isn’t an Avenger yet. Avengers #37 has some good characterization, but it’s not the most memorable issue.

CRITTERS #19 (Fantagraphics, 1987) – four stories, [E] Kim Thompson. I bought this issue because it includes a three-page Sam and Max story, “Night of the Cringing Wildebeest.” I believe this makes Critters #19 the only Sam and Max comic in my collection. These characters are famous thanks to their starring roles in other media, but their actual comics appearances are very rare and difficult to find. That’s a shame because Steve Purcell is a brilliant cartoonist. Even three pages of Sam and Max are worth the price of an entire issue. Sam and Max are memorable characters who are effective foils for each other: Sam is a self-important blowhard, and Max is a tiny homicidal maniac. Also, their stories use metatext in very funny ways. In Critters #19, Sam tells the criminal “I can’t think of anything to say in this panel. Take care of him, Max,” and in the next panel Max says “I’ve been authorized by the jurisdiction of whatever city this is to punish you in whatever way I can think of!” This issue also includes Gnuff, Lizards and Fission Chicken stories.

MIRACLEMAN #13 (Eclipse, 1987) – “Chapter III: Hermes,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] John Totleben. I already have the Marvel reprint of this issue, but I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to upload my reprint into an original. In this issue, Miracleman and Miraclewoman help mediate a peace treaty between the Qys and the Warpsmiths, but then Miracleman comes home to find that his wife is leaving him. Meanwhile, Johnny Bates is amnesiac and powerless, but his Kid Miracleman personality is demanding to be freed. This issue includes some beautifully lyrical writing and art, like the opening page with the “and/oroid” creature. I love  how the and/oroids have a word for “nostalgia for a hole’s intriguing shape once it’s been filled.” However, this issue also gives the sense that Miracleman is kind of an idiot; he ignores his wife’s postpartum depression and her feelings of inadequacy, and he makes no attempt to prevent Johnny Bates from turning back into Kid Miracleman. This issue’s main story is only 16 pages, so it also includes an old Marvelman reprint.

PALOOKA-VILLE #1 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1994) – “I Should’a Ran,” [W/A] Seth. An autobiographical story in which a young Seth is beaten by thugs who think he’s gay. This comic isn’t bad – the scene of the beating is shocking and brutal – but it feels more like a Joe Matt comic than a Seth comic. It lacks the lyricism and nostalgia that I associate with Seth, except in one silent panel that depicts a woman waiting for a bus on a snowy night.

THE FURTHER FATTENING ADVENTURES OF PUDGE, GIRL BLIMP #1 (Last Gasp, 1973) – multiple stories, [W/A] Lee Marrs. At the height of the hippie era, an overweight teenage girl runs away to San Francisco to find herself and lose her virginity. Pudge, Girl Blimp is Lee Marrs’s masterpiece. It’s funny, heartfelt, and extremely dense; each page has a ton of panels, and each panel is packed with dialogue and sight gags. It also depicts San Francisco with incredible detail and verisimilitude; you can tell it was drawn in the same place and at the same time as the events it narrates. The chapters of Pudge’s story are interspersed with scenes from the story of Mei-Lin Luftwaffe, Aerial Infant. These pages are drawn in a much simpler style. I also got Pudge, Girl Blimp #2 at Heroes Con, but haven’t read it yet. It’s too bad that there are only three issues, and that Lee Marrs wasn’t able to continue this fascinating project.

SUICIDE SQUAD #44 (DC, 1990)  – “Grave Matters,” [W] John Ostrander & David de Vries, [A] Luke McDonnell. This issue is a spotlight on Captain Boomerang, the most entertaining character in the series. While attending his mother’s funeral, Boomerbutt tells Deadshot his origin story. As a kid growing up in Australia, George Harkness was obsessed with boomerangs. But his abusive father neglected him, and George grew up to be a criminal.  Eventually, George is forced to flee to America to seek help from his “uncle” Walt W. Wiggins, a character from his first appearance in Flash #117. This starts the chain of events that leads to Captain Boomerang becoming a villain. Back in the present, we discover the explanation for George’s troubled family life: Walt Wiggins is his biological father. George rejects both his fathers and goes “where we’re loved. Back to Momma Waller.” It’s a touching ending to a powerful story, one which helps to humanize an entertaining but rather unsympathetic character. This was the only issue of Suicide Squad where David de Vries got a credit. I assume he was brought in as a consultant because he’s from Australia.

BIRTHRIGHT #9 (Image, 2015) – unknown, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. In the present, Mikey battles a creature known as a Diviner, while in a flashback, we see how Mikey first learned about the Diviners. The issue ends with Wendy encountering Rya, her grandchild’s mother, for the first time.

TREES #6 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Jason Howard. Apparently this series’ main plot is about some giant alien monoliths that land all over Earth. But Trees #6 is mostly about a young Chinese man who’s fallen in love with a transgender woman. It’s a sensitive and nuanced depiction of transgender issues. I especially like the line “On a healthy planet, gender is a continuum.”

VERY VICKY #1 (Meet Danny Ocean, 1994) – “Yesterday’s Coming Back Tomorrow,” [W] John Mitchell, [A] Jana Christy. Basically a slice-of-life story about an aloof, quiet teenage girl who vacations with her aunt and uncle on the beach. This comic suffers from a lack of a distinctive voice or aesthetic. It’s not clear just what effect Mitchell and Christy are trying to create, and Vicky never quite emerges as a distinctive character. However, I appreciate that Mitchell and Christy were at least trying something original. This comic is also relevant to my interests because it’s a ‘90s comic aimed at female readers, and I’d like to read more of it, if only to get a better understanding of what’s going on with it. See also this review: https://www.zompist.com/bob9.html

BATMAN AND ROBIN #38 (DC, 2015) – “Superpower – Fly Robin Fly,” [W] Peter J. Tomasi, [A] Patrick Gleason. Prior to this issue, Damian Wayne has somehow acquired superpowers, and he spends most of this issue trying out his new powers and grappling with his vexed relationship with his mother Talia. I enjoyed this issue reasonably well, and that makes sense because I already love Tomasi and Gleason’s Superboy and Superboy/Robin stories.

DOCTOR STRANGE #174 (Marvel, 1968) – “The Power and the Pendulum,” [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Gene Colan. Clea is now living on Earth full-time, and she has to adjust to her new environment, her new relationship with Dr. Strange, and her jealousy over Strange’s closeness to Victoria Bentley. Halfway through the issue, Strange and Bentley go to England to visit Lord Nekron (no relation to the later Green Lantern villain Nekron), who turns out to have sold his soul to Satannish for a year of power. By the terms of the deal, Nekron’s powers will increase constantly over the course of the year, but at the end of the year, he’ll be damned unless he can find another sorcerer to substitute for him. Because Nekron is an idiot, he waits until the last hour of the year to confront Strange, and Strange defeats him by casting a spell that makes time go faster, so the hour ends and Nekron is claimed by Satannish. Besides the scenes with Clea, the main appeal of this issue is Gene Colan’s spectacular artwork. I especially like the page where Strange is guided into Nekron’s lair by a grid of dazzling lights.

New comics received on June 21:

LUMBERJANES #63 (Boom!, 2019) – “The Fright Stuff,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] AnneMarie Rogers. The Lumberjanes are attacked by a dinosaur, but it turns out to be Jonesy, the velociraptor that Ripley befriended in an earlier story. Jonesy now has feathers and looks exactly like an enormous bird. Then there’s a thrilling and funny chase sequence, and at the end of the issue, the girls discover that the dinosaurs’ migration is blocked by the wreckage of a crashed space station. This issue is much faster-paced and less dense than #62, but it’s still excellent.

USAGI YOJIMBO #1 (IDW, 2019) – “Bunraku Part One,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. This is Usagi Yojimbo’s fourth volume from as many publishers, but the only difference from the third volume is that it’s in color. Tom Luth is obviously the ideal choice as colorist, and he does a great job. “Bunraku” begins with Sasuke fighting some demons, and then we cut to Usagi watching a bunraku (puppet theater) performance with some very lifelike puppets – a bit too lifelike, in fact, because they’re alive. This is a good start to volume 4, and I’m glad that Stan is back on a regular schedule again. I talked to him briefly at Heroes Con, but I’d have liked to ask him some more questions. (Was “The Hidden” inspired by his personal faith? Is he ever going to do a story about kaiseki?)

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #4 (Image, 2019) – “Walking the Path Part Four,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. Vess and Grix escape the ship that’s pursuing them, then they appeal to the local government, but get no help. And then an even bigger ship shows up. Invisible Kingdom is an exciting adventure story and a showpiece for Christian Ward’s phenomenal art. But it’s also a subtle examination of Willow’s overarching theme of religious faith. What does it mean to have faith in a religion, when that religion’s leadership is totally corrupt and hypocritical?

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #7 (Marvel, 2019) – “A Day in the Lives,” [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] four artists. Day-in-the-life stories are perhaps my favorite kind of superhero comics, and this is a pretty good one. The main event this issue is that Miles learns that his parents are having another baby.

SHURI #9 (Marvel, 2019) – “Godhead,” [W] Nnedi Okorafor, [A] Rachael Stott. Shuri and Storm pursue the Space Lubber to the vibranium mines, which are full of hallucinogenic coral. The Space Lubber is an adorable villain, and this series is a lot of fun in general. I’m just sorry that there’s only one issue left. I hope Nnedi will return to comics soon.

UNSTOPPABLE WASP #9 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] GuriHiru. This issue is a series of fight scenes, but Jeremy uses the fight scenes as a way of revealing more about the protagonists. Nadia escapes from the Boogeyman, while Janet beats the crap out of her insane stalker Whirlwind. David Cannon’s portrayal in this issue shows Jeremy’s understanding of stalkers’ creepy logic.

PLANET OF THE NERDS #3 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Beneath the Planet of the Nerds,” [W] Paul Constant, [A] Alan Robinson. Chad continues to act like a complete shit, and his own lack of social skills prevents him from getting any closer to Alvin. Part of the fun of this comic is that it lets us witness a high school bully getting his comeuppance, not after he grows up, but while he’s still a high schooler. At the end of the issue, Steve encounters his girlfriend Jenny, who’s gotten much older. A backup story reveals that Chad became a bully because of his abusive father. This information helps us understand Chad better, but doesn’t make him any more sympathetic; he could have chosen not to act like his father.

MONSTRESS #23 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. The Lord Doctor (I guess this is Maika’s dad’s name) tricks Maika into eating human flesh, and we learn that Maika has to eat people to stay alive. This may not be new information, but I didn’t realize it until now, and it makes the central themes of the series a lot clearer. If Maika is an obligate cannibal, that explains why she’s a monster. At the end of the issue, the Lord Doctor tells Zinn that he conspired with someone named Marium to betray the Shaman-Empress. Kippa and Ren only make a cameo appearance in the issue.

GODDESS MODE #6 (Vertigo, 2019) – “End of File,” [W] Zoe Quinn, [A] Robbi Rodriguez. This issue has some good lines of dialogue, such as “Hope is something you make.” But its story makes no sense, even though I’ve read issues 1 through 5. I’ve completely lost sight of who the Tall Poppies are fighting or why. Goddess Mode got off to a good start, but quickly declined in quality because Zoe Quinn made a mistake common to new fiction writers: she tried to do way too much. This series is full of ambitious concepts and themes, but these concepts and themes don’t fit together well, and none of them gets enough attention.

BLACK BADGE #11 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Tyler Jenkins. The Black Badges defeat the corrupt Honor Society, but now they have to go back to the orphanage. At the end of the issue, they’re approached by an unseen character who tells them that they still have a lot of work to do. This issue reminds me of the ending of MIND MGMT, where Meru defeats the evil leadership of her organization, and then has to rearrange it on a superior basis. In general I like this series much more than Grass Kings, though not as much as MIND MGMT.

MIDDLEWEST #8 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. At Heroes Con, I told Skottie Young that Middlewest proves he can write in genres other than humor, and he seemed pleased to hear it. This issue begins with Bobby criticizing Magdalena for throwing out Abel. I honestly can’t blame Magdalena. She had to protect everyone in the circus, not Abel, and Abel had already burned through the goodwill he’d established with her. But Bobby’s reaction also makes sense. Next, Dale gets in a bar fight with a man who recognizes him as an abusive father, and Abel and Fox travel through a forest, where they’re surrounded by a horde of creepy squirrels.

GIDEON FALLS #14 (Image, 2019) – “The Village Near the Centre,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. Father Fred finds himself in a village whose people who seem to understand the nature of the Gideon Falls universe. Meanwhile, in 1953, Father Jeremiah Burke, who looks exactly like Father Fred, wakes up after a 50-year coma. The issue ends with a scene depicting am apparent villain named Bishop Burke. I assume that Fred, Jeremiah Burke, and Bishop Burke are all the same man, but how they relate to each other is not clear. As usual, this issue includes some brilliant artwork. Given the relative tameness of Andrea Sorrentino’s art in War of the Realms: War Scrolls, I assume that Jeff is at least partly responsible for Gideon Falls’s radically experimental page layouts.

RAT QUEENS #16 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan Ferrier, [A] Priscilla Petraites. In this issue Betty asks “Remember when all this was fun?” That perfectly expresses my feelings about Rat Queens, because this issue is not fun at all. For example, one of the central moments is that Betty gets an intervention for alcoholism. That’s quite realistic, but I don’t want Rat Queens to be realistic. I want it to be a raucous, anarchic, feminist story about women who drink, fuck, and fight. Rat Queens hasn’t been that sort of story for several years. The characters have been so consumed by their internal struggles that they’ve forgotten how to have fun. Possibly the same thing has happened to the comic’s creators. Rat Queens has suffered from constant problems on the creative front, starting with the revelation that its original artist is a spousal abuser. Kurtis Wiebe is no longer interested in writing this comic, and I see no reason why another writer could do a better job. I was willing to give Ryan Ferrier a chance, but Rat Queens #16 offers no hope that the franchise will reverse its decline, and I’m giving up on it. I think it should have just been cancelled.

ASSASSIN NATION #4 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kyle Starks, [A] Erica Henderson. I had dinner with Kyle Starks at Heroes Con – well, sort of; he was at the table next to where Andy Kunka and I were sitting. Assassin Nation #4 is another fun issue of a very entertaining series. After yet another exaggeratedly gruesome fight scene, the assassins discover that their client, Rankin, has been setting them up to be killed.

FARMHAND #9 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Rob Guillory. The transplant patients start to get even creepier, and the new mayor begins to execute her plan. This issue is more focused on horror than humor, and it shows that Farmhand is not just a humor comic.

SUPERMAN #1 (DC, 2016) – “Son of Superman,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [A] Patrick Gleason. This issue doesn’t have much plot, but it’s an effective introduction to the Kent family. The main event this issue is that Jonathan uses his heat vision to save a cat from a hawk, but accidentally kills both creatures, and a little girl sees him do it. I mostly love Peter Tomasi’s Superman Family stories; however, they are rather heteronormative, and a friend of mine has complained about Tomasi’s somewhat sexist portrayal of Lois.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #581 (Marvel, 2009) – “Mind on Fire Part One: The Trouble with Harry,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Mike McKone. Harry Osborn’s new girlfriend’s dad is running for mayor. Peter Parker accompanies Harry to see his estranged wife and child, Liz Allan and Normie. It turns out that Liz is living with her stepbrother the Molten Man, and he wakes up, destroys the house, and sets it on fire. This issue is a pretty effective portrayal of the Osborns’ screwed-up family dynamics. It’s kind of a sequel to Spectacular Spider-Man #189 and #200. Normie Osborn doesn’t seem to have aged much in the past twenty years of stories.

AQUAMAN #49 (DC, 2019) – “Mother Shark Part Two,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Viktor Bogdanovic. This issue’s title has something of a double meaning, since it turns out to be about impending parenthood. In a flashback, we see what happened before Unspoken Water began: Mera told Arthur she was pregnant, and Arthur was so terrified by this news that he caused an earthquake. Arthur and Mera’s reactions both seem completely plausible: it makes sense that Arthur is scared to be a father, and that Mera is offended that he’s scared. I feel like this whole issue wouldn’t have happened if Arthur had just politely asked Mera to be quiet for a moment and let him calm down. I wonder if DC’s edict that Arthur and Mera can’t get married is still in force.

SECRET HEARTS #151 (DC, 1971) – “Mother, Let Me Go!”, [W] Jack Miller, [A] Lee Elias. This issue’s lead story is about a girl, Elaine, whose mother drives her crazy by trying to set her up with boys. Eventually, Elaine falls in love on her own. However, the problem of the mother’s interference is never solved; even in the last panel, the mother is saying that Elaine should listen to her. I imagine that if Elaine were to have children, her mother would constantly criticize and undermine her parenting. There are also two other less interesting stories, one of which is a reprint with updated hairstyles and clothing. By 1971 the romance comics genre was already moribund, and Secret Hearts was cancelled with #153.

WARLORD OF MARS ATTACKS #1 (Dynamite, 2019) – “Mysteries of Mars,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Dean Kotz. This crossover series begins as the evil brain-headed Martians attack Barsoom. Dejah Thoris nukes the city of Helium to defeat them, but teleports John Carter back to Earth so that he at least can survive. The scene then shifts to Earth, which is being invaded by the same evil Martians. The Eath segment focuses on two scientists and an insufferable slob named Ramon. At the end of the issue, they head to Arizona, where John Carter has just been teleported. This is a fun series so far, though I’m already sick of Ramon.

NAUGHTY BITS #13 (Fantagraphics, 1994) – “Bitchy Bitch Goes Back to Work,” [W/A] Roberta Gregory. Midge returns to work after her vacation, and discovers that her new coworker is someone she knew in high school. There’s also a lot of the usual office politics and family drama. In an earlier review, I complained that Very Vicky didn’t have a coherent narrative voice, and that’s exactly what Naughty Bits does so well; it has a unique, distinctive style of storytelling. On the letters page, a reader named Tiel Jackson complains that Bitchy is unsympathetic and that her character never develops. That’s true, but I don’t think it’s a problem, because we’re not supposed to completely sympathize with Bitchy. A lot of the humor of the series comes from her histrionic personality and her exaggerated reactions to common problems.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #7 (Marvel, 2019) – “Strange Trip Part 2,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Annapaola Martello. Dr. Strange and Captain Marvel manage to master each other’s powers enough to defeat the Enchantress. This isn’t a bad comic, but it’s very unfortunate that “Strange Trip” was published at the same time as Marvel Team-Up #1-3, which featured a much better story about superheroes switching bodies. The best part of this issue is the scene where Black Widow beats a crocodile to death in the background, while Doc and Carol are having a conversation in the foreground.

SWEET TOOTH #4 (Vertigo, 2010) – “Out of the Deep Woods Part 4,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. I’m getting close to a complete run of Sweet Tooth, but I still haven’t found issue 1. This issue, Gus and Tommy visit a brothel where the enslaved women pretend to be animals. They kill the brothel owners and escape, but the women choose to stay. This issue is fairly powerful, but less complex than later issues of the series. At the end, Gus says he doesn’t think Tommy is a bad man. That’s a nice piece of dramatic irony if the reader already knows that Tommy intends to betray Gus.

SABRINA #3 (Archie, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Veronica Fish. Although this issue includes a fair amount of plot, it’s mostly notable for having the best cat moment in any comic this year. After a long day of magical adventures, Sabrina lies down in bed and starts petting Salem. But Salem gets offended, telling Sabrina that he’s her familiar and not her pet. Sabrina says “Can’t you just be both?” and Salem grudgingly agrees to accept pets, saying “ Fine! But I’m not going to enjoy it!” And then in the next panel, he starts purring as she pets him. This scene is a perfect expression of the cat-human bond.

BATGIRL #11 (DC, 2017) – “Son of Penguin Finale,” [W] Hope Larson, [A] Chris Wildgoose. Batgirl finally defeats Ethan/Blacksun by luring him into a park, where he doesn’t get cell phone reception, so his mind control won’t work. This was a really good storyline, and overall, Hope Larson’s Batgirl was at least as good as that of Fletcher, Stewart and Tarr.

YAHOO #5 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – “How I Loved the War,” [W/A] Joe Sacco. Joe Sacco is my primary example of a cartoonist whose work I appreciate but don’t enjoy. His skill is undeniable, and his work is very important, but his comics are not fun to read, nor are they supposed to be. Like all of Sacco’s work, Yahoo #5 is a brutal reading experience, but in this case it’s mostly because of Sacco’s portrayal of himself. Much of the issue focuses on his excessive drinking and relationship problems, rather than his journalism, and he depicts himself as unflatteringly as Joe Matt does. Sacco always presents himself in a negative light, but it’s usually not this negative. This issue does include some of the journalism and foreign affairs analysis that Sacco is famous for. There’s one vignette where he’s teaching German to Palestinians, and there’s a story called “War Junkie” that’s about Sacco’s obsession with Gulf War news – the first Gulf War, that is. (The first Gulf War started on my little sister’s birthday. I was just eight at the time, and I didn’t understand why the war was such a bad thing. I thought it was kind of cool.)

CLUE CANDLESTICK #2 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Dash Shaw. Much of this issue is about Mr. Boddy’s obsession with Miss Scarlet, an artist’s model. The issue is full of puzzles and bizarre page layouts, and at the end of the issue, we’re told that if we do all the puzzles, we have enough information to solve the mystery on our own. The main puzzle in this issue requires colored pencils or markers to solve, and I don’t know if I’ll have the energy to solve this or any of the other puzzles by myself, but it’s really cool that the mystery is solvable. Another fascinating moment in this issue is when we witness Mrs. Boddy’s murder, and then on the next page, we’re asked to remember what the murderer looked like – the color of his shoes, the pattern of his shirt, what he was holding, etc. I couldn’t remember any of this information without looking it up, and this sequence is a vivid demonstration of the fallibility of memory.

AMERICAN CARNAGE #8 (DC, 2019) – “Mercy,” [W] Bryan Hill, [A] Leandro Fernandez. Another issue full of politically charged crime drama, but not many decisive events. Leandro Fernandez’s artwork is as beautiful as ever, but I strongly dislike all the characters in this series, and that makes it hard to care what happens to them. I won’t be sorry when this comic ends.

WAR OF THE REALMS: WAR SCROLLS #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “The God Without Fear Part Three,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. Part three of “The God Without Fear” is no more impressive than the first two. As noted in my Gideon Falls #13 review above, “The God Without Fear” includes none of Sorrentino’s trademark weird page layouts, and it’s only an average story overall. The next story, written by Christopher Cantwell from She Could Fly, is a bit more interesting, though still not great. The most interesting thing about this story is that it includes some examples of the Latverian language, and Latverian seems to be closely related to Hungarian. I guess it was already canon that Latverian was based on Hungarian, but I don’t know where this was established. The best story in the issue is the last one, which I believe is the first comic by Nebula-winning novelist Charlie Jane Anders. It’s not a great story, but it’s a cute exploration of She-Hulk and Thor’s relationship. However, as other people have noted, the current version of She-Hulk basically ignores everything that happened to the character in Mariko Tamaki’s series.

BY THE TIME I GET TO WAGGA WAGGA #1 (Harrier, 1987) – “Dapper John Minds the Baby” and other stories, [W/A] Eddie Campbell. This one-shot is a collection of stories that were drawn in the late ‘70s and were later released as minicomics. These stories, along with other material, were later collected by Fantagraphics under the title In the Days of the Ace Rock ‘n’ Roll Club, but that book is long out of print, and I don’t think any of these stories are included in the Alec omnibus edition. So in short, By the Time I Get to Wagga Wagga #1 is a collection of early work that Eddie has more or less repudiated. That’s a shame because “Dapper John Minds the Baby,” in particular, is a touching and funny story. It’s about a young ne’er-do-well who’s stuck babysitting his baby nephew. He heads to the local bar (the Ace Rock ‘n’ Roll Club), where he inveigles a woman into helping him care for the baby. This story is a good example of Eddie’s early work; it’s in basically the same style as the stories collected in Alec: The King Canute Crowd. See http://eddiecampbell.blogspot.com/2007/07/munch.htmlfor a few comments by Eddie about this story.

WONDER WOMAN #163 (DC, 1966) – “Giganta – the Gorilla Girl!” and “Danger – Wonder Woman!”, [W] Robert Kanigher, [A] Ross Andru. This issue is the first Silver Age appearance of two Golden Age villains, Giganta and Paula von Gunta (i.e. Gunther). It’s the only Wonder Woman comic in my collection from before the no-costume era. Reading this issue, I realize that there are good reasons why I don’t collect Wonder Woman comics from this period. This comic is frankly awful; it’s thoroughly boring, and it lacks any characterization or any genuine excitement. It’s well known that Kanigher hated Wonder Woman. Jill Lepore quotes him referring to her as “the grotesque inhuman original Wonder Woman” (the source for this is an interview in the DC archives). Probably he was only writing Wonder Woman because someone had to; under the terms of DC’s contract with the Marston estate, they had to continuously publish Wonder Woman comics in order to retain the rights to the character. And the result of all this was two decades of bad Wonder Woman comics like this one.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #698 (Marvel, 2013) – “Dying Wish Prelude: Day in the Life,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Richard Elson. A brilliant piece of narrative sleight of hand. This issue begins by showing us Dr. Octopus on his deathbed. Then we cut to Peter Parker, who is finally doing all right for once. He loves being Spider-Man, and he has all sorts of great ideas for new inventions. But then Doc Ock starts asking for “Peter Parker.” Spider-Man visits the dying Doc Ock… who tells him “I’m Peter Parker.“ And then we realize that the Peter Parker from the first half of the comic was not Peter at all, but Doc Ock’s mind in Peter’s body, and vice versa! Realizing this, we look back earlier in the issue and notice clues we missed, especially “Peter’s” reference to Aunt May as a “dear, sweet woman.” Of course I knew there had been a story where Peter and Doc Ock switched bodies, but the final reveal was shocking anyway, because I didn’t realize that this was the issue where we learned about the body switch. ASM #698 must have been massively controversial when it came out, but now that the Superior Spider-Man story arc is over, I can look back on this issue and appreciate Dan Slott’s stunning storytelling.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #699 (Marvel, 2013) – “Dying Wish: Outside the Box,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Humberto Ramos. While Doc Ock is off being Peter, the actual Peter is trapped inside Doc Ock’s nearly dead body. Faced with one of the direst predicaments of his life, Peter manages to mentally activate Doc Ock’s last-ditch contingency plan, which involves getting Hydro-Man, Scorpion and Trapster to break him out of jail. So Peter survives the issue, but he’s still immobile and dying, and he’s allied himself with villains. How is he going to get out of this one? Or is he? I need to find issue 700 if I don’t already have it.

TALES TO ASTONISH #64 (Marvel, 1965) – “When Attuma Strikes!”, [W] Leon Lazarus, [A] Carl Burgos, and “The Horde of Humanoids!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Steve Ditko. Leon Lazarus sounds like a pen name for Larry Lieber, but he was a real person. He was finally tracked down in 2005, shortly after his death, and Jim Amash’s interview with him was published in Alter Ego. The Giant-Man/Wasp story in TTA #64 was the only Marvel Universe story he wrote. It’s a very average story, and according to Amash’s interview, Lazarus was not comfortable with the Marvel method. This issue’s Hulk story is much better. It’s the third appearance of the Leader, and it includes a fight between the Hulk and a bunch of humanoids. At this point, the Hulk was mean and savage, but could still speak in full sentences.

CRIMINAL #6 (Icon, 2008) – “Bad Night Part Three,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Jacob (the same Jacob from “Bad Weekend,” I think) and a woman named Iris have to dispose of a dead body. But the police may be on to them. I had trouble following this story, and I confused it with issue 4 of the current Criminal series, which has kind of a similar plot. But this comic is a really effective piece of crime fiction. I especially like the psychosexual aspects of this story; it turns out that Jacob and Iris are both aroused by danger, panic and tawdriness.

BATMAN #301 (DC, 1978) – “The Only Man Batman Ever Killed!”, [W] David V. Reed, [A] John Calnan. This comic’s cover is shocking; it depicts Batman standing over a dead man, a smoking gun in his hand, while the man’s wife accuses Batman of murdering him. Sadly, the story inside the comic does not live up to the cover. Batman doesn’t actually kill the man, he just pretends to have done so, and it’s not clear why. And the plot, involving a criminal overlord and a society of “wire-heads,” is confusing and incoherent.

DEFENDERS #7 (Marvel, 1973) – “War Between the Waves!”, [W] Steve Englehart & Len Wein, [A] Sal Buscema. Hawkeye joins the Defenders as they battle Attuma and the Red Ghost. The highlight of the issue is a panel where the Red Ghost compares porpoises to apes (https://www.instagram.com/p/BzKAEoIh_m5/). For some reason the first half of the issue is written by Steve Englehart, and the second half by Len Wein. This gives the reader a rare opportunity to directly compare their styles.

MIGHTY SAMSON #27 (Gold Key, 1975) – “Noah’s Ark,” [W] Allan Moniz, [A] José Delbo. Samson and his friends encounter a madman who pretends to be the biblical Noah, along with his ark full of preapocalyptic animals. This comic isn’t great, but it has some fun moments. I especially like the “pentopus,” an octopus with five tentacles and a crab’s claw.

CHEW #4 (Image, 2009) – “Taster’s Choice Part 4,” [W] John Layman, [A] Rob Guillory. Tony Chu and Mason Savoy (not yet revealed as a villain) investigate an Arctic observatory that’s implicated in a black market chicken ring. It turns out the observatory is monitoring one particular planet, and this is the beginning of the plot thread about aliens, which continues throughout the series. This issue has some awesome moments, such as the scene where Savoy holds up an urn of human ashes in front of an electric fan.

WONDER WOMAN #235 (DC, 1977) – “The Biology Bomb!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] José Delbo. During World War II, Diana and Dr. Mid-Nite battle Steve Trevor, who’s essentially been turned into the Hulk. This comic isn’t spectacular, but at least it’s readable and has an adequate level of storytelling and characterization. Therefore, it’s vastly better than Wonder Woman #163.

SPIDER-WOMAN #38 (Marvel, 1981) – “Criminal at Large!”, [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Steve Leialoha. Jessica Drew teams up with some of the X-Men to fight Black Tom, Siryn and Juggernaut. This issue feels like an extra issue of Claremont’s X-Men; it even has Tom Orzechowski lettering. It’s also the answer to a trivia question: “Name an ‘80s comic written by Chris Claremont in which Colossus battles the Juggernaut, besides Uncanny X-Men #183.” In the last panel of this issue, three of the books on Jess’s bookshelf are Valerian albums. One of these is Metro Chatelet Direction Cassiopeia, which had come out the previous year, and would not be translated into English for decades. So one of this comics’ creators must have been reading French comics in the original French.

TRINITY #2 (DC, 2008) – “A Personal Best at Giant Robot Smashing,” [W] Kurt Busiek, [A] Mark Bagley. I ought to be collecting this because it’s written by Kurt Busiek. This issue is a very simple and straightforward superhero story, but a well-crafted one. The first story stars Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, hence the title of the series. There’s also a backup story starring John Stewart, co-written by Fabian Nicieza.

AIRBOY #2 (Eclipse, 1986) – “The Wolf and the Phoenix,” [W] Chuck Dixon, [A] Tim Truman & Tom Yeates. I detest Chuck Dixon so much that I’m hesitant even to read a thirty-year-old comic he wrote. But Airboy had some other good creators, it’s a well-crafted comic, and it’s also a very quick read. I kind of like the idea of a biweekly comic that’s just 16 pages. This issue, Airboy meets Skywolf and tries to learn more about his father’s relationship with Valkyrie, who shows up at the end of the issue.

STARSTRUCK #4 (IDW, 2009) – “Make a Wish” and other material, [W] Elaine Lee, [A] Michael Wm. Kaluta. Starstruck has such a confusing publication history that it’s hard to know where to start reading it. Briefly, Starstruck was first published in the Spanish magazine Comix Internacional, and then first published in English in Heavy Metal. Those same stories were collected as Marvel: Graphic Novel #13, and were then reprinted in an expanded form by Dark Horse in 1990. The 2009 IDW Starstruck series contains all that material, plus the first issue of the 1985-1986 Starstruck series published by Epic. IDW later reprinted the other five issues of that Epic series, along with new material, under the title Starstruck: Old Proldiers Never Die. So it seems like if I get all the issues of Starstruck (2009) and Starstruck: Old Proldiers Never Die, I’ll have all the Starstruck comics that exist.

Okay, now to the actual comic. Starstruck’s actual content is just as weird as its history. This issue’s first half is a series of flashbacks to the childhood of the main protagonist, Galatia 9, a.k.a. Molly. It emphasizes her troubled relationships with her mother, stepfather and half-sister, who become the main antagonists. There’s also a backup story about the Galactic Girl Guides, who are kind of like the Lumberjanes in outer space. Overall, Starstruck is a very difficult comic, but it has an appealing anarchist and feminist streak, and Kaluta’s artwork is beautiful. I bought three other issues of IDW’s Starstruck at Heroes Con, and I want to get to them soon.

LITTLE BIRD #1 (Image, 2019) – “The Fight for Elder’s Hope Chapter One,” [W] Darcy Van Poelgeest, [A] Ian Bertram. I just noticed that this comic’s inside front cover says “‘Little Bird’ was written on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people.” I haven’t seen a land acknowledgement in a comic book before. As I inferred from reading issue 1, Little Bird is about a First Nations girl who rebels against an oppressive United States-led dictatorship. In this comic, she breaks into a prison for superheroes and rescues an old superhero named the Axe, who we eventually realize is her grandfather. Meanwhile, the American dictator known as Bishop, who is also Little Bird’s father, is trying to recapture her with the aid of his young protégé Gabriel. Little Bird is one of the best debut titles of the year; its story is more complicated than it seems, and Ian Bertram’s artwork is phenomenal. He reminds me at times of Carla Speeed McNeil, Andrew Maclean, and Frank Quitely, but he has his own original style. I enjoyed this issue so much that I immediately reread issue 2, and then moved on to issue 3:

LITTLE BIRD #3 (Image, 2019) – as above. Little Bird and Axe lead an attack on the government forces, but it ends disastrously. Little Bird meets Gabriel, who looks exactly like her. Axe apparently gets killed, and Bishop stabs Little Bird through the chest, while also confirming that he’s her father. Now I’m caught up on this series, although I missed my chance to order issue 4.

SUPURBIA #1 (Boom!, 2012) – untitled, [W] Grace Randolph, [A] Russell Dauterman. As noted in previous reviews, Supurbia was billed as a superhero version of Desperate Housewives, but it’s not all that different from a typical superhero comic. It often reminds me of Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme, which also included a lot of characters with families. Supurbia #1 introduces us to the characters, all of whom are obviously based on famous superheroes. The best part about this issue is the Wonder Woman character and her family. She’s a militant female supremacist who neglects her son in favor of her daughter.

LITTLE LULU #79 (Dell, 1955) – “Wishing Well” and other stories, [W] John Stanley, [A] Irving Tripp. In this issue’s lead story, Tubby fools the girls into thinking that his wishes are being granted by a wishing well. As usual, Lulu turns the tables on him and tricks him into beign trapped inside the well. There are also a bunch of other stories, one of which stars Alvin and Witch Hazel. John Stanley’s Little Lulu comics are very formulaic, but the formula was a good one, and Stanley kept coming up with new ways for Lulu to outsmart Tubby.

BARBIE FASHION #20 (Marvel, 1992) – “Get Me the Scoop!”, [W] Barbara Slate, [A] Dan Parent. A nosy reporter is trying to get some dirt on Barbie. Meanwhile, Barbie is trying to get more funding for a day care center. Barbie eventually comes up with a way to use each problem to solve the other. This comic is better than Barbie #18 because it has a much more interesting plot. However, it still has the fundamental problem that Barbie is impossibly perfect, and therefore not interesting to read about.

G.I. JOE #37 (Marvel, 1985) – “Twin Brothers,” [W] Larry Hama, [A] Frank Springer. I bought a bunch of G.I. Joe comics at Heroes Con. I have a bunch more at my parents’ house, but they’re in terrible shape, and I hesitate to add a lot of additional comics to my boxes when I’m already low on storage space. It might be better to just buy new copies of those comics, if I can find them in quarter boxes or whatever. Anyway, G.I. Joe #37 isn’t the best example of the series. A group of Joes fight Tomax and Xamot at a carnival, but it’s not clear what the Cobra agents are doing at the carnival, or what their overall goal is. In general, this comic feels like a toy commercial rather than a realistic war story, and of course G.I. Joe is always the former, but it’s sometimes the latter as well.

UNCLE SCROOGE #283 (Gladstone, 1993) – “Foxy Relations,” [W/A] Carl Barks, plus other stories. In this issue’s Barks ten-pager, Donald has to go on a fox hunt, and of course it ends disastrously. The excuse for the fox hunt is that Scrooge wants to buy “two billion acres of oil lands” from an English nobleman, but the nobleman  won’t sell to anyone who isn’t a sportsman. Two billion acres is about half the United States, or five percent of all the land in the world. As with most Gladstone comics, the other stories in this issue are far less impressive. One of them is a Gyro Gearloose storty in which he has to publish a paper in order to save his job. But Gyro doesn’t publish papers, he just invents stuff. But then why can’t he just publish a paper describing one of his inventions?

BATMAN #465 (DC, 1991) – “Debut,” [W] Alan Grant, [A] Norm Breyfogle. Tim Drake goes on his first mission as Robin, and saves an actor from a psychotic stalker. Meanwhile, Batman catches two criminals and realizes that as Bruce Wayne, he’s paying to sponsor them through college. This is an understated but excellent issue. Now that Alan Brennert is finally getting the credit he deserves, I think Alan Grant is the most underrated Batman writer.

SEVEN SOLDIERS: FRANKENSTEIN #1 (DC, 2006) – “Uglyhead,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Doug Mahnke. I was surprised to discover this near the back of my unread comics boxes. The villain of “Uglyhead” is an ugly, telepathic high school kid who tries to enslave all the popular kids. I assume he’s connected with the Sheeda in some way. Frankenstein(’s monster) shows up and defeats Uglyhead. Seven Soldiers was a very complicated project, but it was written in a modular format where each issue and each miniseries was supposed to stand alone. So this issue was enjoyable, even though I wasn’t quite sure how it connected to the rest of the Seven Soldiers comics.

Last review post before Heroes Con

6-4-19

Heroes Con is coming up fast, so I’m making a concerted effort to clear out some space in my boxes of unread comics. I’m trying to read ten comic books a day. It’s not impossible because it’s summer and I don’t have to work.

A few more comics from the week of May 16:

LUCIFER #8 (DC, 2019) – “A Fine Day for a Black Mass.” Another issue that includes some good individual scenes, but makes no sense as a unit. I’m thoroughly sick of this series, and I wish I’d dropped it after issue 1. Bleeding Cool reported today that Vertigo is being shut down. If that’s true, it’s sad, but also inevitable. Vertigo’s doom was sealed when DC decided to stop offering competitive rights deals. As a result, creators took their proposals elsewhere, mostly to Image. Vertigo used to be the natural home for comics like Saga, Sex Criminals and WicDiv would have been, but Image got them instead. Vertigo’s last truly successful new series were American Vampire and iZombie, and those are almost a decade old. Even in the current wave of Vertigo titles, only House of Whispers and The Dreaming are truly excellent. I feel sorry for all the people whose series will be cancelled when or if Vertigo shuts down, but I expect those series will find other publishers, like Second Coming did.

DOCTOR WHO FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2019 (Titan, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jody Houser, [A] Giorgia Sposito. The Thirteenth Doctor and her companions visit an alien amusement park, where if patrons play carnival games and lose, they get kidnapped and added to the prize pool. The Doctor saves the captured guests. This is an entertaining story, but nothing great.

SPIDER-MAN: LIFE STORY #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Chapter One: The War at Home,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Mark Bagley. A revisionist version of the ’60s Spider-Man, in which Peter fights Norman Osborn and argues with Flash Thompson about the morality of going to Vietnam. Spider-Man: Life Story may be Chip Zdarsky’s best work for Marvel, besides Howard the Duck. It feels like a classic Spider-Man story, but without the requirement that the status quo be preserved. And unlike in a typical What If story, the divergences from standard Marvel continuity have an emotional impact. I especially like how this comic addresses the controversy over the Vietnam war. At the end of this issue, Captain America shows up in Vietnam but appears to be fighting on the North Vietnamese side – just like the Old Soldier did in Astro City. I’m thoroughly convinced that America’s involvement in the Vietnam War was wrong, and it was partly through comics that I formed that opinion.

SPIDER-MAN: LIFE STORY #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Chapter Three: Our Secret Wars,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Mark Bagley. Just as his wife MJ is about to give birth to twins, Peter is yanked off to Battleworld to fight in the Secret Wars. When he comes back, Peter becomes addicted to his new alien costume, and a dying Kraven tries to kill him. Peter is ultimately unable to balance his responsibility to his powers and his family, and MJ leaves him with the kids. This is a strange thing to say given all the tragedy that’s happened in the regular Spider-Man comic, but Spider-Man: Life Story is actually darker and grimmer than the stories it’s based on. In regular Marvel continuity, heroes never get older (a shocking moment in this issue is the sight of Reed Richards with white hair) and they don’t make irreparable mistakes, or default on their responsibilities.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #22 (Marvel, 1973) – “The Coming of Conan!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Barry (Windsor-)Smith. This issue has a beautiful new BWS cover, but inside it’s just a reprint of issue 1. According to the letters page, this was because thirteen pages of BWS’s original art were lost in the mail.

SECRET SIX #5 (DC, 1969) – “The Queen Without a Crown!”, [W] E. Nelson Bridwell & Joe Gill, [A] Jack Sparling. Mockingbird sends the Secret Six to the European country of Graustania, where they have to recover the stolen crown jewels so the rightful queen can be crowned. But one of their enemies is Secret Six member Kim Dawn’s sleazy ex-husband. Despite an undistinguished creative team, this comic is really fun. Jack Sparling’s storytelling is dynamic and exciting, with lots of diagonal panel borders. ENB and Joe Gill craft a thrilling and convoluted story with strong characterization. I need to collect the rest of this series.

SUPURBIA #3 (Boom!, 2012) – untitled, [W] Grace Randolph, [A] Russell Dauterman. At Comic-Con, Grace Randolph signed my copy of this issue, but I never got around to reading it. The gimmick of this series is that it’s like Real Housewives, except the husbands are superheroes. This comic is entertaining and has good characterization, but its plot is confusing. At this point Russell Dauterman wasn’t yet the artist he is now, though his art isn’t bad.

SUPER DINOSAUR #21 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Jason Howard. Derek and Devil Dinosaur, excuse me, Super Dinosaur sneak into the evil dinosaurs’ base. I liked this series when it was coming out, but it really doesn’t compare favorably to current YA comic books like Lumberjanes or Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur. It lacks complexity and has a non-diverse cast. It seems to be mostly a tribute to the things Kirkman enjoyed when he was a kid.

BOOM! STUDIOS FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2019 #1 (Boom!, 2019) – “Boss Moon: Birth of a Unificator,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Ethan Young, plus another story. This issue includes a Firefly story and two Buffy stories. This comic is competently executed, but I’m not a Whedonverse fan, and none of the stories were of any interest to me.

STRANGERS IN PARADISE XXV (Abstract Studio, 2018) – untitled, [W/A] Terry Moore. It’s been twenty years since I last read Strangers in Paradise. I loved it when I was in high school, but I only read it for a year or two, and then I discovered better comics. SIP has not held up well. It’s implausible and farfetched, and Terry Moore’s ability to write female characters is overrated – in particular, Francine and Katchoo seem like caricatures compared to Maggie and Hopey. This FCBD comic has some pretty artwork, but it does nothing to change my opinion of Terry Moore’s work.

BATMAN ’66 MEETS WONDER WOMAN ’77 #1 (DC, 2017) – untitled, [W] Jeff Parker & Marc Andreyko, [A] David Hahn. This comic is exactly what its title indicates. It includes some cute touches, like Catwoman’s constant cat puns, or young Bruce Wayne and Talia’s first meeting. But like the regular Batman ’66 series, it fails to transcend its rather limited premise.

SUPERMAN #15 (DC, 2017 – “Multiplicity Part 2,” [W] Peter Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, [A] various. I really liked this series at first, for the same reasons I like Adventures of the Super Sons. However, almost as soon as I started reading Superman, it became unreadable because it was mired in pointless crossovers. This issue is an example of that. Its plot is impossible to understand, and there’s no reason why the reader should even try.

SILK #8 (Marvel, 2016) – “Spider-Women Part 6,” [W] Robbie Thompson, [A] Tana Ford. Marvel’s Spider-Women titles all suffered from excessive crossover involvement as well, but Silk wouldn’t have been much good even if it had never been part of a crossover. As usual with Silk, this issue has an overly compressed story and boring dialogue.

VAMPIRELLA #4 (Dynamite, 2016) – untitled, [W] Kate Leth, [A] Eman Casallos. Vampirella goes to a party at the home of a villainess. I didn’t like either of the two previous issues of this series, and this one isn’t especially great either, but at least it has some witty dialogue.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2019 (AVENGERS/SAVAGE AVENGERS) #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Make Mine Avengers,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Stefano Caselli, and “Savage Avengers vs. Free Comic Book Day,” [W] Gerry Duggan, [A] Mike Deodato Jr. This issue starts with a silly joke: a monologue in which Iron Man says that he likes DC, but that “they spend too much time worried about us.” By DC, Tony ostensibly means the government, but it’s obvious what he really means, especially since the monologue is juxtaposed with a fight between Namor and the Squadron Supreme. Besides that, this story is okay but not great, and the backup story is worse. I was right to quit reading Jason Aaron’s Avengers.

BATMAN #461 (DC, 1991) – “Sisters in Arms Part Two: Ladies’ Night,” [W] Alan Grant, [A] Norm Breyfogle. Batman tries to save some women from human trafficking; meanwhile, Catwoman is trying to steal something, and Sarah Essen and Vicki Vale are both pursuing her for different reasons. This is a fascinating story, with and intricate plot and three very different female characters. Grant and Breyfogle are one of the most underrated Batman creative teams. A highlight of this issue is when the villain opens a door and is assaulted by a horde of stray cats.

TREASURE CHEST #25.4 (Pflaum, 1969) – “Fire in the Oil Fields,” [W] Helen L. Gillum, [A] Tony Tallarico, plus other stories. This issue includes a couple adventure stories, a nonfiction feature about oil refinery fires, and a biography of the father of the US Air Force. The highlight is the installment of Matt Christopher and Fran Matera’s “Chuck White and His Friends.” Matt Christopher is best known as an author of children’s books about sports. Treasure Chest was never a spectacular comic, but it’s worth revisiting once in a while.

SUPERMAN #27 (DC, 2017) – “Declaration,” [W] Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason, [A] Scott Godlewski. Lois, Clark and Jon go on a summer trip to some famous spots from American history. This issue tries to be charming and sometimes succeeds, but it shows an uncritical attitude toward American history. It repeats the myth that America is a land of freedom and equal opportunity. Even when we do witness discrimination, it’s fixed at once – the Kents see a homeless, disabled veteran being thrown out of a restaurant, and Clark makes a patriotic speech and gets the veteran hired as a dishwasher at the restaurant. In the Trump era, myths like these are becoming more unsustainable than ever. I get that Clark and Lois are trying to give their son a sense of pride, but they could also acknowledge that America doesn’t always live up to its own myths.

CHAMPIONS #11 (Marvel, 2017) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Humberto Ramos. A Secret Empire crossover in which the Champions search for survivors in the ruins of Las Vegas. There are some good scenes in this issue, such as Patriot, Riri and Miles’s conversation about race. But this issue is hurt by its involvement in a crossover, and the destruction of Las Vegas has no emotional impact because it was just done for shock value. I dropped this series because of the controversy surrounding the previous issue (https://ogresfeathers.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/pre-vacation-reviews/#cham10), and I’m not sorry I did.

POWER MAN AND IRON FIST #72 (Marvel, 1981) – “Paper Tiger!”, [W] Mary Jo Duffy, [A] Kerry Gammill. Luke and Danny battle a villain named Chaka, whose gang has taken over Manhattan’s Chinatown. This is an exciting and funny issue, though it lacks the complexity of some of the other issues of this run. This comic is full of stereotypes about Chinese people, but at least it tries to show sympathy to the lives of immigrants who live in ethnic enclaves. Besides Chaka, the main Chinese character in the issue is William Hao, who works in the white-dominated city government but lives in Chinatown and feels an obligation to his fellow Chinese-Americans.

UNTOLD LEGEND OF THE BATMAN #3 (DC, 1980) – “The Man Behind the Mask!”, [W] Len Wein, [A] Jim Aparo. Batman goes on an obsessive pursuit of the villain who destroyed the Batmobile and Thomas Wayne’s original Batman costume. After a series of flashbacks to Batman’s past, we discover that the villain is actually Bruce himself, suffering from a split personality, and Robin shocks him back to his senses. Untold Legend is not nearly as ambitious as Batman: Year One, which superseded it as Batman’s definitive origin story; however, Untold Legend is a fun comic in its own right, and a perfect introduction to Batman for new readers.

VEIL #5 (Dark Horse, 2014) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Toni Fejzula. This comic is drawn in a fascinating style that blends woodcut-esque linework with painterly coloring. I don’t understand its story at all, except that it’s a horror story about a succubus. I will have to look for the previous four issues of this miniseries.

SAN FRANCISCO COMIC BOOK #6 (Last Gasp, 1981) – various stories, [E] Gary Arlington. The clear highlight of this issue is Melinda Gebbie’s “I Dreamt I Was a Character in Underground Heaven.” Its first four pages are an account of a party hosted by Trina Robbins, and are drawn in a meticulous style with lots of feathering. The pages after that are full of bizarre psychedelic images, often without clear panel borders, in a style reminiscent of Rick Griffin or Victor Moscoso. This story is a visual tour de force. San Francisco Comic Book #6 also includes a two-pager by Justin Green and a pin-up by Spain, but the rest of the issue is average at best.

HINTERKIND #1 (Vertigo, 2013) – “Once Upon a Time… Chapter One,” [W] Ian Edginton, [A] Francesco Trifogli. A postapocalyptic SF comic set in a world where mythical creatures have replaced humans as the dominant species. This comic has an interesting premise, and Trifogli’s artwork is subtle but effective. I’d be interested in reading the rest of this series.

PALOOKA-VILLE #7 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1995) – “It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken Part 4,” [W/A] Seth. Seth visits his old hometown to look for information about Kalo, but finds nothing, and spends the rest of the issue wandering around and musing. I’ve already read this graphic novel in its collected form, but it’s worth reading again. One thing I missed when I read IAGLIYDW the first time was the sense of local specificity Seth creates. Despite his extremely stylized artwork, he summons up the atmosphere of a rural Ontario town.

POLICE ACTION #1 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – “Sam Lomax NYPD,” [W] Russ Jones, [A] Mike Sekowsky. This issue’s first story is a fairly generic piece of crime fiction, but it’s well-plotted and well-drawn, and not half bad. There’s also a backup story written and drawn by Mike Ploog. It’s weird seeing his artwork on a non-horror story. This comic is only average, but it suggests some possibilities that were never realized. Cop and detective shows are one of the dominant genres of American TV, but have somehow never been a popular genre of comic books. Of course, this might have something to do with the moral panic over crime comics, which happened just two decades before Police Action #1 came out.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #431 (DC, 1987) – “They Call Him – Doctor Stratos,” [W] Marv Wolfman, [A] Erik Larsen. Superman battles a mad scientist who thinks he’s a Greek god. Erik Larsen’s artwork in this issue is not bad, but Marv’s story has some crippling problems. Doctor Stratos is too similar to Maxie Zeus, which perhaps explains why this issue was his only appearance ever. Superman spends half the issue resolving crises that Doctor Stratos has created, and it takes him too long to realize that he should just attack Doctor Stratos at his hideout. Also, this issue’s major subplot involves Cat Grant, a rather sexist character.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #3 (DC, 2012) – “A Godawful Small Affair,” [W] Nick Spencer, [A] Wes Craig & Walt Simonson. This issue’s flashback sequence is drawn in Walt Simonson’s style, and it took me a while to realize that it’s actually byWalt Simonson, rather than Wes Craig trying to imitate him. Besides that, this is a mediocre comic. The first couple of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents revivals were done by people who fondly remembered the original series and wanted to resurrect its greatness, but the more recent T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents comics have felt as if they were only published to retain the copyright.

JSA #10 (DC, 2000) – “Wild Hunt,” [W] David S. Goyer & Geoff Johns, [A] Stephen Sadowski. The Injustice Society invades the JSA headquarters while Ted Grant is there alone, and Ted singlehandedly defeats them. At the end of the issue, he literally uses one of the Injustice Society members, Blackbriar Thorn, as a toothpick. This is a really fun issue, a bit like X-Men #143, and I wouldn’t be such an anti-fan of Geoff Johns if he had stuck to stories like this.

New comics received on May 24:

RUNAWAYS #21 (Marvel, 2019) – “But You Can’t Hide Pt. III,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andrés Genolet. This is perhaps the first Marvel comic to depict a man shopping for tampons. That’s not the only good thing about it. This issue, Molly is suffering from separation anxiety, Karolina is severely anxious, and Viktor and Gert seem to be a couple. Meanwhile, Chase is carrying the entire team on my back, as literally depicted on the cover. Although this issue spends a lot of time on Molly and Karolina’s psychological struggles, it really makes me feel sympathy for Chase; he’s singlehandedly supporting five people, plus a cat and a dinosaur, and he’s not getting much help.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #3 (Image, 2019) – “Walking the Path Part Three,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. Grix and Vess finally meet, just before they jump off a cliff to escape pursuit. Grix and Vess’s predicament is becoming truly scary, and Christian Ward’s art is gorgeous, as usual. I like how this series is in a totally different genre from any of Willow’s previous work, and yet it still shares her overarching theme of religious faith.

MONSTRESS #22 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. Kippa meets a giant underground dragon, then gets it to help her escape the boy who captured her. Meanwhile, Maika negotiates with her dad and some of his allies. This is an entertaining issue. I like its focus on Kippa.

DIAL H FOR HERO #3 (DC, 2019) – “Yesterday,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones & Arist Deyn. There’s a lot of plot in this issue, but the main attraction, as with the two previous issues, is the two sequences with new superheroes. First, the lady cop uses the dial to turn into the Bluebird of Happiness, seemingly based on Brendan McCarthy’s Rogan Gosh. Then, Summer uses the dial to become Lo Lo Kick You, based on Mike Allred characters such as Madman and U-Go Girl. The sequences with these characters are drawn in a pastiche of McCarthy and Allred’s styles. I don’t know which of the two credited artists is responsible for these scenes, but they’re brilliant. It’s a pity that this series just has two issues to go.

MOON GIRL & DEVIL DINOSAUR #43 (Marvel, 2019) – “Methinks”, [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Gustavo Duarte & Ray-Anthony Height. Unfortunately this is a War of the Realms crossover, but it doesn’t require the reader to know anything about War of the Realms, except that the frost giants are the bad guys. Also, most of the issue is a self-contained flashback sequence in which Lunella teams up with Thor and the Asgardians to solve Loki’s riddle. The flashback is fairly entertaining, and it’s drawn by Gustavo Duarte in a very distinctive style which reminds me of that of Jay Fosgitt. More on this artist in the review of A. Bizarro below.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #6 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garrón. As Spider-Man, Miles encounters a cute new superheroine named Starling. As Miles, he experiences a racist microaggression and gets an ultimatum from his girlfriend. Also, Miles discovers that his uncle Aaron is a criminal, just like in the movie. As I’ve said before, this series feels like a classic Spider-Man comic, even though it has a different protagonist. Like Peter, Miles has much more difficulty living his normal life than battling supervillains.

SHURI #8 (Marvel, 2019) – “24/7 Vibranium,” [W] Nnedi Okorafor, [A] Rachael Stott. It’s nice to have Nnedi back, even if this series is ending soon. This issue, Nnedi returns to Wakanda, but the Space-Lubber follows her there. Rachael Stott is a less impressive artist than Leonardo Romero, but this is a really fun and weird issue. The highlight is the scene with the giant bug singing “Shake it, Wakanda honey, shake it!” And this scene makes perfect sense in context.

UNSTOPPABLE WASP #8 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Gurihiru. The inaugural GIRL Young Scientists Expo is held at the Javits Center – it’s not identified as such, but you can recognize it. Of course the event is interrupted by Whirlwind and a new villain called El Cucuy or the Boogeyman, not to be confused with the Boogeyman from Power Pack. Meanwhille, Bucky Barnes and Bobbi Morse are invading a Red Room secret base. This is another fun issue, though I’m sad that there are only a few issues left.

MIDDLEWEST #7 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. In a flashback, we see that Abel’s anger problems go back to his infancy. In the present, the old wizard dude manages to end Abel’s destructive tantrum, but his sister throws Abel out of the carnival, and I don’t blame her at all. So again Abel and Fox are alone. This series is Skottie’s best work yet. He’s established himself as a humor writer, but Middlewest shows that he’s also capable of handling the very serious topic of child abuse.

GHOST TREE #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Bobby Curnow, [A] Simon Gane. This new title is about a young Japanese man who has the ability to see and exorcise ghosts. The main attraction here is Simon Gane’s art, which is as appealing and distinctive as in They’re Not Like Us (see previous review post). The story is reasonably interesting, but it does raise potential concerns about cultural appropriation. This comic is set in Japan and is influenced by Japanese yokai folklore, but I don’t think either of the creators is Japanese.

CLUE CANDLESTICK #1 (IDW, 2019) – “On Murder Considered as a Recreational Activity,” [W/A] Dash Shaw. This is the latest in a string of IDW titles that combine licensed properties with alternative and indie creators, and just like Michel Fiffe’s GI Joe or Tom Scioli’s Go-Bots, Dash Shaw’s Clue is fascinating. It’s a bizarre, disturbing take on the cozy mystery genre. It’s full of visual tricks such as codes, mazes, and arrows pointing to revealing details. It’s written in paranoid, unrealistic purple prose, and it reveals the psychological weirdness of the Clue game. Clue Candlestick could be one of the best miniseries of the year.

ASSASSIN NATION #3 (Image, 2019) – “Thanks, Gun Dad,” [W] Kyle Starks, [A] Erica Henderson. This issue is full of hilarious mayhem, but it’s also surprisingly sweet and funny. Starks and Henderson’s styles clash with each other, and that’s why they work so well together.

WONDER WOMAN #71 (DC, 2019) – “Love is a Battlefield Part 3,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Xermanico. Diana and Aphrodite finally convince Atlantiades to fix the mess she created in Summer Grove. Meanwhile, Maggie finds the path back to Olympus, but then she and Diana have to fight a giant minotaur dude. “Love is a Battlefield” is Willow’s best Wonder Woman story yet.

BOOKS OF MAGIC #8 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Out of This Wood Do Not Desire to Go,” [W] Kat Howard, [A] Tom Fowler. Tim and Rose visit Faerie and get Titania to send them where Ellie is. This issue is maybe marginally better than #7, but in terms of its depiction of Faerie, it pales in comparison to The Dreaming #9. The next issue of this series will be my last.

BLUBBER #4 (Fantagraphics, 2017) – “Tower of the Sindog” and other stories, [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. I feel obligated to read this because it’s Gilbert, but I’m glad there isn’t any more of it. Nearly every page of this issue is full of scatology, rape, dismemberment, and too many other fetishes to name. It’s a profoundly unpleasant reading experience, and it’s easily my least favorite of Gilbert’s works.

MR. & MRS. X #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Lady & The Tiger,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Oscar Bazaldúa. Gambit has to go to New Orleans to confront his ex-wife Belladonna and the External Candra. I think the New Orleans Thieves Guild is a stupid and boring piece of continuity, but at least Kelly uses it as an opportunity to reveal more about Gambit and Rogue’s relationship. Gambit wants Rogue to keep herself safe and not come to New Orleans, but she comes to save him anyway, because she loves him, and that makes him happy despite himself. There’s no follow-up yet to last issue’s suggestion that Gambit wants a baby.

WELCOME TO WANDERLAND #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jackie Ball, [A] Mollie Rose. This issue was delayed so much that I didn’t think it was ever coming out. The previous three issues came out last September, October and December. I don’t remember any other Boom! comic that was this late, and I’d like to know what caused the delay. Because it’s been five months since #3, I can’t remember any of the details of this series’s plot, and so the conclusion of the story didn’t make much of an impression on me.

THE TERRIFICS #16 (DC, 2019) – “The God Game Part 2,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Stephen Segovia. The Terrifics continue to fight the ten plagues, and they discover that their enemy is the Noosphere, an entity that might as well be God. This is a pretty fun comic, and I’m going to keep reading The Terrifics for now, despite my lack of confidence in Yang’s ability to write superhero stories. A fascinating suggestion in this issue is that Linnya is attracted to Offspring because he reminds her of someone from her past. Could that someone be Ultra Boy?

AVANT-GUARDS #5 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carly Usdin, [A] Noah Hayes. Jay West has their first solo art show, and their partner comes up with a way to save the league, even though it’s lost its sponsors. Meanwhile, Liv and Charlie’s romance continues to develop. This is a cute issue. Noah Hayes does a good job of making Jay’s paintings look as good as everyone says they are. (This is a problem when a work of art or literature is represented within a work of fiction; you can’t depict a work of art that’s better than you yourself are capable of creating.)

WAR OF THE REALMS: NEW AGENTS OF ATLAS #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “Fire and Ice Chapter Two,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Gang Hyuk Lim. The two teams of Asian superheroes combine into one, then head off to Siberia to confront the next crisis. This issue is mostly a series of fight scenes, but I really like this series, and I think it’s an important representation of all sorts of Asian ethnicities. I’m glad that there’s another New Agents of Atlas series coming in August, though sadly it’s just a miniseries.

Now some older comics:

MOCKINGBIRD #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Chelsea Cain, [A] Ibrahim Moustafa. Chelsea Cain teams up with Howard the Duck and Miles Morales to battle a sentient virus. This comic is really fun, and it’s what Man-Eaters should have been. In this issue Chelsea’s quirks, such as her explanatory captions and her use of metatext, are entertaining, whereas in Man-Eaters they’re annoying; perhaps this is because Mockingbird had an editor and Man-Eaters didn’t, as another reviewer suggested.

Addendum written later: After I wrote this review but before I posted it, Chelsea Cain was revealed to have included a fan’s critical tweets in an issue of Man-Eaters, without obtaining the fan’s permission. She also framed those tweets so as to suggest that the fan was a sexist, when in fact the fan was accusing Cain of being trans-exclusionary. On Twitter, Chelsea Cain “apologized” for this, but then proceeded to repeatedly dig the hole deeper. She asked for trans sensitivity readers, but was not willing to pay. Then she retracted her apology and deleted her Twitter account. In my opinion, Chelsea Cain’s behavior is a peak example of white feminism. She’s demonstrated that she doesn’t understand or care about the perspectives of people unlike her, and that she can’t accept criticism. As far as I’m concerned, her comics career is finished.

CEREBUS #101 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1987) – “Ave Avid,” [W/A] Dave Sim & Gerhard. This entire issue consists of a long conversation that makes no sense out of context. There are also some letters debating the topic of papal infallibility. I probably shouldn’t buy single issues of Cerebus, but Dave’s cover art and design are really good, and the letter columns are occasionally interesting.

NAMOR #19 (Marvel, 1991) – “9 Wives,” [W/A] John Byrne. I have often said that John Byrne jumped the shark after 1987, so I was surprised that I enjoyed this issue. In this issue John’s backgrounds and machinery are as well-drawn as they were in his classic period. His women’s faces all look the same, but he’s never been able to draw more than one female face. However, this issue also demonstrates John’s love of unnecessary retcons. The plot is that Namor and Namorita confront a rogue Atlantean scientist who’s been making clones of Lady Dorma, and at the end of the issue we learn that Namorita is a clone of her mother Namora. I should note that this issue’s first page includes some grossly racist images of Japanese people. On the next page, these images are identified as coming from a (fictional) old comic book and are condemned for their bigotry, but that’s not a sufficient excuse.

ASTONISHING TALES #23 (Marvel, 1974) – “Conquerors Three!”, [W] Tony Isabella, [A] Dick Ayers. This issue’s It the Living Colossus story is a stupidly written, poorly drawn mess, with perhaps the worst lettering I’ve ever seen in a Marvel comic. It includes some reprinted artwork from Fin Fang Foom’s debut appearance in Strange Tales #89. These reprinted pages are so much better-looking than the rest of the issue that I could tell they were by a different artist, even though they were not identified as such.

SUPERBOY #66 (DC, 1999) – “Wild Hunt!”, [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Aaron Lopresti. In a sequel to a story from about a year before, Superboy and his friends revisit the Wild Lands and investigate reports of a swamp monster. The lack of Tom Grummett art in this issue is unfortunate, but the various Wild Lands animal-human hybrids are well-designed. A high point of this story is the continuing love triangle between Tuftan, Tawna and Nosferata. This issue includes an obscure reference to William Shatner’s awful performance of “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

STRANGE TALES #162 (Marvel, 1967) – “So Evil, the Night!”, [W/A] Jim Steranko, and “From the Never-World Comes… Nebulos!”, [W] Jim Lawrence, [A] Dan Adkins. I bought this years ago, but never read it because my copy is in awful condition. “So Evil, the Night” is one of Steranko’s less impressive Nick Fury stories, but it’s still excellent. The thing I remember most about it is the color-changing car, but the fight scene on top of a moving car is also excellent. The Dr. Strange backup story pales by comparison, though the art is reasonably good.

BLUE RIBBON COMICS #11 (Archie, 1984) – “The Billion Dollar Rip-Off!”, [W] Stan Timmons & Rich Buckler, [A] Dick Ayers. The Black Hood foils a plot to use subliminal messages in video games to hypnotize people. This story is mediocre, but it’s interesting because it reveals a deep anxiety about the effect of video games. The writers seem to think that video games are as bad as drugs – which is true, but it’s not the complete truth. There’s also a backup story with bad art by Carmine Infantino, starring an entirely different Black Hood.

GRIMM’S GHOST STORIES #38 (Whitman, 1977) – “Gone – But Not Forgotten,” [W] George Kashdan, [A] Frank Bolle, plus two other stories. Of the three stories in this issue, the only truly interesting one is “The Art of Vengeance,” about a sculptor whose favorite model is murdered by an art critic. This story is drawn by an uncredited Jesse Santos and may have been written by Don Glut, and it’s kind of funny. However, the sculptor’s artwork is in such an outdated style that it’s hard to see why any critic would write about it.

DEADPOOL #19 (Marvel, 1998) – “The Quick and the Dead,” [W] Joe Kelly, [A] Walter McDaniel. This issue has a convoluted plot in which Deadpool is trying to exorcise some ghosts by avenging their deaths, or something like that. I suppose this issue is reasonably well-executed, but I just don’t like the characteristic Deadpool style of humor. I don’t plan on collecting any more Deadpool comics anytime soon.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #508 (DC, 1994) – “The Future is Now!”, [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Barry Kitson. Bizarrely, this issue’s story takes place “between panels 1 and 2 on the last page of Challengers of the Unknown #4.” On that page, the Challengers captured a time-traveling villain, and Adventures of Superman #508 explains what happened after they captured him but before they got him into custody. Karl Kesel had probably wanted to tell this story for a long time, since the credits box described it as “the story Karl Kesel […] demanded.” It’s a fun story and an affectionate tribute to the Challs. The last panel reveals that by 1994, Prof is no longer living. The one unfortunate thing about this issue is that it also depicts Cat Grant’s son’s funeral. Adam Grant’s murder was a regrettable decision.

SUGAR & SPIKE #91 (DC, 1970) – “Beach Nuts!” and “The Walking Riot!”, [W/A] Sheldon Mayer. In the lead story, the babies go to the beach where they cause a lot of mayhem. In the second story, Sugar’s parents get her a talking doll to improve her language skills, and mayhem ensues. This issue is all right, but I don’t “get” Sheldon Mayer the way I get Barks or John Stanley or Bob Bolling. Mayer’s stories are very clever, but to me they feel kind of repetitive, and also rather mean-spirited.

BATMAN #457 (DC, 1990) – “Master of Fear,” [W] Alan Grant, [A] Norm Breyfogle. The Scarecrow captures Batman and Vicki Vale and tests his fear potions on them. Tim Drake helps rescue them, even though Batman had ordered him to stay home. At the end of the issue, Tim becomes the new Robin for good. Tim’s psychological struggle is at the heart of this story. He fully believes that by disobeying Batman’s orders, he’s ending his own career as Robin, but he feels he has to help Batman anyway.

GHOST STORIES #3 (Dell, 1963) – four stories, [W] Carl Memling, [A] Gerald McCann. Four competent but mediocre ghost stories. Because this comic was produced in the wake of the moral panic over horror comics, the ghost stories are more surprising than scary. I probably bought this thinking it was by John Stanley, but he only did issue 1.

AW YEAH COMICS! #4 (Aw Yeah Comics!, 2013) – various stories, [E] Art Baltazar & Franco. A bunch of short kid-oriented stories of variable quality. One of them introduces Anti-Gravity Bear, who seems to have been designed by Art’s daughter.

NEIL THE HORSE COMICS AND STORIES #7 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1984) – “Video Warrior,” [W/A] Katherine Collins. Neil, Poupée and Soapy team up with some fairies to fight a horde of video game creatures. Like Blue Ribbon Comics #11, this comic depicts video games as a threat, but Collins seems less seriously worried about the dangers of video games than Timmons and Buckler were. At the end of the issue, one of the faeries decides to spend his allotted one night of mortal life per century with Poupée. The faerie and Poupée sing a duet together, and Collins provides sheet music for the song.

MEET MISTY #1 (Marvel, 1985) – “Misty Collins!”, [W/A] Trina Robbins. The indicia title of this series is Misty, but it’s universally remembered (if at all) as Meet Misty. I briefly refer to this comic in my forthcoming book chapter about Amethyst and Angel Love, and I’m going to need to explore it further when I return to that research. Meet Misty seems to be intended as a revival of Marvel’s girls’ comics from earlier decades; the protagonist, Misty Collins, is Millie the Model’s niece. The stories in this issue are pretty standard pieces of high school drama, with the gimmick that the characters’ costumes are designed by readers – or rather by Trina’s friends, since there were no readers yet. Many of the costumes were designed by Renaldo Barnette and Mike Madrid. The former is now a professional fashion illustrator, and the latter published a book about superheroes and feminism.

PALOOKA-VILLE #8 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1995) – “It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, Part 5,” [W/A] Seth. Nothing really happens plot-wise in this issue, except that Seth breaks up with his latest girlfriend. But really, the fact that nothing happens is the whole point. This issue’s first five pages consist entirely of silent panels depicting various summer scenes around Toronto. As with manga, the point of such pages is not to advance the plot, but to create a sense of mood – although Seth’s style has little else in common with manga. I just saw the collected Clyde Fans in a bookstore, and it’s a beautiful book, but super-expensive. I hope there will be a cheaper softcover.

SANDMAN #41 (Vertigo, 1992) – “Brief Lives, Part 1,” [W] Neil Gaiman, [A] Jill Thompson. I must have read this before, but I barely remember it. Delirium is feeling depressed, so she asks Desire and Despair for help finding their lost brother Destruction. Neither of them is willing to help. The issue ends with a flashback to the last time Despair saw Destruction. Maybe the reason I don’t remember this issue is because the most memorable thing about “Brief Lives” is the interplay between Dream and Delirium, and Dream doesn’t appear in this issue.

A. BIZARRO #1 (DC, 2015) – “America: Part 6,” [W] Heath Corson, [A] Gustavo Duarte w/ Bill Sienkiewicz. Before this comic came out, Heath Corson was asked during a Twitter chat whether it would include any characters of color. He replied “Bizarro is grey, so I hope you’re counting him.” This joke was not well received (https://www.themarysue.com/dc-comics-bizarro/) and the resulting controversy overshadowed the actual A. Bizarro series. If not for this controversy, there would be little reason to remember A. Bizarro at all, because it’s a poorly written comic; it’s not remotely funny, and it has a stupid plot about a used car salesman who thinks he’s a pharaoh. The only thing that does make this comic readable is Gustavo Duarte’s excellent and unique artwork. I ought to look for Dark Horse’s collection of his Brazilian work, Monsters! and Other Stories.

JSA #61 (DC, 2004) – “Redemption Lost Part II,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Don Kramer w/ Tom Mandrake. This is a confusing story, but it appears to be a sequel to Justice League of America #171-172, in which the Spirit King murders the original Mr. Terrific and gets away scot-free. That story was terrible, so it’s nice to see Geoff Johns attempting to fix it. The other “redemption” in this issue is that of Jim Corrigan, so this issue is also a sequel to Ostrander and Mandrake’s Spectre. Mandrake even gets to draw the first three pages, resulting in a nice sense of nostalgia.

ALL-TIME COMICS: BLIND JUSTICE #1 (Fantagraphics, 2017) – “Bitter Voyage,” [W/A] Josh Bayer, [A] Rich Buckler & Al Milgrom et al. This issue is an homage to superhero comics of the ‘80s, but in an indie-comics style. It’s reasonably well-executed and well-designed, but it’s hard to distinguish it from the things it’s parodying.

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #13 (Marvel, 1974) – multiple stories, [W/A] various. A collection of ‘50s horror reprints. Perhaps the most notable one is “Revolt of the Robots,” about a fanatical anti-robot crusader who turns out to be a robot himself. The analogy to racism is obvious, but is left implicit. In the last story, a thief puts sleeping powder in a rich gambler’s toothpaste, so that he can rob the gambler’s room while he’s asleep. But the thief fails to anticipate the possibility that the gambler’s teeth might be false. What an idiot.

SKAAR, SON OF HULK #3 (Marvel, 2008) – “The Princess and the Beast,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Ron Garney. This comic is okay, but it’s a bit hard to understand if you’re not familiar with the Planet Hulk storyline. I’m not interested in buying any more issues of this series.

BATMAN #630 (DC, 2004) – “As the Crow Flies Part Four: Home Invasion,” [W] Judd Winick, [A] Dustin Nguyen. Most of this issue is devoted to a pointless, boring fight between Batman and the Scarecrow’s Scarebeast. Dustin Nguyen’s line-drawn art is less interesting than his painted art.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #22 (Marvel, 2001) – “Dude, Where’s My Kree?”, [W] Peter David, [A] ChrisCross. Unlike the previous few comics, this one was genuinely good. In the main plot, Rick Jones is trapped among some green-skinned alien who worship him as a god. Then at the end, Rick and Genis encounter Ronan and some Ruul, who are the evolved version of the Kree. But what’s more interesting is the subplot, about a woman named Lorraine. She’s just come back to life after having been killed in an earlier issue, but when she contacts her friends and family, none of them believe it’s really her. It’s quite a sad predicament. Reading this issue makes me want to collect more of PAD’s Captain Marvel.

IMAGE FIRSTS: THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #1 (Image, 2012) – “Infinite Oppenheimers,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Nick Pitarra. This series is a science-fictional depiction of the Manhattan Project. In the debut issue, Robert Oppenheimer is hired as the director of the project, but it turns out it’s not him but his evil twin. (In real life, Oppenheimer did not have a twin brother.) I have a ton of other unread issues of this series, and I still haven’t felt like reading any more of them, but at least now I have a better idea of what The Manhattan Projects is about.

INCREDIBLE HULK #238 (Marvel, 1979) – “Post Hulk… Post Holocaust!”, [W] Roger Stern, [A] Sal Buscema. An issue with many subplots, but no overarching plot. The Hulk wanders around aimlessly, Clay Quatermain hangs out with Jimmy Carter (who speaks in an exaggerated Southern accent, as in other Marvel comics), Betty and Glenn Talbot get divorced, and They Who Wield Power hire Goldbug to fight the Hulk. They Who Wield Power were mentioned in a large number of Marvel titles starting in 1973, and their storyline was finally concluded in this and the next five issues of the Hulk.

ACTION COMICS #365 (DC, 1968) – “Superman’s Funeral!”, [W] Leo Dorfman, [A] Ross Andru. Thanks to Luthor, Superman is dying of a virus, and he takes a rocket through the galaxy to the sun where he plans to be cremated. Nothing really happens in this story, and about half of it consists of flashbacks to Superman’s past. This issue also includes a Supergirl backup story, in which Supergirl unknowingly commits a bunch of petty pranks due to red kryptonite exposure.

THE WITCHING HOUR #68 (DC, 1977) – three stories, [E] Murray Boltinoff. The last story in this issue, “Young Man in a Shroud” by Carl Wessler and Ruben Yandoc is kind of clever. It’s a murder mystery, involving a hillbilly family feud, but the identity of the victim is just as much of a mystery as that of the murderer. The other two stories are totally forgettable, but at least they have art by E.R. Cruz and Fred Carrillo. People seem indifferent to E.R. Cruz’s art, but I’ve always liked him, perhaps because he was the first Filipino artist whose work I saw.

TEEN TITANS #31 (DC, 2006) – “Lost and Found Part 2 of 2,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Tony Daniel & Todd Nauck. A terrible comic. Most the issue is occupied by a brutal, poorly drawn, pointless fight between the Titans and Brother Blood. There are also some pages depicting Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew. These pages are less bad, but they have no connection whatsoever to the main story.

SUB-MARINER #42 (Marvel, 1971) – “And a House Whose Name is… Death!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] George Tuska. Namor battles a mad female scientist named Aunt Serr (a pun on “answer,” I guess), her mutant son Karl, and some other mutants. This comic includes some of Gerry’s purplest prose ever, and it’s not clear why it’s even a Namor comic. The entire issue takes place on land, and Namor could have been replaced as the issue’s protagonist by any other Marvel superhero, without any other changes being made.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #7 (Marvel, 2003) – “Monsters and Gods Part One,” [W] Peter David, [A] Kyle Hotz. Captain Marvel wants to understand what a god is, so he visits a church. Then he travels Asgard, which at the time was floating above New York. This issue’s meditations on religion are kind of unoriginal, and overall this issue is far less interesting than the previous Captain Marvel I read.

TEEN TITANS #41 (DC, 2007) – “Titans Around the World Part IV,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Paco Diaz & Ryan Benjamin. A newly resurrected Jericho teams up with the Titans to battle the traitorous Titan Bombshell. This issue is less bad than #31, and it shows an intimate knowledge of Jericho’s history. However, stapled into this issue is an advertising insert containing an animated Titans story by Marc Sumerak and Todd Nauck, and this advertising insert is better than the actual comic it’s attached to.

ROCKETEER ADVENTURES VOL. 2 #1 (IDW, 2012) – various stories, [E] Scott Dunbier. The highlight of this issue is Stan Sakai’s “A Dream of Flying,” in which a little boy saves Cliff Secord from being shot, and then Cliff gives the boy a jetpack ride. We soon realize that the boy is a non-powered Clark Kent, although he’s not explicitly identified. This story draws a brilliant connection between two classic comics that are both about the thrill of flight. As for the two other stories in this issue, Peter David and Bill Sienkiewicz’s “The Ducketeer” is an unreadable piece of nonsense, but Sandy Plunkett at least does a good job of imitating Dave Stevens’s art style.

JSA #70 (DC, 2005) – “JSA/JSA Chapter III: High Societies,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Don Kramer. The contemporary JSA travel back in time to 1951, where they encounter the previous JSA and also confront all sorts of explicit racism. This issue is not bad; it includes some nice moments where the present JSA members have uncomfortable encounters with their predecessors. However, the depiction of racism is a bit heavy-handed and unsubtle. The issue ends with Mr. Terrific randomly running into a bunch of KKK members.

SUPURBIA #9 (Boom!, 2013) – untitled, [W] Grace Randolph, [A] Russell Dauterman. This issue is very heavy on plot, and is hard for a new reader to understand. It really feels like just a typical superhero comic, with a slightly heavier focus on the superheroes’ supporting cast. The “Real Housewives” gimmick matters less than one would expect. Russell Dauterman’s art in this issue is already noticeably better than in issue 3.

INCREDIBLE HULK #230 (Marvel, 1978) – “Harvester from Beyond!”, [W] Elliot S! Maggin, [A] Sal Buscema. This issue is weird, but in a good way. At first it looks like a very routine story in which the Hulk is kidnapped a bug-eyed alien. The surprise comes when we learn what the alien wants the Hulk for. The Hulk has just been hanging out in a cornfield and has a lot of dirt under his fingernails, and the alien needs the dirt because his own planet’s soil is devoid of nutrients. So the alien literally saves his planet by giving the Hulk a manicure. Hulk #230 is just one of six comics Maggin ever wrote for Marvel. Four of them were published in 1977 or 1978, and the other two in the mid-‘90s. Elliot’s style was much better suited to DC than Marvel, but I wonder what else he could have done with Marvel characters, if he’d gotten the chance.

CAPTION ACTION CAT: THE TIMESTREAM CATASTROPHE! #3 (Dynamite, 2014) –untitled, [W/A] Art Baltazar, [W] Franco & Chris “Zod” Smits. This is a pretty typical Baltazar-Franco comic. Its unusual aspect is that it’s also a crossover between 1) Captain Action, 2) Dark Horse properties such as X and Ghost, and 3) Baltazar and Franco’s own Action Cat characters.

STRAY BULLETS #9 (El Capitán, 1996) – “Twenty-Eight Guys Named Nick,” [W/A] David Lapham. This is a confusing issue because it only seems to include one guy named Nick. Also, Nick is a pretty strange character. He’s a rather pathetic loser, a small-time criminal who lives with his mother and pretends he has a girlfriend. But his confidence never wavers, and at the end of the issue he commits an act of true heroism, saving two men from much worse criminals than himself. Maybe the point of the title is that Nick is a different character on every page.

DYLAN DOG #47 (Bonelli, 1995) – “Scritto con il sangue,” [W] Claudio Chiaverotti, [A] Giuseppe Montanari & Ernesto Grassani. This requires a lot of explanation. While idly browsing Facebook’s Marketplace, I saw that someone was selling a large collection of Italian comics for just $75 total. I offered $65 and was accepted, and the seller delivered the comics the next day. It’s a huge collection – about 200 comics, including mostly Dylan Dog, Nick Raider and Alan Ford, but also some other stuff. These comics are in the Italian format, so most of them are paperbacks of 100 pages or more, printed on cheap paper with black-and-white art. I technically can’t read Italian, and I felt kind of guilty spending $65 for comics I can’t read. But I can read Spanish, which is fairly similar, and I love the Italian style of artwork.

I haven’t had time to actually read many of these comics yet, but I have made a start. I began with the oldest issue of Dylan Dog in the collection. Dylan Dog is a combination of the crime and horror genres; the main character is a detective who investigates cases with a supernatural aspect. His sidekick is Groucho, who is identical to Groucho Marx. If the two issues I’ve read so far are typical, then Dylan Dog’s cases usually turn out to have a purely rational explanation, and he usually sleeps with his female clients.

It took me a whole evening to read Dylan Dog #47. I recognized a lot of words from Spanish, but I had to look up a lot of other words, and there are also some idioms that don’t translate. Groucho is a particular problem because he talks a lot, and his dialogue is full of puns. But this issue was worth the effort of reading it. Dylan Dog is genuinely scary. This particular issue is about a serial killer who targets a female psychoanalyst’s patients, and the murder scenes are brutal. This comic seems targeted at adult readers and would not be appropriate for younger kids. The black-and-white art, with heavy spotting of blacks, adds to the effect of horror. But the issue is also full of sarcastic humor, and the female protagonist is quite sexy. I was really impressed with this comic, and I hope I can find some time soon to read some more of them. See also my review of #48 below.

New comics received on May 31:

FANTASTIC FOUR #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “Neighboring Realm,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Paco Medina w/ Kevin Libranda. Franklin and Valeria are not adjusting well to their new life on Yancy Street, so the adult FF members decide to throw a block party. Of course some Frost Giants show up to crash it. This is the best issue in several months; it’s full of funny moments and insightful character interactions. Easily the highlight of the issue is seeing Val team up with Lunella Lafayette. Both these characters are girl supergeniuses, but they’re very different, and they bounce off each other in a fun way. I especially love the panel where Lunella pokes the Frost Giant with a piece of iron, and he says “Ow! Quitteth that!”

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. Kamala and her parents arrive at the alien planet of Saffa, but it soon becomes clear that the aliens have been lying to them, and that Saffa is actually a cruel dictatorship. That’s hardly a surprising development, but the real excitiing thing about this issue is that it’s narrated by Kamala’s mom, and she has a fascinating perspective that we haven’t seen before. On Twitter, my colleague Adrienne Resha pointed out that Saladin Ahmed intentionally avoids translating the Urdu and Arabic words in this issue, and instead expects the reader to figure them out (https://twitter.com/AdrienneResha/status/1134915275827142656). This is a good choice because it shows trust in the reader: Saladin assumes that if you don’t know what the Urdu words mean, you’re able and willing to look them up. However, there’s one phrase in this issue that I couldn’t understand, even after Googling: “beh maan larka.”

POPE HATS #6 (AdHouse, 2019) – “Shapeshifter,” [W/A] Hartley Lin. The first post-Young Frances issue of Pope Hats is a series of autobiographical vignettes, mostly focusing on the experience of new fatherhood. This comic is extremely well-done and has a lot of emotional charge. However, it also reminds me a lot of many other autobio or semi-autobio comics by many other artists, ranging from Seth to Michel Rabagliati to Adrian Tomine. It’s hard to detect what makes Hartley Lin’s voice different from the voice of another cartoonist. Young Frances was a brilliant work because of its story and characterization, and Pope Hats #6 doesn’t have much of either. But it is good that Hartley Lin is trying something new, and he is unquestionably a major new talent.

LUMBERJANES: SOMEWHERE THAT’S GREEN #1 (Boom!, 2019) – “Somewhere That’s Green,” [W] Seanan McGuire, [A] Alexa Bosy. In the latest Lumberjanes one-shot, a adventure begins when Ripley discovers some lost green kittens. It turns out the kittens have escaped from the farm of some “epimeliads”: nymphs who care for plant livestock, like “vegetable lambs, vampire pumpkins, hydra vines.”  This is perhaps the cutest and sappiest Lumberjanes comic yet, and not in a bad way. It’s an entire issue full of sheer adorableness, which is balanced by a generous dose of weirdness. The giant rideable pumpkin beasts are especially cute/bizarre.

ASCENDER #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. Andy and Bandit (tidnaB?) are reunited, but Mother’s goons arrive to investigate, and Mila has to kill one of them to save her dad. Andy, Bandit and Mila have to leave their home to find sanctuary with Telsa. This issue includes no major surprises, but it’s exciting. The best moment of the issue is the scene with Mother’s giant disembodied eye.

CODA #12 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Matías Bergara. An epic conclusion to Si Spurrier’s best series yet. Hum and Serka manage to save the day despite themselves, and they ride off into the sunset toward a new life that won’t be determined by preexisting stories. I didn’t notice until just now that Hum lost his leg.

IMMORTAL HULK #18 (Marvel, 2019) – “Necessary,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. This issue offers a sort of pause for breath, as Doc Samson and Walter Langkowski look for the Hulk, while the Hulk tries to sort out his situation. The issue ends with the promised fight between the Hulk and the Abomination.

MY LITTLE PONY: SPIRIT OF THE FOREST #1 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Brenda Hickey. This is another miniseries starring the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and it even alludes to the previous such series, Ponyville Mysteries. (“We need to do a stakeout! Just like we did when we were detectives!” “Ooh, that was a fun week!”) On a camping trip, the CMC look for the mysterious Spirit of the Forest, but instead they find that Filthy Rich is cutting the forest down. The Spirit of the Forest seems uncomfortably similar to the Great Seedling from the recent episode “Going to Seed.”

X-23 #12 (Marvel, 2019) – “Dear Gabby Conclusion,” [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] Diego Olortegui. Laura rescues Gabby, and they resolve their relationship problem. And that’s the end of the series. Like many of her other comics, Mariko’s X-23 suffered from an overly fast pace. But overall it was a fun series with a lot of passion, and I’m sorry it didn’t last longer.

MARVEL RISING #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Heroes of the Round Table!”, [W] Nilah Magruder, [A] Roberto Di Salvo & Georges Duarte. This series is a major disappointment. The plot is unexciting, and there’s no real characterization; the characters are impossible to tell apart. It seems impossible to write a boring comic that stars Kamala Khan, Doreen Green and Miles Morales, but Nilah Magruder has managed to do it. I canceled my order for issue 5.

WAR OF THE REALMS: WAR SCROLLS #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “The God Without Fear Part Two,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Andrea Sorrentino, plus other stories. This issue’s Aaron-Sorentino Daredevil story is not the best work that either creator is capable of. I’m losing interest in Daredevil, and Andrea Sorrentino’s brilliant storytelling is not well adapted to superhero comics. Devin Grayson’s story starring Dr. Strange is just average. The high point of the issue is “Wiccan & Hulkling in My Drag Brunch with Loki,” whose title is accurate.

THOR #13 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Ballad of Cul Borson, God of Fear,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mike del Mundo. Another issue with no Thor, except in flashbacks. Instead, this issue focuses on Cul, who redeems himself by giving his life to save some imprisoned dark elf children. Cul’s final act of heroism is powerful, and the scenes with the elf kids reveal that Malekith is just as cruel to his own people as his enemies. The “crimes” for which the kids are imprisoned are heartwrenching; one of the kids was enslaved for crying at his father’s funeral.

BLACK PANTHER #12 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Gathering of My Name,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Jen Bartel & Kris Anka. T’Challa visits the Djalia and then embarks on his journey home. He wakes up and encounters an Emperor of Wakanda who doesn’t look familiar. Not a whole lot happens in this issue, but T’Challa and Storm’s pillow talk is a cute scene. TNC is the only writer who has convinced me that T’Challa and Storm are a real couple.

DOG DAYS OF SUMMER #1 (DC, 2019) – various stories, [E] Alex Antone & Dave Wielgosz. This 80-page giant includes a number of stories about pets and other animals. The best story may be the first one, a poignant exploration of Superman and Krypto’s relationship. I also like Willow’s story that stars Ferdinand the minotaur chef. But the other stories range from average to terrible, and in general this comic is not nearly as fun as it should have been.

CATWOMAN ANNUAL #1 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joëlle Jones, [A] Elena Casagrande, Hugo Petrus & Scott Godlewski. Catwoman battles the Immortal Man, as well as a number of her former proteges who have betrayed her. This issue is fairly well done, but it didn’t leave much of an impression on me. Like many annuals, it feels like an afterthought rather than an integral part of the series.

THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN #4 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tini Howard, [A] Amilcar Pinna. A pointless conclusion to an unimpressive series. I shouldn’t have ordered any issues of this comic, and I’m going to think twice before buying any more comics by Tini Howard.

BAD LUCK CHUCK #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Lela Gwenn, [A] Matthew Dow Smith. This is better than the previous issue, and I like the scenes in the Tibetan monastery. But this miniseries has just been average at best, and I’m not sorry I didn’t order issue 4.

X-MEN: GRAND DESIGN – X-TINCTION #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “X-Tinction,” [W/A] Ed Piskor. The final chapter of Ed Piskor’s latest masterpiece focuses on the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, which were the worst era of Claremont’s X-Men. During this period, Claremont seemed to lack a coherent plan, and the plot changed direction so frequently that it was hard to tell what the status quo was. As in previous issues, Ed’s major achievement is to make sense of Claremont’s scattered plot threads and to make them seem like a single coherent narrative. This issue is notable for depicting of Cyclops as the horrible jerk we all know he is. Even before Jean comes back, Scott is already tired of his marriage to Madelyne, and then when Jean shows up, Scott abandons his new family at the drop of a hat. For some reason, this issue mostly refers to the villain of Fall of the Mutants as the Trickster instead of the Adversary.

PETER CANNON, THUNDERBOLT #5 (Dynamite, 2019) – “Watch Part Five: For a New Society,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Casper Wijngaard. The good Peter Cannon defeats the evil one by tearing him apart with a nine-panel grid, thus demonstrating “the dangers of unrelenting deconstruction.” It looks like the series is going to end with another familiar line – “I leave it entirely in your hands” – but there’s one page after that, where Peter decides to give up on formalism and “repeating easy signifiers.” Overall, this series is a far better sequel to Watchmen than anything DC is capable of producing, and it’s one of the smartest comics Kieron Gillen has ever written.

PUNKS NOT DEAD: LONDON CALLING #4 (IDW, 2019) – “…To the Imitation Zone,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Martin Simmonds. Sparrow betrays Fergie to his pursuers, but Beleth shows up and saves Fergie, and father and son are finally reunited. There’s only one issue left. This series has been great, and I’ll be sorry to see it end.

Older comics:

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2013 (AVENGERS/HULK) #1 (Marvel, 2019) – two stories, [W/A] Joe Caramagna et al. This is barely a comic book at all; it consists of a sequence of shots from two TV cartoon episodes, arranged into comics pages. The original animation artwork was not meant to be seen at this size, so it’s often very blurry. Joe Caramagna’s adaptation leaves out a lot of essential information, without which the plots make no sense. This issue was a poor choice for an FCBD comic.

JSA #81 (DC, 2006) – “My Heroes,” [W] Geoff Johns, [A] Dale Eaglesham. This issue focuses on Geoff Johns’s pet character, Stargirl. The basic theme of the issue is Courtney’s struggle to become a good daughter. The issue ends with Courtney’s stepdad Pat calling her a wonderful daughter. That may be true, but earlier in the issue, Pat’s biological son Mike accuses Pat of being a better father to Courtney than to him (Mike), and in my opinion, Mike is completely right. It seems like Johns is giving Courtney special treatment just because she’s his protagonist.

MIRACLEMAN #8 (Marvel, 2014) – “Bodies,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] Chuck Austen. I bought this thinking that it would fill a gap in my collection between Miracleman #7 and #9, but it turns out that this issue is a reprint of the Eclipse Miracleman #7. (Marvel’s first seven issues of Miracleman don’t contain the same stories as the Eclipse issues with the same numbers; Marvel chose to spread out those stories across seven issues rather than six.) So this comic is redundant, but I can’t get rid of it, because it also includes a reprinted ‘50s story which is not represented elsewhere in my collection. In addition, this issue includes the bonus pages from Eclipse’s Miracleman #8 that explain why that issue was a reprint. However, on one of those pages, an entire word balloon is relettered in order to replace the name “Alan Moore” with “The Original Writer.”

KABOOM! SUMMER BLAST FCBD EDITION (Boom!, 2014) – various stories, [E] Shannon Watters. This issue includes a preview of Herobear and the Kid: Saving Time, as well as a number of stories based on various licensed properties. None of this material is very good; the best thing in the issue is a Garfield story written by Mark Evanier. I’m glad that Boom! is now focusing on developing new material, as well as licensed-property comics.

SUPER DINOSAUR #22 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Robert Kirkman, [A] Jason Howard. The evil dinosaurs invade the Dynamo Dome. Derek’s mom finally wakes up, but seems determined to “sacrifice Super Dinosaur to save my family.” I really don’t miss this series very much.

WATSON AND HOLMES #6 (New Paradigm, 2013) – untitled, [W] Brandon Easton, [A] N. Steven Harris. I bought this comic because it was nominated for an Eisner for Best Single Issue, but I never got around to reading it. This series is obviously a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, but with the twist that Holmes and Watson are black men living in Harlem. The characters and setting are depicted convincingly, and the plot addresses the serious topics of human trafficking and transphobia. Despite somewhat poor production values, this comic is a worthy Eisner candidate, though I wouldn’t have voted for it (it was up against Hawkeye #11).

AQUAMAN SPECIAL #1 (DC, 1988) – “The Missing Peace,” [W] Gary Cohn & Dan Mishkin, [A] George Freeman. A rather weird story in which Aquaman has to defeat a villain named Magus in order to obtain the missing half of his soul. This issue has a rather bright and cheerful tone, which is odd since Aquaman’s history has been so full of tragedies. Arthur Curry Jr’s death is only mentioned in one panel.

ELFQUEST #1 (Warp, 1996) – “Wild Hunt,” [W] Joellyn Auklandus, [A] Steve Blevins, plus other stories. This series continues all the storylines from Warp’s various Elfquest spinoff titles. I have mixed feelings about even Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest stories, so I have even more mixed feelings about Elfquest stories by other creators. In this issue’s first story, some elves allow a human boy to see them, and the boy is sacrificed to a monster as a result. This is kind of brutal, but it’s depicted with insufficient gravity and doesn’t have much of an impact on the reader. The third story, “Rogue’s Curse,” is probably the best; it’s about Rayek’s obsession with Winnowill, which is one of the main driving forces of the Elfquest saga.

ADVENTURE COMICS #457 (DC, 1978) – “A Fire Within,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Joe Staton. Superboy is targeted by anti-alien extremists. As with Journey into Mystery #4, this story is an obvious allegory for racism, but such an allegory was a much less daring choice in the ‘70s than the ‘50s. This issue also includes an Eclipso backup story with art by Joe Orlando, but it’s not especially good art.

CLAW THE UNCONQUERED #8 (DC, 1976) – “Master of the Seventh Void,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Keith Giffen. This was much better than I expected. David must have been reading a lot of Michael Moorcock around this time, because this comic has a very Moorcockian plot: Claw has to travel to the realm of Chaos in order to retrieve a magical sword. And the villain even used to live in one of the “seven planes of Law.” For that matter, Claw himself is similar to Corum in that they both have a magical prosthetic hand, although that may be a coincidence. Giffen’s art also shows a Moorcockian influence, perhaps filtered through Philippe Druillet. There are panels in Claw #8 that suggest that Giffen he was already reading Druillet, who he blatantly swiped from in LSH vol. 3.

CALIFORNIA GIRLS #3 (Eclipse, 1987) – “Let Sleeping Cats Lie,” [W/A] Trina Robbins. This series also came up in my research for my Amethyst and Angel Love paper, but I haven’t read it before. California Girls is extremely similar to Meet Misty, except in black and white and without the Millie the Model collection. Like Misty, California Girls is a high school comedy series that features reader-designed costumes, many of them by Renaldo Barnette. The best story in this issue is the first one, where one of the girls buys a very sleepy cat. In fact, it’s not just sleepy, it’s dead. But wait, it was never alive to begin with; it’s a toy, not a real cat. Of course, with Trina’s art style, it’s impossible to tell the difference between a live cat and a fake one.

PUMA BLUES #1 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1990) – “The Puma Blues, Part 1,” [W] Stephen Murphy, [A] Michael Zulli. A strange and compelling comic, about a man who becomes a park ranger during a near-future period of environmental catastrophe. This comic has a very minimal plot and is quite difficult to follow, but the plot isn’t the point. It’s more invested in depicting the simultaneous beauty and precarity of nature, and therefore it seems very relevant to the present cultural moment. Michael Zulli’s artwork is brilliant; it enforces a slow reading pace because of its extreme level of detail, but that may be intentional.

ARCHIE’S MADHOUSE #68 (Archie, 1968) – various stories, [W] George Gladir, [A] Stan Goldberg. I think I bought this issue because of the psychedelic artwork on the cover. Madhouse went through a large number of renamings and format changes, but at this time it was a parody of hippie culture. There is one story in Madhouse #68 that’s interesting in that context; it’s about a school that teaches students to live an “outtasite” lifestyle. However, everything else in this issue is overshadowed by a grossly racist two-page sequence in which Sabrina travels back in time to Pocahontas’s era. The artist reproduces all the old Indian stereotypes, and he clearly did no research on what Pocahontas’s people looked like.

UNCLE SCROOGE #227 (Gladstone, 1988) – “As You Hike It,” [W] Jan Kruse, [A] Rob Phielix. This issue’s main story also includes some unfortunate depictions of Native Americans. The plot is that a Native American chieftain is giving away as much land as a man can walk around in a day, so Scrooge gets his nephews to help him walk around all the most valuable land. This plot is based on the perhaps legendary Walking Purchase of 1737, which has been a source of contention between the U.S. and the Delaware tribe for centuries. The idea of Native Americans giving their land away for free is offensive to begin with, and the Native Americans in this story are depicted inaccurately: they live in tepees and build totem poles. In real life, there were no tribes that did both. Barks’s own depictions of indigenous people are very problematic, but at least he knew better than to make this mistake: his story “Land of the Totem Poles” is correctly set in the Pacific Northwest. Uncle Scrooge #227 does have some Barks stories and a Rosa story, but the latter is just a two-pager.

SPYBOY/YOUNG JUSTICE #3 (Dark Horse, 2002) – untitled, [W] Peter David, [A] Todd Nauck & Pop Mhan. This crossover series offers none of the excitement or cleverness of the original Young Justice comic, and it doesn’t give me any reason to want to read the Spyboy comic.

ALL-NEW DOOP #2 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Peter Milligan, [A] David Lafuente. This issue is very cumbersome to read because it’s full of Doop speak, but Doop’s dialogue is lettered in a different font than usual, so the online Doop translators don’t work. By the end of the next issue, I gave up trying to translate Doop’s dialogue and just ignored it instead. Also, this series has a creepy plot in which Doop is trying to convince Kitty Pryde to marry him. David Lafuente’s art is not bad, and this comic has some interesting metatextual moments, because Doop has the power to travel between panels. But overall I did not enjoy this issue.

ALL-NEW DOOP #3 (Marvel, 2014) – as above. See previous review. I neglected to mention that this issue is a Battle of the Atom crossover, which makes it even harder to follow than it already was. I think Doop is funnier when he’s just a background character. When you try to tell stories about him, the joke gets stretched too thin.

NOWHERE MEN #4 (Image, 2013) – untitled, [W] Eric Stephenson, [A] Nate Bellegarde. Like Watson & Holmes, this series was nominated for an Eisner, but I think it shouldn’t have been. It has an incomprehensible and confusing plot about an alliance of four scientists. Without having read the previous three issues, the reader is completely lost. The main thing I liked about this issue was Jordie Bellaire’s coloring. Oh, also this comic includes some long blocks of unillustrated text. I have said many times that when I read a comic, I want to read comics, not prose.

DAREDEVIL #195 (Marvel, 1983) – “Betrayal,” [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Klaus Janson. Denny O’Neil wrote some reasonably good issues of Daredevil, but this isn’t one of them. The main event of this issue is that Heather Glenn gets drunk and reveals Matt’s secret identity to a complete stranger, who turns out to be a villain. The villain conveniently dies, but the damage to Heather’s reputation is already done. Heather made only one further appearance – in Daredevil #220, where she committed suicide. Heather Glenn is perhaps the worst superhero girlfriend in the Marvel universe, and her awfulness is mostly Denny’s fault. Frank Miller wrote her out of the series in issue 189, but then Denny brought her back, turned her into an irresponsible alcoholic, and then made her kill herself.

ELFQUEST: THE HIDDEN YEARS #8 (Warp, 1993) – “Daughter’s Day,” [W] Sarah Byam, [A] Paul Abrams. This is better than the previous Elfquest comic I read. It focuses on Rayek’s attempt to fix his relationship with his daughter Venka. It’s a fairly touching story. Rayek may be the most compelling character in Elfquest, and much of the franchise’s plot revolves around his dual obsessions with Winnowill and Leetah.

RONIN #4 (DC, 1984) – untitled, [W/A] Frank Miller. At the time I read this, I had had it longer than any other unread comic book in my collection. It was at the very back of my boxes of unread comics, which are arranged in order of when I got the comics. Ronin’s plot is hard to follow, and its draftsmanship is ugly and overcomplicated. It’s not on the same plane of quality as DKR or even Sin City. However, Ronin is important for historical reasons. It was an early example of a prestige-format comic that was sold through the direct market and was marketed to fans of its author’s previous work. Also, both the plot and the art style reveal a heavy manga influence. It’s obvious that Miller was reading a lot of Lone Wolf and Cub at the time.

ELFQUEST: NEW BLOOD #12 (Warp, 1993) – “War, Part Two,” [W] Wendy Pini, [A] Barry Blair. Besides Rob Liefeld, Barry Blair was the worst comic book artist of the ‘80s and ‘90s. He was a severe racist, and his depictions of children and teenagers were exploitative and quasi-pornographic. This issue of Elfquest is not racist, but it’s full of sexualized depictions of boys and young men; conversely, Blair seems very reluctant to draw women with breasts. In terms of the story, this comic is about a raid on Sorrow’s End, and it’s pretty depressing.

THE FOX #2 (Archie, 2014) – “Freak Magnet Part Two: Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” [W/A] Dean Haspiel, [W] Mark Waid. This comic isn’t spectacular, but at least it’s fun. While traveling in some sort of alternate dimension, the Fox encounters a woman named the Queen of Diamonds, who is recruiting heroes to defeat an evil druid. The most entertaining thing about this issue is the Queen of Diamonds’s bizarre syntax. Example: “Under druid’s mystical, my husband-king violenced the men of pulp and courage. – And, of swiftness, the druid surgeried them into captive scaries.”

SUPERBOY #55 (DC, 1998) – “Hexed,” [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Scott Kolins. In #54, reviewed in a previous post, Superboy saved a model named Hex from a gargoyle. This issue, that plotline continues, and Hex is possessed by the spirit of her namesake, Jonah Hex. This is a fun comic, though again, the lack of Tom Grummett art is unfortunate.

VIGILANTE #18 (DC, 1985) – “Father’s Day Part II,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] Jim Baikie. A long time ago someone told me that this comic wasn’t up to Alan Moore’s usual level of quality, but I disagree. This issue isn’t his absolute best work, but it’s a powerful story about a murderous criminal who kidnaps his daughter from her mother. The villain in this story is appallingly evil, and I was thrilled at the scene where Vigilante’s love interest kills him. Jim Baikie’s art is excellent; it reminds me of Dave Gibbons’s early work. I need to track down Vigilante #17, which was the first part of this story.

MARSHAL LAW #2 (Epic, 1988) – “Evilution,” [W] Pat Mills, [A] Kevin O’Neill. This is a potentially interesting comic with an all-star creative team. However, it’s ruined by a brutal, offensive scene in which Law’s girlfriend is raped and murdered. At that point, if not before, Marshal Law becomes worse than any of the grim-and-gritty comics it’s parodying. I will not be in a hurry to read any more of Marshal Law.

THE AUTHORITY #5 (Wildstorm, 1999) – “Shiftships One of Four,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Bryan Hitch. I have never been able to get into this series; its staple “widescreen” art style seems like just an excuse for overly decompressed storytelling. But this issue is interesting. The issue begins with a sequence set in a strange, corrupt alternate Britain ruled by aliens. And then this alternate reality invades the Authority’s earth. After reading this issue, I actually wanted to read the next one.

ELFQUEST: SIEGE AT BLUE MOUNTAIN #8 (Apple, 1988) – “Siege at Blue Mountain,” [W/A] Wendy Pini, [W] Richard Pini. Unlike the last two Elfquest comics I reviewed, this one is an integral part of the saga of the Wolfriders, and it’s written and drawn by Wendy Pini. As a result, it’s much more interesting. I’ve always found it hard to follow Elfquest’s plot, but in this issue the Wolfriders escape from Blue Mountain, and the kidnapped baby Windkin is rescued.

SLEEPER SEASON TWO #3 (Wildstorm, 2004) – “The Manipulations,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. Sleeper’s protagonist, Holden Carver, is ordered to assassinate a woman named Philomena M’Batu. She tells him some disturbing information about the person who gave him that order, but he kills her anyway. Because of its superhero trappings and its connection to the Wildstorm universe, I’ve never liked Sleeper as much as other Brubaker-Phillips titles

ELFQUEST: BLOOD OF TEN CHIEFS #11 (Warp, 1994) – “The Broken Circle – Part Two,” [W] Terry Collins, [A] Steve Blevins. A flashback story in which a young Cutter and Skywise have a vision of Timmain… at least that’s what I think happens, but it’s not clear. This issue is forgettable.

MORNING GLORIES #6 (Image, 2011) – untitled, [W] Nick Spencer, [A] Joe Eisma. I already read this issue in trade paperback format. I used to like Morning Glories, but in hindsight it has two major flaws: an overly complicated plot that never went anywhere, and a lack of sympathetic characters.

DYLAN DOG #48 (Bonelli, 1995) – “Horror Paradise,” [W] Michele Medda, Antonio Serra & Bepi Vigna, [A] Claudio Castellini. This issue was much easier to read than #47; even a little bit of experience reading Italian helps a lot. It was also an even better comic, because the art is phenomenal. This was one of just a couple Dylan Dog comics drawn by the brilliant Claudio Castellini. Its plot is that people are being murdered by movie monsters such as a Xenomorph and Freddy Krueger, and a deceased film director named Alfred Hotchkiss (i.e. Hitchcock) is somehow involved. This story is perfectly suited to its artist, because all the monsters turn out to be animatronic robots, and Castellini’s greatest talent is his ability to draw complicated, intricate machines. His action sequences are also incredible, and overall he reminds me of John Byrne in his prime. Castellini went on to do a few comics for the American market, most notably DC versus Marvel. According to the Italian Wikipedia, his style is so time-consuming that he stopped doing comic books and now only does commissions. It’s a pity that this incredible artist is not better known to American readers.

INVISIBLES #15 (DC, 1995) – “Sheman, Part Three: Apocalipstick,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Jill Thompson. I’ve never been able to get into this series, but I just read Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics, and he has a chapter on Invisibles. After reading that chapter, I had a better idea of what this series is about, and I felt like trying it again. This issue is mostly about a transgender character who travels to a Mesoamerican underworld, and also there’s another plot involving King Mob. Overall I liked this comic, and while I still don’t quite get Invisibles, I can see why Wolk thinks it’s Morrison’s central work.

THE AUTHORITY #6 (Wildstorm, 1999) – “Shiftships Two of Four,” [W] Warren Ellis, [A] Bryan Hitch. This issue continues the story of the parallel world, Sliding Albion, and also explains the history of its relations with Earth. Again, it’s not bad, although I still don’t understand why this series is so famous.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #26 (Marvel, 1973) – “The Hour of the Griffin!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] John Buscema. I bought this years ago but never read it, because I assumed I’d already read it in the first Essential Conan volume. It turns out that Conan #26 is the first issue not included in that volume. This issue concludes the ongoing Living Tarim saga. The forces of Turan conquer Makkalet and kill its king, along with the Tarim, but they dress a corpse up in its clothing and pretend it’s him. Conan wants to run off with the king’s wife, but it turns out she’s pregnant, so she has to found a new Makkalet somewhere else. Conan heads off to new adventures. This issue is okay, but Roy would go on to write better Conan comics.

THE INVISIBLES #1 (Vertigo, 1997) – “Black Science Part One: Bangin’,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Phil Jiménez. In the first issue of.a new volume, the Invisibles gather at a safehouse. Then they head off on a new mission: to invade a facility in New Mexico and steal an HIV cure that’s existed since 1978. Then there’s a scene in which Lord Fanny, a female-presenting transgender character, goes into a men’s bathroom, resulting in a violent confrontation with some hicks. The Invisibles seems to have been ahead of the curve in its treatment of transgender issues.

BLAZE BROTHERS #1 (IDW, 2013) – untitled, [W] Vernon Whitlock III & Matthew Scott Krentz, [A] Marat Mychaels & Dietrich Smith. A wildly implausible, disgustingly violent Tarantino ripoff, drawn in a sub-Liefeldian style. Marat Mychaels was an even more inept artist than Liefeld himself, and I can’t believe he’s still getting work. I suppose this comic would appeal to people who like this sort of thing, but to me it’s awful, and I can’t believe it was published by a company of the caliber of IDW.

WEIRD WESTERN TALES #46 (DC, 1978) – “The Savage Streets,” [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Dick Ayers. In the midst of the Civil War, Bat Lash and Scalphunter are trying to steal a new model of gatling gun, but a bunch of other people on both sides of the war are also looking for it. Scalphunter is a very boring character, but his interactions with Bat Lash are funny, and Conway has a pretty good handle on Bat Lash’s unique personality.

BLACK WIDOW #1 (Marvel, 2014) – “Raison d’Etre,” [W] Nathan Edmondson, [A] Phil Noto. Nathan Edmondson is a notorious sexual harasser, and as a result he’s no longer working in comics, and good riddance to him. Because of this, I was kind of unpleasantly surprised to discover that Black Widow #1 is quite a good comic. It’s an exciting espionage story with distinctive artwork. However, I don’t plan to buy any more of Edmondson’s comics.

NOWHERE MEN #6 (Image, 2013) – as above. This was a little less difficult than issue 4, but only a little. The layout and design of this comic are better than the comic itself.

AIR #15 (Vertigo, 2010) – “Air Heart,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] M.K. Perker. I just realized that this issue’s title is a pun. Air #15 is hard to follow, but it’s mostly about Amelia Earhart and her return from wherever she vanished to. Air was Willow’s first major series, and it lacks most of the characteristic themes and concerns of her other work.

WILDC.A.T.S #30 (Image, 1996) – “Fire from Heaven Chapter 13,” [W] Alan Moore, [A] Travis Charest & Ryan Benjamin. Travis Charest only did the first five pages of this issue. Embarrassingly, I couldn’t tell the difference between his art and Ryan Benjamin’s. This issue of WildC.A.T.s is a fairly exciting adventure comic, but that’s all it is. It’s not a major Alan Moore work.

New comics received on June 10:

GIANT DAYS #51 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. I had to read this first because issue 50 ended on such a shocking cliffhanger. At his father’s funeral, John McGraw maintains such a stoic, stiff-upper-lip attitude that his friends worry about him. Finally, during a visit to the Peak District, John breaks down and sobs. This issue is a plausible and realistic depiction of the grieving process, and it’s one of the best issues of the entire series. It shows that John Allison is capable of arousing emotions other than humor. Max Sarin also deserves credit for the expressivity of his characters’ faces. The issue ends with Esther getting an interview for a job in London.

PAPER GIRLS #29 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Cliff Chiang. The girls finally defeat Jahpo, who I guess is the primary villain, but then their younger selves force them to undergo a memory wipe. There’s one more issue left, and who knows what will happen in it. I still want to read this entire series from the beginning.

RONIN ISLAND #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. At the shogun’s castle, Kenichi discovers that the shogun’s head scientist has been killing people and turning them into monsters. Master Ito becomes a monster too, and Hana has to kill him. The castle burns down, and Kenichi decides to return to the island, while Hana stays with the shogun. This series has been rather brutal so far – much more so than Mech Cadet Yu. It’s hard to see how either Kenichi or Hana can get a happy ending. As a minor quibble, the food on the shogun’s table doesn’t look like Japanese food. It includes an entire roast chicken, which would be impossible to eat with chopsticks. I do like the parallelism in this sequence: Hana is just eating plain rice, but  but she’s having a great time, while the shogun and his guests are eating a lavish meal but not enjoying it at all.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #3 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Joey Vazquez. Peter and Kamala defeat the Jackal and are restored to their own bodies. This issue wasn’t as fun as the last two, but I really enjoyed this whole storyline. I’m sorry that Eve Ewing won’t be the permanent writer for this title. Speaking of food again, I can’t quite identify any of the dishes on the Khans’ table.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #6 (Marvel, 2019) –“Strange Trip Part 1,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Annapaola Martello. Carol has a vision in which she and Dr. Strange defeat the Enchantress. But the Enchantress has the same vision, so she decides to prevent it from coming true by making Carol and Doc switch bodies. Wait, didn’t I just read another comic where a superhero and a superheroine switch bodies? Oh well. The bigger problem with this issue is that Kelly Thompson still hasn’t developed a distinctive approach to this series; she hasn’t defined who Captain Marvel is, or what her comic is about. The first five issues of Captain Marvel were a single long epic, and the issue after that is part of a crossover. If this issue had been a quieter, more contemplative story, it could have done more to establish Carol’s character.

BEASTS OF BURDEN: THE PRESENCE OF OTHERS #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “The Presence of Others,” [W] Evan Dorkin, [A] Jill Thompson. The animals and humans escape from a murder of crows, then the dad shoots Ace and tries to drive off with one of the other dogs. But Ace returns to life as a werewolf and runs the dad’s car off the road. The humans leave Burden Hill, but are severely traumatized by their experience. This issue includes perhaps the scariest moment in the entire Beasts of Burden series. The animals see a strange black tree that’s swaying in the wind, even though there’s no wind. And then the tree explodes into a giant cloud of crows. Evan said on Twitter that this is “the last main series issue for a while”; I hope it’s not too long a while.

THE DREAMING #10 (DC, 2019) – “Empty Shells,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. Dora and Matthew follow Daniel’s trail to Hell, where they meet a (badly) rhyming demon named Balam. This character appeared in issue 1, but I’ve forgotten all about him. Balam leads them to see the Biblical Serpent. There’s a really cool sequence where Baalam says that to visit the serpent you have to “adjust [you]r persepctive,” and the direction of reading changes from right-side-up to sideways. Dora and Matthew’s next stop is World’s End, from the Sandman storyline of the same name. Meanwhile in the Dreaming, the Moth and Abel are very confused as to what’s going on.

GREEN LANTERN #8 (DC, 2019) – “Space Junkies,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. While pursuing some dealers of extraterrestrial drugs, Hal and Ollie encounter Xeen Lantern and Xeen Arrow, who are versions of themselves from a higher dimension. Accordingly, XL and XA have the ability to move outside the panel, and there’s a scene at the end where Hal and Ollie are being crushed by panel borders. Besides being metatextual on a formal level, this issue is also an obvious tribute to the O’Neil/Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Throughout the issue Liam Sharp imitates Adams’s page layouts; an example is the last panel on page 10, where Hal’s head is projecting past the panel border. And Hal remarks that a painting in Ollie’s apartment is an “original Adams.”

ADVENTURES OF THE SUPER SONS #11 (DC, 2019) – “Gang War Part 2,” [W] Peter J. Tomasi, [A] Carlo Barberi. It turns out the characters who showed up at the end of last issue are not Superman and Batman, but the adult Jon and Damian from earlier in the series. After a really entertaining fight scene, Jon, Damian and their allies defeat all the villains except Luthor, but Luthor goes back to Earth through a portal, and Jon and Damian have to follow him there. It’s too bad there’s just one issue left.

BIRTHRIGHT #36 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. The main event in this issue is a flashback to how the human world and the world of magic discovered each other. This issue doesn’t advance the plot all that much, but it makes me excited for what’s coming next.

WAR OF THE REALMS: AGENTS OF ATLAS #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Fire and Ice Chapter Three,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Gang Hyuk Lim. This issue is mostly a series of action sequences, but when the heroes take a break for a meal, something amazing happens. One character says “All they have… is spam,” and four other characters – a Filipina, a Hawaiian, a Korean and a Korean-American – all say “Spam?” at once. And on the next page, we see the entire team eating spamsilog, spam fried rice, and spam musubi. The joke here is that while spam is considered a low-quality food in the contiguous U.S., it’s a valued ingredient in Filipino, Hawaiian and Korean cuisine. However, while all three of these cuisines use the same basic ingredients of spam and rice, they all do different things with them. Like the scene about pears in issue 1, the spam scene demonstrates the diversity of “Asian” culture, and also shows that Greg Pak is familiar with the various cultures he includes in this series.

WAR OF THE REALMS #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “The World Tree is Burning,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Russell Dauterman. I feel kind of ashamed to admit it, but I like this comic. It reminds me of the epic crossover stories I used to read, like Crisis on Infinite Earths or Age of Apocalypse. And it has some really excellent art. Also, there’s a panel in this issue where Broo is sitting on Gorilla-Man’s shoulder. This panel is unquestionably fanservice, but it works. This issue’s ending is rather abrupt.

SECTION ZERO #3 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Tom Grummett. This issue begins with a scene where Sam meets a character who’s basically Madame Xanadu. This scene makes me suspect that Section Zero may have started out as a rejected Challengers of the Unknown proposal. In the rest of the issue, the Section Zero characters battle a villain called the Rat King in a sewer. I’m really enjoying this series; it’s essentially a continuation of Kesel and Grummett’s Superboy.

BLACK HAMMER ’45 #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Give ‘Em Hell, Black Hammer!”, [W] Ray Fawkes w/ Jeff Lemire, [A] Matt Kindt. The WWII-era Black Hammer and the Ghost Hunter both get killed in a climactic duel. At the end of the issue we finally see how this series ties in to the bigger Black Hammer universe: the Hammer of 1945 was the predecessor of the other two characters of that name. Besides that, this miniseries was rather pointless, and it was easily the worst Black Hammer comic yet. I fear that if there are more Black Hammer series that aren’t written by Jeff Lemire, the brand might get diluted.

HASHTAG DANGER #2 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Through the Valley of Shadows Part 1,” [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Chris Giarrusso. Through inaction, the Hashtag Danger crew cause a horrible disaster, but all they care about is that no one is paying attention to them. To compensate, they decide to get a supervillain to fight. But in a flashforward sequence, we learn that the supervillain they find is their own teammate, Sugar. This comic has a very sarcastic, dark sense of humor that contrasts oddly with Chris Giarrusso’s cartoony art. This is the first time I’ve found Giarrusso’s art to be truly effective. None of the backup features impressed me much.

CRIMINAL #5 (Image, 2019) – “Night of the Hunter,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue introduces us to a private detective, Dan Farraday, who is very good at finding people. He’s been asked to find a woman named Marina who was the mistress of an evil rich man. Dan finds her, but decides to betray his client and not tell him where Marina is. But Marina’s accomplice, Teeg Lawless, ambushes him, and when Dan wakes up, he decides to use his talents to track down Teeg and “rescue” Marina from him. Ed Brubaker is really good at telling stories like this one, where the reader is initially unclear on where the story is going or why it matters, and then suddenly it makes sense. We already know that Teeg Lawless is going to die, and now it looks like Dan will be the one to kill him.

INCREDIBLE HULK: LAST CALL #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Last Call,” [W] Peter David, [A] Dale Keown. This one-shot is a tribute to PAD’s Hulk, but it lacks the humor or energy of PAD’s best Hulk stories. It feels like he’s just phoning it in. Also, Dale Keown’s version of Bruce Banner looks more like Peter Parker. The one truly impressive moment in this issue is the ending, where we learn that the hitman Bruce hired to kill himself was Deadpool.

RED SONJA #5 (Dynamite, 2019) – “Capture,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Mirko Colak & Robert Carey. There are some really good lines of dialogue in this issue, like “Family is whatever remains when everything else deserts you.” But the dialogue is the only thing I liked about this issue. This series’ plot is going nowhere, and as I’ve noted before, it misrepresents the Conan universe. Zamora doesn’t seem like the kind of place that would have an expansionist empire – unlike, for example, Turan or Aquilonia. And I hesitate to point this out, but this story depicts the people of Koth as having dark skin, whereas every other comic depicts Kothians as proto-Europeans. This doesn’t matter on its own, but it suggests that Mark hasn’t familiarized himself with the universe he’s writing about.

IGNITED #1 (Humanoids, 2019) – “Triggered Part 1,” [W] Mark Waid & Kwanza Osajyefo, [A] Phil Briones. I expected this to be a typical teen superhero comic, but was surprised to discover that it’s also something more. This story takes place at a high school that was recently the site of a deadly shooting. The superheroes in this comic start out as hackers or pranksters who are angry at the school’s draconian security measures. This premise speaks to me personally because there was a shooting at my own school last month. I am furious at all the ineffective measures taken to “prevent” school shootings, like transparent backpacks or, God forbid, arming teachers. The only thing that will keep us from being shot is stronger gun legislation, and we all know that. We also know that the only reason why the obvious solution isn’t being tried, is because our nation’s political system is broken. So I have a lot of sympathy for the idea behind this comic, and that idea is executed fairly well. Phil Briones’s art is quite good. However, Mark Waid’s ability to write about teenagers has declined over time. He used to be the industry’s premier writer of teenage characters, but he’s fallen behind the curve.

DOMINO: HOTSHOTS #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Cold War Part 4 of 5,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] David Baldeón & Michael Shelfer. This comic isn’t bad or anything, but I honestly don’t care what happens in it, and I’m glad I didn’t order issue 5. I’ve never felt any emotional connection to Domino or any of her teammates.

L.E.G.I.O.N. ’89 #3 (DC, 1989) – “How to Win Friends and Influence People!”, [W/A] Keith Giffen, [W] Alan Grant, [A] Barry Kitson. Vril Dox and his teammates seem to have defeated the Computer Tyrants of Colu, but in fact the tyrants have projected their minds into a robot body. Meanwhile, Garryn Bek and Lyrissa Mallor leave Colu in disgust, but their spaceship accidentally kills one of Lobo’s dolphins, and soon Vril and his teammates have both Lobo and the tyrants to deal with. This first LEGION storyline is weird because the series hasn’t yet found its premise. At this point, LEGION was not yet an intergalactic peacekeeping force, and Dox was more of a vigilante.

Reviews for first half of May

New comics received on April 26:

FANTASTIC FOUR #9 (Marvel, 2019) – “Outside the Box,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Aaron Kuder et al. The FF escape from Doom’s traps and set Galactus free, but then Doom captures them again and is about to execute them. Meanwhile, Wyatt and company rescue Franklin from Wendy’s house, but Wendy’s friends chase them and are about to kill them. Here, Dan Slott cleverly brings the two plots together: Franklin and Val build a teleporter and teleport Wendy’s demons from America to Latveria, while sending the FF in the other direction. This issue is a fairly predictable conclusion to the storyline, but the convergence of the A plot and the B plot is a nice touch.

RUNAWAYS #20 (Marvel, 2019) – “But You Can’t Hide Pt. II,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andrés Genolet. A pretty low-key issue that focuses on the various Runaways’ problems. Victor is racked by guilt over Vin Vision, Gib can’t eat anything except souls, and Karolina is failing all her college classes. As usual, the most fun thing about this issue is Old Lace’s antics.

THE WICKED + THE DIVINE #43 (Image, 2019) – “Show Time,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Jamie McKelvie. Minerva/Ananke tellls her origin story, and it turns out she created her powers by convincing people that stories or myths are real. So this whole series is a meditation on the power and danger of storytelling, much like Kieron’s Journey into Mystery. The gods realize they can break the cycle of godhood by renouncing their powers, but Lucifer refuses to cooperate. I think the plot of this series finally makes sense to me now, but I still wish I had time to reread the whole thing.

ASCENDER #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dustin Nguyen. Appropriately, Ascender is the opposite of Descender in terms of genre, though it has the same style of art and writing. Some years after Descender ended, the remaining worlds are ruled by an oppressive dictator named Mother. Andy and his orphaned daughter Mila are living alone on a mountain and trying to avoid Mother’s attention, but Mila is getting sick of her isolated existence. Conveniently, something falls out of the sky, and it turns out to be Bandit, except for some reason he says FRA! FRA! instead of ARF! ARF! Meanwhile, Mother has just received a prophecy: “Beware of the hound with the backwards tongue.” I still think the ending to Descender was anticlimactic, but it looks like this sequel will be fascinating.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Walking the Path Part Two,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. Grix and Vess’s situations get steadily worse, but it looks like they’re finally going to meet each other next issue. An interesting revelation in this issue is that though Vess uses female pronouns, her actual gender is “down”; her species seems to have four genders or sexes. Christian Ward’s draftsmanship is not perfect – it seems looser here than in Black Bolt or ODY-C. But his spectacular use of color makes him perhaps the best artist in the industry.

PRINCELESS VOL. 8: PRINCESSES #1 (Action Lab, 2019) – “Alize,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Kaitlin Jann. This miniseries is not a direct sequel to volume 7, but a series of origin stories for Adrienne’s sisters. We begin with Alize, who co-starred in volume 7. This issue shows how she escaped from her tower, was rescued by desert elves, ended up back in her tower with a sphinx for a guardian, and met her future husband. It’s not a bad issue, but I liked volume 7 better.

WONDER WOMAN #69 (DC, 2019) – “Love is a Battlefield, Part 1,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Xermanico. The subject matter of this issue is kind of appropriate considering its issue number. On the way back from the previous mission, Diana, Aphrodite and Maggie end up in Summergrove, Connecticut, where everyone is having extramarital affairs and engaging in public lewdness. It turns out that this is due to the influence of Aphrodite’s child Atlantiades, aka Hermaphroditus. This issue is very funny and entertaining, unlike Willow’s first storyline, which was too serious for its own good. I think she’s finally finding her own approach to Wonder Woman.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #42 (Marvel, 2019) – “Power & Responsibility,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Ray-Anthony Height. Lunella and Spider-Man team up to fight a pink goblin. This issue suffers from clumsy dialogue and a boring plot, and Ray-Anthony Height’s art style is too harsh and angular for this series.

CODA #11 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Matías Bergara. Hum escapes from the mer-witch’s captivity, but only after writing an epic narrative about her deeds in which she’s the hero. She uses Hum’s story to mind-control everyone, including Serka. It now becomes clear that Coda, like WicDiv, is about the power of story, but not in a nice way. The message of this series is that power consists in getting people to believe that you’re the main character of their story.

IRONHEART #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. Riri finally rescues the enslaved kids, and their abductor, a corrupt city councilman, is brought to justice. Riri starts a community center where the kids can hang out and learn about tech, and she also starts therapy. This is a heartwarming issue, but it’s also brutally honest about contemporary black life. The most powerful moment in the issue is not when Riri rescues the kids, but afterward, when she’s waiting for their parents to pick them up. And the kids say things like “My mama don’t get off ‘til 3 AM.” “My daddy has to stay in line at the shelter or we won’t get a spot.” “Our phone is cut off.” These lines reveal that contemporary real-life America is a worse oppressor of children than any Marvel villain. And I don’t know if any Marvel writer other than Eve Ewing could have written this scene.

MARVEL RISING #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “Heroes of the Round Table!”, [W] Nilah Magruder, [A] Roberto di Salvo. The highlight of this issue is the scene where Squirrel Girl and Quake are talking in the foreground, and in the background, the other characters are taking a photo with a little boy. Otherwise, this issue suffers from overwriting, poor dialogue, and a boring plot, and it feels like it’s talking down to its readers. I really wanted to like this series, but I can’t justify continuing to order it. Incidentally, I also don’t want to believe that Squirrel Girl’s Deadpool Trading Cards “really” exist. I think they should be just a metatextual device that only Squirrel Girl and the reader can see.

THE TERRIFICS #15 (DC, 2019) – “The God Game Part 1,” [W] Gene Luen Yang, [A] Stephen Segovia. Mr. and Mrs. Terrific go on a date, then the Terrifics confront a series of threats based on the ten plagues of Egypt. Gene Luen Yang has a very poor track record of writing superhero comics, but this issue is interesting, and I’m going to stick with this series for now. It’s odd that Offspring doesn’t appear in this story.

THE AVANT-GUARDS #4 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Carly Usdin, [A] Noah Hayes. At the victory party, Olivia tries to romance Charlie, and it turns out Charlie is not ready for a relationship just yet, but is definitely interested. Then Olivia gets a message that the team’s games are suspended. This is another really cute and happy issue. I’ve noticed that almost every Boom! Box title has a queer theme, and I assume this is intentional. Queer-friendliness is one of the key features of the Boom! Box line.

DIAL H FOR HERO #2 (DC, 2019) – “River Deep, Mountain High,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. Miguel throws the H-Dial into a river, but another character finds it and uses it to turn into Jobu, the Zonkey King, an obvious parody of Goku from Dragon Ball. Miguel gets the dial back and turns into Iron Deadhead, which may be based on either Akira or Full Metal Alchemist. The Jobu sequence is illustrated in a manga style, with manga-esque page layouts and word balloons, limited colors, screentones, and speed lines. Joe Quinones’s ability to imitate other artists is amazing, and I hope he keeps doing this in future issues. He can even imitate differentkinds of manga; in the manga sequence, he draws like both Toriyama and Otomo.

GODDESS MODE #5 (DC, 2019) – “Keepalive Pattern,” [W] Zoë Quinn, [A] Robbi Rodriguez. I think I’ve pinpointed what I don’t like about this series: it’s doing too many things at once. The ideas in this comic are good, but there are too many of them. There’s Azoth, the Tall Poppies, the oppressive corporation, the father’s legacy… there are too many moving parts to this story, and it’s not clear how they fit together. Nor can I identify what the main theme of this comic is supposed to be. I think that Azoth alone would have been enough, without the subplot about the corporation and the protagonist’s father. This is a common mistake made by writers new to fiction writing: instead of writing manageable stories, they try to write giant epics that are too big to ever finish.

SMOOTH CRIMINALS #5 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kurt Lustgarten, Kiwi Smith & Amy Roy, [A] Leisha Riddel. I wonder why this issue has an extra writer. This issue is an extended training montage, with Mia and Brenda trying to master the Net of Indra’s security system. Smooth Criminals is a fun comic, but its plot hasn’t been going anywhere. It could have been at least an issue shorter.

SUPERB #19 (Lion Forge, 2019) – “We Could Be Heroes,” [W] David F. Walker, [A] Alitha Martinez. Jonah beats up that one evil kid, and forms a possible relationship with a gender-nonconforming kid. That seems to be the end of the series. I enjoyed Superb, but I’m also not going to miss it very much. The recent news about the layoffs at Lion Forge is infuriating; it sucks that so many talented people, many of them queer or POC, are out of work.

G.I. JOE: SIERRA MUERTE #3 (IDW, 2019) – “Sierra Muerte Conclusion,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. I enjoyed this a lot more than last issue, since I was reading it for the story, and I wasn’t expecting much of Michel Fiffe’s experimental draftsmanship. This issue has an exciting story: the revelation that Destro was really Zartan is a nice twist. And this issue also has better artwork. It includes some highly experimental linework and coloring. Reading this series has made me interested in Larry Hama’s GI Joe again; see below.

HEATHEN #5 (Vault, 2017) – untitled, [W/A] Natasha Alterici. The previous issues of this series were not solicited through DCBS, as far as I know. And issue 8 was solicited, then cancelled, then offered again. In any event, Heathen is about a lesbian relationship between a female Viking and a Valkyrie. This issue, the Viking, Aydis, tries to hire a ship to cross the northern sea, but the ship owner refuses because the journey is unsafe. Then Aydis meets some mermaids who she convinces to guide the ship. Natasha Alterici’s artwork is amazing. She draws with thick lines and strong white-black contrasts, creating a sense of a wintry northern world. Her dialogue, characterization and historical knowledge are also excellent.

QUEEN OF BAD DREAMS #1 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Danny Lore, [A] Jordi Perez. This new series is about a woman who hunts down “figments,” i.e. dreams that become real. Queen of Bad Dreams isn’t a terrible comic, but there’s nothing very exciting about it, and I don’t intend to read any more of it.

RAWHIDE KID #61 (Marvel, 1967) – “Shotgun to Deadwood!”, [W] Gary Friedrich, [A] Dick Ayers. A shockingly racist comic, even for its time. This issue’s plot is that the Rawhide Kid saves some civilians from murderous bandits and Indians, with the aid of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane. The Indians in the story are violent savages, they’re addicted to firewater, and they speak in baby talk. There’s no acknowledgement that they’re being brutally dispossessed of their land and culture. Also, the writer can’t distinguish between Indian nations. The story appears to be set in the West or Southwest, yet the Indians use wampum as money, and one of them claims to be a Cherokee. Since 1967, our society hasn’t made much progress toward equality for Native Americans, but at least we’ve mostly stopped publishing stories like this one. What’s especially ironic is that on the letters page, a reader praises Marvel for its favorable portrayal of Indians (https://www.instagram.com/p/Bw0u4NkhFzy/).

RAWHIDE KID #76 (Marvel, 1970) – “Guns of the Bandoleros!”, [W/A] Larry Lieber. The Rawhide Kid encounters a Dragon Lady-esque Mexican bandit named Lynx. This issue is pretty average, but at least it’s not blatantly racist, though the Mexicans in the story are pretty stereotypical.

BOOKS OF MAGIC #7 (DC, 2019) – “Over the River and Through the Worlds,” [W] Kat Howard, [A] Tom Fowler. Tim and Rose go to Faerie where they meet Titania. This series was already on my chopping block because of its extremely slow pacing, and that problem has not gotten any better. I’ve decided to quit reading it.

HEATHEN #6 (Vault, 2017) – as above. There’s a sequence with the Valkyrie, and then we return to the Viking and her shipmates. It turns out that the crew of the ship are all women who escaped from slavery, and they check every ship they encounter for additional slaves. This is a brilliant idea, and a nice twist on the now-familiar “lady pirates” trope. Overall, this is another excellent issue. I hope I can find issues 2 through 4 somehow – I already have #1.

GHOSTS #71 (DC, 1978) – three stories, [E] Murray Boltinoff. A collection of boring, unscary horror stories about ghosts. The artists are Bill Draut, Ken Landgraf and Jim Craig.

BAD LUCK CHUCK #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Disaster on Demand,” [W] Lela Gwenn, [A] Matthew Dow Smith. A continuation of the plotline with the mother-daughter rivalry. This series is okay, but it’s not especially exciting or unusual, and I didn’t bother to order #4.

CRIMINAL #4 (Image, 2019) – “Orphans,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. This issue focuses on Ricky Lawless, a hopeless drug addict and ne’er-do-well. He’s trying to hunt down the people who killed his dad (as mentioned in #1), but he spends most of the issue getting beaten up and abusing his ex-girlfriend’s generosity. This is a good issue, but not as memorable as “Bad Weekend.”

MARVEL UNIVERSE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #2 (Marvel, 2015) – “Show and Tell,” [W] Mairghread Scott, [A] Adam Archer. I don’t know why I bought this comic. I guess I was hoping it would be like the old Marvel Adventures titles, but it doesn’t come close to that level of quality, although it’s better than the next two issues (see below). This issue, the Guardians’ ship is invaded by a creature that only Groot can see. Each issue of this series also includes a backup story which is an adaptation of an animated short.

MARVEL UNIVERSE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #3 (Marvel, 2015) – “Hang on Tight,” [W] Paul Allor, [A] Adam Archer. The Guardians visit a farming planet that’s experiencing a severe water shortage, and also, all the people there hate Drax. This issue was worse than the previous one, though none of them were especially great.

MARVEL UNIVERSE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #4 (Marvel, 2015) – “All Hail King Groot,” [W] Joe Caramagna, [A] Adam Archer. The Guardians visit a planet where the people worship Groot. Compared to Marvel Adventures, this series suffers from a severe lack of creativity or narrative complexity. The stories are predictable, and they all end by restoring the status quo.

THANOS #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Zero Sanctuary Part 1,” [W] Tini Howard, [A] Ariel Olivetti. A slightly retconned version of Thanos’s origin. This comic is excessively violent and morbid, since Thanos has to sacrifice people to Lady Death on a regular basis. I only ordered this comic because Tini Howard wrote it, but by this point I’ve lost confidence in her work.

WIZARD BEACH #5 (Boom!, 2019) – “Bugs” and other chapters, [W] Shaun Simon, [A] Conor Nolan. Hexley goes back home and solves the crisis that brought him to Wizard Beach, but then there’s another crisis that’s even worse. Hexley realizes that the people in the Wizard Mountains don’t actually want to be happy, so he goes back to the beach for good, and accepts Agnes’s romantic advances. This comic has a somewhat trite and predictable plot, but it’s also cute and heartwarming. Conor Nolan’s artwork is super-detailed and full of sight gags, and effectively immerses the reader in Wizard Beach’s world.

BLACK PANTHER #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Gathering of My Name” (again), [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Kev Walker. The rebels confront Princess Zenzi, who is possessed by Bast the cat god. She tells them that their Wakanda is not the only one, and restores T’Challa’s memory. So finally this story is approaching a climax.

PUNKS NOT DEAD: LONDON CALLING #3 (IDW, 2019) – “I Was There, Too,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Martin Simmonds. The squirrel girl (not that one) introduces Fergie and Sid to some other special people. Meanwhile, the weird old lady tells a story about Beleth’s past history. Martin Simmonds’s artwork in this every issue is every bit as gorgeous as in the first Punks Not Dead miniseries.

THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN #3 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tini Howard, [A] Amilcar Pinna. This issue largely consists of a flashback to Vexana’s history with Vlad the Impaler. As with Thanos #1, I only ordered this comic because of Tini Howard, and I wish I hadn’t ordered it. It’s just not all that good.

DARK RED #2 (Aftershock, 2019) – “Flyover States,” [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Corin Howell. A Nazi vampire tries to enlist Chip to help create an Aryan vampire nation, and Chip reacts violently to this idea. I appreciate that Tim Seeley is trying to confront the topic of rural American whiteness. However, it feels disingenuous when Chip gets furious at the idea of “bringing Nazis to my town.” If there’s any organized resistance to racism and fascism among rural white Americans, I haven’t seen it. From my experience, it’s exactly people like Chip who have made white supremacism such a problem in rural America. I think that as well as rejecting Nazism, Chip should show some awareness of how he might be complicit in it. Overall, I don’t enjoy this series enough to continue reading it.

STRAY BULLETS: KILLERS #3 (Image, 2014) – “The Five Fingers,” [W/A] David Lapham. As suggested in CBR’s review (https://www.cbr.com/stray-bullets-killers-3/), this issue is a perfect introduction to Stray Bullets. A man named Dez Finger hires Virginia to babysit his children. It should be a simple task, but it turns out Dez is a brutal cheater, spousal abuser, and deadbeat dad. Also, he’s going to kill Virginia unless she finds his wife’s hidden stash of cash. This issue is a brilliant piece of thriller writing, and it demonstrates Lapham’s ability to go from boredom to high tension in just a few panels. By the end of the issue, I was terrified for Dez’s wife and kids, and I badly wanted to see him dead.

DETECTIVE COMICS #549 (DC, 1985) – “Dr. Harvey and Mr. Bullock,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Pat Broderick. Harvey Bullock is perhaps the worst part of Doug Moench’s Batman, because he’s so unsavory and also such a cliché. He’s the archetypal example of the fat, dirty, lazy cop. This issue, Moench tries to deepen Harvey’s character by revealing that he’s also a film buff. This story does succeed at making Harvey a less one-dimensional character, but only to a slight degree. What’s much more exciting about this issue is that its Green Arrow backup story is written by Alan Moore. “Night Olympics” doesn’t have much of a plot, and it’s not on the same level of quality as “For the Man Who Has Everything” or even “Mogo Doesn’t Socialize.” But it’s full of expertly written dialogue and captions.

JON SABLE, FREELANCE #34 (First, 1986) – untitled, [W/A] Mike Grell. Jon Sable gets lessons in hunting from an old Native American man. At the end of the issue, he discovers a mysterious survivalist compound. This issue is reasonably good, but by this point in the series Grell’s art had become a lot looser and less detailed, and his pages include a ton of unnecessary white space. As a result, this issue is an excessively quick read.

AVENGERS #210 (Marvel, 1981) – “You Don’t Need the Weathermen to Know Which Way the Wind Blows!”, [W] Bill Mantlo, [A] Gene Colan. The Avengers battle some new villains with weather-controlling powers. I’ve read almost every issue of Avengers from #100 to #300, and of all those issues, this is one of the worst. The Weathermen are potentially exciting villains, but Mantlo fails to exploit their potential effectively, and he never writes one line of dialogue when two would do. Also, Gene Colan’s artwork in this issue is less than his best.

New comics received on May 3, which, unfortunately, was a grading day:

PAPER GIRLS #28 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Cliff Chiang. This issue has a structure reminiscent of Alan Moore’s “How Things Work Out.” Each page has four horizontal panels, each depicting one of the four girls’ storylines. The issue can be read either vertically, one page at a time, or horizontally, one storyline at a time. This results in some fascinating tricks; for example, at one point a character says “Afraid I don’t understand the reference,” and this can refer to either the reference to Bobby McFerrin on the previous page, or the reference to Freddy Krueger in the panel directly above. And there are also some moments where the four storylines connect. Of course, as usual I can’t make head or tail of this comic’s storyline, and I’m looking forward to the end of the series so that I can read the whole thing at one sitting.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Joey Vazquez. This is the best “superheroes switch bodies” story I’ve ever read. Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel not only have different powers, they also have very different lives, and Eve Ewing explores what would realistically happen if an adult white man switched bodies with a teenage brown girl. This issue is hilarious precisely because the situations in it are totally plausible, if you accept that body-switching is possible. For example, Peter Parker is amazed by the taste of lip gloss, and Kamala Khan enjoys being able to shave her face and buy scratch-off tickets. Peter in Kamala’s body even gets period cramps, although they’re not identified as such. On top of all that, this issue even has a cat joke (https://www.instagram.com/p/BxA-lcthY60/). What more could you ask for?

GIANT DAYS #50 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. On Facebook, Siva Vaidhyanathan asked for advice on how to understand cricket culture, and I just recommended this comic to him. In this issue, John McGraw’s pub cricket teammates all get food poisoning on the eve of an important match (well, important to him) and McGraw’s friends are enlisted as replacement players. The resulting cricket match is utterly hilarious, and it even gives me a better understanding of why people like cricket. Personally, I find cricket less interesting than baseball because of the lack of baserunning and its associated strategy, but after reading this comic as well as Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, I want to watch more cricket. But then at the end of the issue, as McGraw is basking in his victory, the comic takes an unexpectedly dark turn when McGraw receives the worst news of his life. I’m sad that Giant Days is ending soon, but it’s going out on a high note.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #77 (IDW, 2019) – “Cosmos Part 4: All Together Now,” [W] Katie Cook, [W/A] Andy Price. This issue was a slight letdown after the brilliance of Giant Days #50, but it’s good. Cosmos inevitably manages to collect all six stars, acquire infinite power, and mind-control the princesses, and things are looking really bad for the rest of the Mane Six. Andy’s art in this issue is as amazing as usual, especially the panel where Cosmos says “I feel delightful!”

GRUMBLE #6 (Ahoy, 2019) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. Eddie and Tala visit Asbury Park, New Jersey in order to make a withdrawal from Jimmy the Keeper, a man who can swallow people whole. This is a good issue, but not as good as the last couple.

BEASTS OF BURDEN: THE PRESENCE OF OTHERS #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Evan Dorkin, [A] Jill Thompson. I’m surprised this comic was published at all, since its writer has publicly criticized its artist for lateness, but I’m glad it did eventually come out. In this new story, the Beasts of Burden meet three humans, two teenagers and their dad, who can understand what they say. The animals and humans battle a giant ratlike ogre, and the dad gets turned into a zombie. Jill’s art is spectacular, as usual. Benjamin Dewey was an adequate replacement, but he’s no Jill Thompson.

GREEN LANTERN #7 (DC, 2019) – “Emerald Sands,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. This issue takes place in a mysterious dark realm where a woman named Pengowirr is trying to escape the attention of a villain called Myrwhydden. Then Hal Jordan shows up, and it soon becomes clear that they’re inside his ring, and Pengowirr – an anagram of “power ring” – is the embodiment of the ring’s intelligence. Having had to enter his ring in order to save his life, Hal is floating in space far away from a power battery, and he has to work with Pengowirr and Myrwhydden to reach safety. This whole issue is brilliant; it’s a Green Lantern version of the Doctor Who episode “The Doctor’s Wife” (which I admittedly have not seen). An especially nice touch is that most of the panel borders are shaped like the Green Lantern symbol.

THE DREAMING #9 (DC, 2019) – “The Void,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Bilquis Evely. Like Books of Magic #7, The Dreaming #9 takes place in Faerie, but the similarities end there because The Dreaming #9 is much better. Following Daniel’s trail, Dora goes to Faerie, where Nuala tells her about Daniel’s recent visit there. Inevitably, Nuala has to save Dora from Titania. Bilquis Evely’s depiction of Faerie is amazing, especially the establishing shot of Nuala’s house, and the scene where Titania is riding at the head of the Unseelie Court. I also love how every time Titania is introduced, her herald lists all her alternate names.

GOGOR #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Ken Garing. A fascinating debut issue by an artist I hadn’t heard of before. Gogor takes place in a bizarre fantasy world. Its protagonist, Armano, rides a giant shrew and is pursued by masked men riding beetles, and he escapes them by leaping between the floating islands that make up his world. To defeat an oppressive dictatorship, Armano has to resurrect Gogor, a creature that resembles Swamp-Thing crossed with the Hulk. This comic isn’t very simliar to anything else, but it reminds me a bit of Weirdworld or Beanworld, just because of the sheer strangeness of its setting. Ken Garing’s art is understated but subtly brilliant. I will be on the lookout for his previous series, Planetoid and Planetoid Praxis.

MR. & MRS. X #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “Gambit & Rogue Forever Part Four,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Oscar Bazaldúa. Gambit and Rogue save Spiral’s baby and defeat Mojo, but it turns out that the “baby” is just a fragment of Spiral’s soul, which Gambit perceived as a baby. Based on this, I predict that this series will end with a pregnancy. After finally getting home, Rogue has to go help Captain Marvel, as was already depicted in Captain Marvel’s own title, and meanwhile Gambit’s father summons him back to New Orleans. It’s too bad this series has just two issues left.

On Saturday, May 4th, I went to Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find for their Free Comic Book Day event. Ironically, I had to pass up most of the best FCBD comics because I had already ordered them from DCBS. But I did get some of the less desirable FCBD comics, and I bought some new comics I had missed, as well as a stack of dollar comics. Some of my acquisitions:

LITTLE BIRD #2 (Image, 2019) – “The Fight for Elder’s Hope,” [W] Darcy Van Poelgeest, [A] Ian Bertram. Another fantastic new series. I wasn’t sure what was going on in this comic at first, but I soon realized that it’s a postapocalyptic story taking place in Canada, and the protagonist is a rebel against a brutal Christian dictatorship. This comic’s plot is fairly standard, but Ian Bertram’s artwork is stunning. His page layouts are intricate and innovative, and his linework is extremely distinctive. I see hints of Carla Speed McNeil and Andrew MacLean in his style, but it’s a style that’s entirely his own. I would certainly have preordered this entire series if I’d known what the art looked like. I did order issue 5, and I hope I can get the other three issues.

DARE #1 (Fantagraphics, 1991) – multiple chapters, [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Rian Hughes. This was my most exciting find at FCBD. It’s Grant Morrison’s sarcastic, dystopian take on Dan Dare, originally published in the British magazines Revolver and Crisis. Dan Dare is bored and depressed after retiring from his career as an adventurer, but a fascist right-wing prime minister, based on Margaret Thatcher, enlists his aid for her campaign. Dare is an important work of Grant’s early career. Like much of Grant’s best work, it’s a postmodern take on classic comics. It also demonstrates his hatred of Thatcherism, which we also see in St. Swithin’s Day. But the really stunning thing about Dare is Rian Hughes’s art. Hughes is one of many super-underrated artists who came out of the ‘80s British small press, along with Phil Elliott, Paul Grist, David Hine, etc. In this issue, his depictions of art deco architecture and machinery are so slick and colorful that they remind me of Chaland or Daniel Torres.

CRIMINAL: THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT #2 (Marvel, 2011) – “The Last of the Innocent,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. “The Last of the Innocent” – a.k.a. the Archie story – is probably the best Criminal story, although “Bad Weekend” comes close. Heroes also had the other issues of this miniseries, but I decided to pass them up and save them for later; maybe that was a bad decision. In this issue, Riley (Archie) executes his plot to kill his wife Felix (Veronica) – who was sleeping with Teddy (Reggie) – and to pin the murder on his drug-addicted friend Freakout (Jughead). This story works perfectly well as a crime drama, but it’s extra funny if you get the references. In that sense, it’s like Afterlife with Archie, but it came out before that series did.

GHOST HOG FCBD SPECIAL #1 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Joey Weiser. A simple and forgettable story about ghost animals. It doesn’t make me want to read the graphic novel it’s excerpted from.

JACK STAFF #9 (Image, 2005) – “Tom Tom the Robot Man,” [W/A] Paul Grist. As usual I’m not sure what’s going on in this issue. I rarely come across Paul Grist comics, so I haven’t read enough Jack Staff to understand its continuity or premise, except that it’s an homage to classic British comics. This issue has one plotline about Tom Tom the Robot Man, and another about the Nazi supervillain. As always, Paul Grist’s draftsmanship, page layouts, and coloring are fantastic.

G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO #61 (Marvel, 1987) – “Beginnings… and Endings,” [W] Larry Hama, [A] Marshall Rogers. G.I. Joe and Transformers were the first two comic books I ever followed, and I continued to subscribe to G.I. Joe almost until it was cancelled. But by the time my subscription expired in 1994, I had gotten interested in other comics, and I felt ashamed of reading a comic based on a toy line. I never came back to it, and I even left my GI Joe and Transformers comics at my parents’ house when I shipped all my other comics out. But just like how C.S. Lewis stopped feeling ashamed of reading fairy tales, I now feel comfortable admitting that I liked G.I. Joe and that it’s a well-written and well-drawn comic. Indeed, I feel much more embarrassed of some of the other comics I read after G.I. Joe, like X-Men 2099 and the ‘90s Guardians of the Galaxy. Anyway, this issue, a team of Joes goes on a mission to rescue an American spy from Borovia, apparently based on Yugoslavia. But it turns out that the State Department already made a deal to extricate the spy, without telling GI Joe, and the Joes have to extricate themselves from a hostile country. This plot twist seems very plausible. Despite all the ridiculous machinery and codenames, GI Joe benefitted from Larry Hama’s insider knowledge of the military. This issue also has a bunch of subplots, including one where Cobra Commander seemingly dies.

PAPERCUTZ FCBD #1 (Papercutz, 2019) – “Gilbert: The Curious Mysterious Preview,” [W/A] Art Baltazar. A very typical Art Baltazar comic about a fish boy. It’s not bad, but it’s no different from any of Art’s other work. This issue also includes a preview of an American translation of Mauricio de Souza’s Monica, the most famous Brazilian comic. Sadly, what is translated here is not Mauricio de Souza’s original, but a later adaptation by a different artist in a manga style, and there’s nothing interesting about it.

THE UNEXPECTED #119 (DC, 1970) – “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Deadliest of All?”, [W] uncredited, [A] Bernie Wrightson. When I found this issue in a dollar box at Heroes, I instantly identified the first story as by Wrightson, though it’s uncredited. This story has a typical boring plot, about a mirror that remembers crimes it witnesses, and would be entirely forgettable if drawn by anyone else. But in Wrightson’s hands, it becomes a masterpiece of mood and psychological terror. It’s a rare example of a ‘70s DC horror story that’s actually frightening. Bernie did several other stories for DC’s horror anthologies, and it’s a pity that they’ve never been published as a collection. The other stories in this issue are by Werner Roth (“and friend”) and Sid Greene and are of no interest. The Werner Roth story is called “Swamp Child” but has nothing to do with Swamp Thing.

UNDERGROUND #1 (Image, 2009) – untitled, [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Steve Lieber. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of this series because I love Jeff Parker’s work. Steve Lieber is also an excellent and underrated artist. Underground is a thriller series starring two Kentucky rangers. The two protagonists have just become lovers, but they disagree on whether a local cave should be opened to visitors. While exploring the cave, the male protagonist encounters two men trying to blow it up, and gets caught in the explosion. I hope I can find the other four issues of this miniseries, because it’s a fascinating setup with some interesting characters.

IMMORTAL HULK #8 (Marvel, 2019) – “His Hideous Heart,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. A rogue scientist dismembers the Hulk in order to test how his healing factor works. It turns out the Hulk can control all the parts of his body even when they’re separate, and things don’t end well for the scientist. Meanwhile, Walter Langkowski and the reporter from issue 16 are looking for the Hulk. I think this series is the most interesting Hulk comic in years. It’s squarely in line with the character’s past continuity, yet it’s more a horror comic than a superhero comic. I never noticed Joe Bennett’s artwork much before, but in this series he does a good job of emulating Kelley Jones or Bernie Wrightson.

SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #1 (DC, 2007) – “Kryptonite,” [W] Darwyn Cooke, [A] Tim Sale. This issue, like the other issues in this story arc, begins with a flashback sequence narrated by an animate chunk of Kryptonite. The main story takes place very early in Superman’s Metropolis years. This issue mostly focuses on Lois and Clark’s relationship problems. In general, this is an excellent Superman comic. Darwyn’s writing is almost as good as his artwork, and Tim Sale is a brilliant visual storyteller.

ZENITH PHASE I #1 (Fleetway/Quality, 1992) – “Dropping In,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. Grant Morrison’s first major work, originally published in 2000 AD, is a deconstructionist superhero story in a style similar to Miracleman. Years after the old superheroes have retired, the only new superhero, 19-year-old playboy Zenith, has to team up with his older colleagues to defeat an eldritch Lovecraftian horror. So far, Zenith is not as exciting as Grant’s more mature work, but it’s an interesting window into his development, and it feels like a useful point of comparison to Miracleman. Steve Yeowell was very bad at drawing Lovecraftian monsters, but the costume designs are by Brendan McCarthy, and they look excellent. This series is the origin of the phrase “many-angled ones,” later used by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning among others.

ADVENTURES OF THE SUPER SONS #10 (DC, 2019) – “The Injustice War Part One” or “Gang War,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [A] Carlo Barberi. In this issue’s framing sequence, we learn that the entire series is a story told by an elderly Jon and Damian to their grandkids. That helps explain the major problem with this series, namely the fact that it was already out of continuity before it was finished. In this issue’s main sequence, there’s a giant fun fight scene, then Jonah Hex gets killed, but it turns out he was a robot. And then the cavalry arrives, consisting of Tommy Tomorrow and the Super Sons’ fathers.

YOUNG LIARS #3 (DC, 2008) – “A Hard-Knock Life,” [W/A] David Lapham. This Vertigo series is about a young man whose girlfriend is unable to feel emotion due to brain damage. Young Liars #3 is the first David Lapham comic I’ve read that I didn’t like. The first reason is because it’s in color. David Lapham is an excellent black-and-white artist, but when his work is colorized, it just looks ordinary. Color makes his linework and visual storytelling harder to appreciate. Perhaps the specific problem is that Jared Fletcher’s coloring is too realistic; it adds subtle shades of color that are not present in Lapham’s stark, minimal pencils and inks. The second problem with this comic is that the violence and mayhem start right away, almost on the first page, and never stop. The violence in Stray Bullets is so shocking precisely because it comes out of nowhere. Lapham’s usual tactic is to start with an innocent, ordinary situation and then turn it into a horrific nightmare. But in this comic, the horrible nightmare starts right away, so there’s nothing to compare it to, and the violence loses its shock value.

ANIMOSITY TALES #1 (AfterShock, 2019) – “Animosity Tales,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Elton Thomasi. This FCBD comic is about a fish who falls in love with his human caretaker after the animals become sentient. There are a lot of cute moments in this issue, and I think maybe Animosity would have been better if it had focused on small stories like this one, rather than the epic of Sandor and Jesse. As I have observed before, the premise of Animosity is unsustainable; a world where all animals have human-level intelligence is not logically possible. But this premise is interesting in smaller doses.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #5 (Marvel, 2014) – untitled, [W] Dan Slott, [A] Humberto Ramos. Dan Slott’s Spider-Man hasn’t impressed me as much as I’d hoped, and I wonder if I’ve just been starting with the wrong issues of his run. But this issue is good. Peter Parker and Cindy Moon can’t keep their hands off each other, but just as they’re exploring their relationship further, Peter has to do a TV interview. J. Jonah Jameson, who Slott writes extremely well, is also present, and when the TV studio is invaded by Black Cat, Eel and Electro, JJJ gets a chance to unmask Spider-Man on live TV.

ZENITH PHASE I #2 (Fleetway/Quality, 1992) – “Patterns,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Steve Yeowell. Zenith and Ruby Fox recruit Red Dragon, an alcoholic Welsh superhero. Red Dragon is a fascinating character, but he promptly gets killed in a fight with a Nazi superhuman possessed by a Many-Angled One. Again, Zenith is not as good as Animal Man or Doom Patrol, but it’s interesting. I have the next four issues, but have not gotten to them yet.

PRETTY DEADLY #9 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Emma Rios. I thinkthis issue is about Ginny’s battle with the Reaper of War, but I couldn’t understand its plot at all, and Emma Rios’s abstract page layouts didn’t help. This comic’s writing and art attempt to be lyrical and evocative, but they mostly succeed only in creating confusion. I should have stopped buying this series after issue 3, if not earlier.

LODGER #4 (IDW, 2019) – “Who to Trust,” [W/A] David Lapham, [W] Maria Lapham. This issue is much better than Young Liars #3, but I couldn’t follow its plot. It seems to be about a travel writer and her boyfriend, but it has a ton of plot threads, and I don’t understand how they fit together.

BLACK HAMMER ’45 #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ray Fawkes w/ Jeff Lemire, [A] Matt Kindt. I’m willing to keep buying this, but it’s the worst Black Hammer comic yet. This issue, the Black Hammer Squadron has to fight both a German pilot and a giant Soviet robot in order to rescue a scientist and his family from a concentration camp.

SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #2 (DC, 2007) – as above. Rather than go on a date with Lois, Superman has to rescue some villagers from a volcano, and the experience scares him so much that he has to go see his parents for moral support. Meanwhile, Lois goes out with Anthony Gallo, a creepy dude who, I just noticed, has a Kryptonite ring. In this issue Cooke and Sale show a deep understanding of both Clark and Lois. It’s such a tragedy that Darwyn didn’t have time to publish more comics; he was a phenomenal talent.

THUNDERBOLTS #173 (Marvel, 2012) – “Like Lightning Part 2,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Declan Shalvey. The present Thunderbolts go back in time and team up with their earlier selves, from during the Onslaught storyline. But Norbert Ebersol gets into an argument with his past self, and ends up murdering him. The character interactions in this issue are really good.

THE GIRL IN THE BAY #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Time’s End,” [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Corin Howell. Katherine defeats the weird monster dude, and it turns out that her whole situation is the result of time splitting into three parts. This miniseries was better than Impossible, Inc., but it was still only average, and I probably won’t buy JM DeMatteis’s next new title.

BRITANNIA ONE DOLLAR DEBUT #1 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Peter Milligan, [A] Juan José Ryp. Antonius Axia is a widowed private detective and ex-centurion who suffers from PTSD. The insane Emperor Nero sends Axia to investigate some strange occurrences in the frontier province of Britannia. This comic’s historical accuracy is impressive, and Antonius Axia is an interesting protagonist. Also, I really like Juan José Ryp’s moody and ominous art.

BLACK AF: DEVIL’S DYE #3 (Black Mask, 2019) – untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Liana Kangas. I can’t follow this comic’s plot, and I dislike the art. I suppose Liana Kangas’s storytelling is good, but her linework is just not appealing. I think this will be the last Black comic I order. I love the idea behind this franchise, but I’ve never been satisfied with the execution.

WAR OF THE REALMS #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Quest for Thor,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Russell Dauterman. This is a big dumb crossover series, but it has a far better creative team than most such series. And Jason Aaron has experience writing most of the principal characters, so they’re less out-of-character than is usually the case in crossover stories. This issue, Daredevil becomes the new Heimdall, and the heroes look for Thor, who finally shows up at the end of the issue. Incidentally, I think it’s really stupid that there’s one villain and one army for each continent, even though Australia, for instance, has a fraction of the population of Asia.

DOMINO: HOTSHOTS #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Cold War Part 3,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] David Baldeón. I’m not enjoying this series very much. It’s just a lighthearted romp with no long-term implications, but I don’t find it very funny or exciting. As I suggested in my review of the previous issue, Gail rarely succeeds in making me care about her characters. I’ve cancelled my order of issue 5. This issue does have one very unusual two-page spread where all the panels are arranged diagonally. It’s an interesting experiment, though it results in a confusing reading experience.

RED SONJA #4 (Dynamite, 2019) – “The Brothers of Misfortune,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Mirko Colak & Bob Q. Another story that focuses on military strategy. Atypically for Mark Russell, this comic shows a lack of understanding of either Red Sonja or the sword-and-sorcery genre, as I have already observed. Also, it has no obvious connection to contemporary politics. If there is a political allegory in this series, I’ve missed it completely. I’m going to give up on this title.

HASHTAG: DANGER #1 (Ahoy, 2019) – “The Name of the Game is Death!”, [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Chris Giarrusso. I’ve never liked Chris Giarrusso’s style, and I disliked the Hashtag: Danger backup stories in other Ahoy comics. But this issue is better, possibly because of its greater length and narrative scope. It reminds me a bit of Futurama in its style of humor. Perhaps the highlight of this story is the last panel, which is a parody of the last panel of Superman #233 (“moving slowly, relentlessly toward a terrible destiny”). This issue includes a backup story about people waiting in line at a concert.

SEX DEATH REVOLUTION #2 (Black Mask, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Kasia Witerscheim. It turns out that Esperanza’s magical problems are the result of a creepy obsessive stalker, and he tries to get at her through her friend Suze. This isn’t my favorite of Mags’s current series, but the villain in this issue is really creepy and plausible; he acts just like real sexual predators do. The line “Will you be a good girl for me?” is especially creepy.

DEADLY CLASS: KILLER SET FCBD SPECIAL #nn (Image, 2019) – “Killer Set,” [W] Rick Remender, [A] Wes Craig. This one-shot acts as a jumping-on point to a series about a school for assassins. Wes Craig’s art here is very good, with excellent coloring and page layouts, but this series’s premise does nothing for me.

THE MAXX #22 (Image, 1996) – “Other People’s Crap,” [W] Bill Messner-Loebs, [A] Sam Kieth. This issue focuses on Sara, who is currently taking care of her useless unemployed roommate. Also, a giant banana slug is going around eating people. The Maxx is probably Sam Kieth’s best work because it showcases his truly unique art, while Bill Loebs provides a coherent story and effective characterization, neither of which are among Sam Kieth’s strong points.

ACTION COMICS #0 (DC, 1994) – “The Yesterday Man,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Jackson Guice. Despite its issue number, this is not an origin or flashback issue but simply a chapter of the then-ongoing Conduit storyline. Conduit was a creepy, obsessed asshole who somehow knew Superman’s secret identity. I don’t recall him ever appearing again after his initial storyline. I read a lot of Superman comics from this era when I was a kid, and I think they still hold up today, but this issue is only average.

PRETTY DEADLY #5 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Emma Rios. The heroines battle Death in an Old West town. This is perhaps the most coherently plotted issue of Pretty Deadly, but it’s still confusing, and it has all the typical flaws of this series.

DETECTIVE COMICS #813 (DC, 2006) – “City of Crime,” [W] David Lapham, [A] Ramon Bachs. A villain called The Body is driving the people of Gotham crazy. I didn’t quite understand this issue, but it is kind of cool how part of the story takes place in the ruins underneath Gotham City. These ruins were a major setting in the Arkham City video game. I’m not sure if there was a direct line of influence from one to the other.

More new comics arrived on May 9. By that point I was mostly done with the semester, so I was able to read even more comics than usual.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #44 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. Squirrel Girl teams up with Ratatoskr, but when they try to get information from some (stereotypical) local people, they end up getting mistaken for Frost Giants. This is a pretty average issue. I appreciate that it doesn’t require much if any knowledge of the War of the Realms crossover. Ryan is Canadian himself, so the Canadian stereotypes in this story are probably being used knowingly.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #6 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Sole Survivor,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. Turan is invading Stygia under the command of Prince Yezdigerd. Conan falls in with the Turanian army and proves to be a much better commander than any of its generals, who are chosen on the basis of birth rather than merit. This is still a good Conan comic, but I think it’s my least favorite issue yet; it doesn’t have much of a story. In this continuity, Conan’s first encounter with Yezdigerd happens very differently than in the previous Marvel series. In Roy Thomas’s continuity, Conan serves under Yezdigerd at Makkalet and later slashes him in the face, earning his lifelong enmity.

DRAGONFLY & DRAGONFLYMAN #1 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Police Crackdown,” [W] Tom Peyer, [A] Russ Braun. This FCBD comic is a prequel to Wrong Earth, and tells two parallel stories each taking place on one of the Earths. It doesn’t tell us much we didn’t already know about the characters or their worlds, but it’s hilarious. I especially like Dragonflyman’s line about how teachers are the real heroes. There’s also a Captain Ginger backup story that shows why Ginger and Mittens don’t like each other. I hope we see both these series again soon.

RONIN ISLAND #3 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. Hana and Kenichi travel to Japan with General Sato. After fighting some zombies, they meet the shogun, who turns out to be a useless, spoiled, racist brat. The shogun appoints Kenichi to rule Ronin Island instead of General Sato. This series continues to be fascinating, with unexpected plot twists and complicated moral dilemmas.

BRONZE AGE BOOGIE #2 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Welcome to Fear City!”, [W] Stuart Moore, [A] Alberto Ponticelli. Brita Constantina and Lynda Darrk fight the Martians with the help of Jackson Li, a dead ringer for Shang-Chi. In Jackson Li, Stuart Moore perfectly parodies Doug Moench’s histrionic dialogue and fake Eastern philosophy. This series may have limited appeal to readers who aren’t familiar with ‘70s comics, but for readers who do get the joke, it’s amazing. This issue also includes a backup story about an astronaut bear. A notable moment in this story is when the bear is working as a janitor, and he tells his coworker “You have no idea how hard this is. There’s so much I could be doing – but they’re so blinded by fear and prejudice that they won’t even give me a chance.” And his fellow janitor, who is drawn to look very Mexican, just gives him a long look.

GRUMBLE VS. THE GOON #nn (Albatross, 2019) – “Grumble vs. the Goon,” [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton, [W/A] Eric Powell. This FCBD comic is a crossover between two series both now published by Albatross. I like Grumble a lot more than The Goon; the latter series was funny at first, but quickly got repetitive. However, in this issue Powell, Roberts and Norton find a plausible way to make the two franchises interact, and their respective styles of art and humor are an interesting contrast. I especially appreciate how the two artists collaborate on the same pages. Throughout the comic, each artist draws the characters and settings from his own series, and the characters from each series even speak in their usual lettering fonts. So there are have panels where Tala and Eddie are drawn by Roberts, and the Goon and Franky are drawn by Norton. This is a simple idea but hard to pull off.

THE UNSTOPPABLE WASP #7 (Marvel, 2019) – “Happy Birthday, Nadia!”, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Alti Firmansyah. Depressingly, this series has been cancelled a second time. I’m disappointed if not surprised. Unstoppable Wasp should be as popular as Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl, but it’s as if Marvel doesn’t understand why those series are successful, or how to replicate their success. At least we still get a few more issues, and this is perhaps the happiest issue of the entire series. At her birthday party, Nadia meets all the members of her extended family, and there’s one cute and cathartic moment after another. I especially loved the cameo appearance by Tigra’s son William, and I even noticed William’s little tail under the table on the splash page. As another example, I like the moment where Priya Aggarwal and Kamala Khan realize that their families are both from Mumbai.

LUMBERJANES: THE SHAPE OF FRIENDSHIP FCBD SPECIAL 2019 (Boom!, 2019) – “Shape of Friendship,” [W] Lilah Sturges, [A] Polterink. The Shape of Friendship graphic novel is the only Lumberjanes comic I haven’t read, so the excerpt from it in this issue is new to me. In this excerpt, the girls fight a hydra, then they sneak out of camp once Jo is asleep. The lack of color in this story is annoying, but it’s not bad, and I need to get around to reading the rest of the graphic novel. This issue also reprints a backup story which previously appeared in the 2016 Makin’ the Ghost of It special. I had forgotten about this story, so it was worth revisiting, but I wish Boom! would have commissioned a new story instead of reprinting old material.

BLACK HAMMER: AGE OF DOOM #10 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dean Ormston. Lucy restores the memories of her colleagues by hitting them with her hammer. Golden Gail is too old and frail for that to work, but she manages to recover herself enough to say Zafram. Then Lucy gets teleported to the Rock of Eternity-esque dimension where her dad is. This is another good issue; the scenes with the decrepit Golden Gail are especially poignant.

THESE SAVAGE SHORES #4 (Vault, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ram V, [A] Sumit Kumar. The Anglo-Mysore War continues, while the European vampires and vampire hunters fight each other. At the end of the issue, we learn that Kori has also become a vampire. This wasn’t the best issue, but I still love this series. I appreciate Ram V’s boldness in immersing American readers in such an unfamiliar setting and history, and trusting us to be able to understand what’s going on.

FCBD 2019: A SHEETS STORY (Lion Forge, 2019) – “A Sheets Story,” [W/A] Brenda Thummler. The best FCBD comic of the year. It’s a sequel to the author’s graphic novel Sheets, which I haven’t read, but I was easily able to deduce all the relevant background information. Seventh-grader Marjorie has recently lost her mother, and her friend Wendell is the ghost of a dead boy. On a visit to her grandmother, she has to deal with both her grief and her anxieties about growing up. A Sheets Story is lyrical and beautiful, and its messages about loss and maturity are conveyed subtly, almost without seeming like deliberate messages at all. Brenda Thummler’s linework and coloring are not the best, but she portrays emotions perfectly. I just ordered the Sheets graphic novel, and I look forward to reading it.

EVE STRANGER #1 (IDW, 2019) – “Rescue Me,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Philip Bond. This new Black Crown series is about a secret agent of some sort who’s unable to form new memories. Anterograde amnesia has become a cliché by now; it appears in everything from 50 First Dates to Memento to Gene Wolfe’s Iatro series. It’s a useful narrative device, because it allows the reader to learn the story at the same time the character does, but it’s no longer new and original. What does make this series enjoyable is Philip Bond’s art. His linework, coloring and visual storytelling are brilliant. He’s another example of a highly underrated British alternative cartoonist, as mentioned in my review of Dare #1 above.

LITTLE LULU IN THE WORLD’S BEST COMIC BOOK #1 (Drawn & Quarterly, 2019) – “The Practical Jokers” and other stories, [W] John Stanley, [A] Irving Tripp. I’m not sure this comic’s title is accurate. Little Lulu is definitely one of the best comics ever, but I’ve read better issues of Little Lulu than this one. The best story in this issue is “The Practical Jokers” from Little Lulu #4, but the other stories are just average, and they seem to be from early in John Stanley’s run. They lack the complexity and subtlety of his best work.

WONDER WOMAN #70 (DC, 2019) – “Love is a Battlefield Part 2,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Xermanico. Atlantiades continues to drive everyone crazy with desire, which soon turns into anger. This issue doesn’t offer much that wasn’t in issue 69, but it provides further evidence that Willow is developing her own original approach to this title.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “Re-Entry Conclusion,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. Carol and her allies defeat Makhizmo, but are unable to save Som. Much like Willow’s first Wonder Woman storyline, the “Re-Entry” arc was an acceptable opening to the series, but it didn’t feel particularly new or original. I look forward to seeing what else Kelly can do with this series. The highlight of this issue is the page with Chewie the cat.

OUR FAVORITE THING IS MY FAVORITE THING IS MONSTERS: FCBD 2019 (Fantagraphics, 2019) – three stories, [W/A] Emil Ferris. This issue includes two previously published stories by Emil Ferris, plus one new one. I can’t remember if I’ve read “The Bite That Changed My Life” before, but it’s an impressive story, and the new chapter of Karen and Deeze’s adventures is also excellent. As ever, Emil Ferris’s art is superhumanly good. It’s no wonder that My Favorite Thing is Monsters has been delayed a lot, but this issue renews my enthusiasm for it.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #9 (DC, 2019) – “House Rules,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Erzulie tells Anansi a story of her encounter with Mazikeen – who, by the way, I really hate, because her dialogue is very hard to read. Then Anansi tells a story about Habibi and her sisters, which has unexpected consequences. This story benefits from Nalo Hopkinson’s deep knowledge of West African mythology. Her version of Anansi feels extremely creepy and threatening, while most other versions of this character are far more sanitized. The dude who gives Habibi the book is based on the writer Daniel José Older.

AGE OF CONAN: BÊLIT #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Lesson,” [W] Tini Howard, [A] Kate Niemczyk. Another unimpressive issue. Tini Howard’s Bêlit lacks a distinctive personality and doesn’t feel like the same character as any other version of Bêlit, and this comic is not comparable to other comics about female pirates. I didn’t order issue 4.

ATOMIC ROBO: DAWN OF A NEW ERA #5 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. I wish this comic had a gallery of character faces, because I can never remember who’s who, except Robo obviously. This issue, Robo’s teammates debate his decision to rehabilitate Alan, while the plotlines with the vampires and the underground monsters continue. This is in fact the last issue of the current miniseries, which is surprising because it leaves so many plot threads unresolved, so I guess the next series is going to follow directly from the ending of this one.

LUCY & ANDY NEANDERTHAL BIG AND BOULDER (Random House, 2019) – “Big and Boulder,” [W/A] Jeffrey Brown. I’ve read and loved some of Jeffrey Brown’s adult-oriented work, especially A Matter of Life, but I haven’t read many of his kids’ comics. This FCBD comic is a short story based on his Lucy & Andy Neanderthal series, about two prehistoric siblings. It’s not all that great, and the caveman setting is just a cosmetic feature; this same story could be told with 21st-century kids. The best part about this comic is the sabertooth kitten.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2019: GENERAL (Dark Horse, 2019) – “The Game Master,” [W] Jody Houser, [A] Ibrahim Moustafa, and “Horrors to Come,” [W] Jeff Lemire & Ray Fawkes, [A] David Rubín. The main story in this FCBD issue is a Stranger Things adaptation. It assumes the reader has seen Stranger Things, which I haven’t, and so I wasn’t able to follow the plot. However, it does have a cute plot about a kid teaching two older kids to play Dungeons & Dragons. What is not immediately obvious is that this comic also includes a Black Hammer backup story. It doesn’t have much of a plot, but it does have beautiful art by David Rubín. I’m going to file this issue under Black Hammer.

WONDER TWINS #4 (DC, 2019) – “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. This issue’s first page includes a scene where a teacher looks at a diagram and says “Ooh, sounds edgy” (https://www.instagram.com/p/BxWQQQAhsjR/) In the mathematical field of graph theory, the lines on a diagram like this are known as “edges,” so I thought the word “edgy” was a subtle math joke. Sadly, on Facebook, Mark Russell said that this was not intentional. Anyway, this issue Zan and Jayna both go on disastrous dates. Zan’s date is just using him to make her ex-boyfriend jealous, while Jayna’s date is a supervillain with the appropriate name of Red Flag. This is another great issue, and it’s a shame that this is only a six-issue miniseries.

THE LONG CON #9 (Oni, 2019) – “Was It Paradise… or Was It a Prison?”, [W] Dylan Meconis & Ben Coleman, [A] E.A. Denich. Destiny and Victor go before the Grand Gatekeeper, who lets Victor into the inner sanctum, a.k.a. the writer’s room. The Grand Gatekeeper dumps Destiny into a pit, but she makes it to the writer’s room too. This series seems to be approaching a conclusion. The Long Con has quietly been one of the funniest and most clever comics of the past year, and it deserves a bigger audience.

SHE COULD FLY: THE LOST PILOT #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Animal,” [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] Martín Morazzo. Luna’s mental state continues to deteriorate, but a boy named Gary seems to be in love with her. Meanwhile, there are some other plotlines that are complicated and difficult to follow. This series is really disturbing, and is closer to horror than science fiction. The panel with the one woman’s destroyed face is as bad as the braces panel from issue 1.

BY NIGHT #11 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Christine Larsen. There are a lot of plot developments in this issue, but I don’t care much about any of them. I’m glad this series has just one issue left.

CATWOMAN #11 (DC, 2019) – untitled, [W] Joëlle Jones, [A] Fernando Blanco & Hugo Petrus. Selina gets into a giant car chase which takes her right through the middle of a film premiere. This was a thrilling issue, but seemed lacking in substance.

WAR OF THE REALMS: NEW AGENTS OF ATLAS #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Fire and Ice Chapter One,” [W] Greg Pak, [A] Gang Hyuk Lim. Greg Pak organizes a new Agents of Atlas comprised of heroes from various Asian backgrounds. This team includes some new characters, such as a superheroine who’s a K-pop star. This issue is impressive because it shows an understanding of the diversity of Asian cultures. This is most obvious in the scene where Shang Chi, Amadeus Cho, Silk and Kamala Khan debate over what a certain type of pear is called. Greg Pak understands that there are certain commonalities among Asian-American communities, for example, but that Korean- and Pakistani- and Chinese-American perspectives are all significantly different. Overall, I really like this issue, and I hope this miniseries becomes an ongoing.

DENNIS THE MENACE BONUS MAGAZINE SERIES #129 (Fawcett, 1974) – “The Circus is in Town,” uncredited. Dennis and his family go to the circus, and hijinks ensue. In this issue, Dennis’s parents show themselves to be blatantly irresponsible: they let him go to the bathroom by himself in a crowded arena, and of course he gets lost. Worse, the circus performers mistake Dennis for a fellow performer and allow him to participate in dangerous animal and trapeze acts. One wonders if they’ve ever heard of liability.

CATWOMAN #38 (DC, 2015) – “The Serpent,” [W] Genevieve Valentine, [A] Garry Brown. I stupidly ordered this because it was written by a science fiction writer I’d heard of, but I never got around to reading it until now. Based on the evidence of this issue, Genevieve Valentine’s Catwoman is boring and uninspired, with none of the fun of Joëlle Jones’s Catwoman.

THEY’RE NOT LIKE US #2 (Image, 2015) – “Black Holes for the Young,” [W] Eric Stephenson, [A] Simon Gane. This comic’s plot and characters are of little interest. It’s basically just a remake of X-Men except that Professor X is evil. What is interesting about They’re Not Like Us is Simon Gane’s art. He reminds me of various other British artists (see the review of Dare #1 above for some names) because he draws in a sort of Clear Line style, with precise linework and solid coloring. But his linework is very shaky and fragmented. I didn’t order the first issue of his new series Ghost Tree, but I did order the second issue, and I look forward to it.

SECTION ZERO #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Tom Grummett. Another really fun issue. It feels like Challengers of the Unknown or any number of other Kirby comics, but it’s not just a slavish copy. Kesel and Grummett are emulating the essence of Kirby, like they did on Superboy (see below). Indeed, Section Zero is almost a continuation of Kesel and Grummett’s second Superboy run. This issue, the protagonists encounter some weird creatures, then Tina gets sucked into a portal, and we get a flashback to Sam and Tina’s tragic honeymoon.

TREASURY OF BRITISH COMICS PRESENTS FUNNY PAGES #nn (Rebellion, 2019) – multiple uncredited stories, [W/A] Ken Reid et al. I think it’s a shame that most of the classic British humor comics are unavailable today, even in Britain. However, after reading this FCBD comic, I think it’s possible that this body of work just doesn’t hold up well anymore. Most of the stories in this issue are just one- or two-page gag strips with no continuity or narrative complexity. None of them seem comparable to the best American comic strips or kids’ comic books, and it seems like they would only appeal to young children. I’d like to read more comics by Leo Baxendale and Ken Reid and their contemporaries, but so far, I don’t see the appeal of this tradition of comics.

H1 IGNITION FCBD (Humanoids, 2019) – untitled, [W] Mark Waid, [A] Phil Briones. A model of how not to do an FCBD comic. The first half of this issue is a preview story that’s meant to set up Humanoids’s new superhero universe. This story made no sense to me, and after reading it I had no idea what the premise of the H1 universe was, or how it was different from any other superhero universe. I didn’t even realize that the preview story was based on multiple different H1 titles, not just one. After reading the prose articles that follow the comic story, I understood the H1 universe a little better, but I still couldn’t tell you what its overarching premise is. The goal of an FCBD title is to encourage the reader to purchase the comic it’s based on, and H1 Ignition accomplishes the opposite: it makes me less interested in buying the H1 titles. It’s the worst FCBD comic of the year.

WOLFIE MONSTER AND THE BIG BAD PIZZA BATTLE FCBD (Scholastic, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Joey Ellis. Three monster brothers are running a restaurant that serves disgusting pizza. A large corporation opens a new pizza restaurant in the same town and offers to buy out the protagonist’s restaurant, but this proves to be part of a plot to turn the town’s citizens into zombies. This comic is very silly and is intended for quite a young audience, but it’s more entertaining and has a deeper narrative than I expected, and Joey Ellis’s bright, colorful artwork is attractive. I kind of want to read the graphic novel from which this comic is excerpted, although I probably won’t.

DEFENDERS: MARVEL FEATURE #1 FACSIMILE EDITION (Marvel, 1971/2019) – “The Day of the Defenders!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Ross Andru. Marvel Premiere #1 is not within my price range, so I’m glad Marvel published this facsimile edition. It includes the ads and Bullpen Bulletins page and so on, so it’s the next best thing to owning the actual issue. I just saw that DC announced a simliar facsimile edition for Batman #232. The Defenders’ first appearance is a very basic superhero story, in which the Hulk, Namor and Dr. Strange save the world from Yandroth’s doomsday device. It lacks the humor or originality of later Defenders stories, but it’s not bad. This issue also includes a reprinted Golden Age Namor story by Bill Everett, and a Dr. Strange solo story by Roy Thomas and Don Heck, explaining how Dr. Strange got his powers back. At the time of this issue, Doc had been on hiatus since the end of his solo series.

ZAGOR: THE ALIEN SAGA FCBD (Epicenter, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sergio Bonelli (as Guido Nolitta), [A] Gallieno Ferri. Zagor is a classic Italian comic. Its co-creator, Sergio Bonelli, was the son of the founder of one of Italy’s major comics publishers. However, this comic is hopefully not the best example of his work. It’s a standard alien-invasion story with a Flash Gordon-esque hero and his bumbling sidekick, and it relies on continuity the reader doesn’t know about. Epicenter’s previous FCBD comic, Tex: Patagonia, was far better.

SUPERBOY #54 (DC, 1998) – “Darkness & Light,” [W] Karl Kesel, [A] Scott Kolins. In their second Superboy run, Kesel and Grummett (absent from this issue) tied together all of Kirby’s concepts from his various ‘70s DC titles – notably Jimmy Olsen and Kamandi, but others too. The result was a series which was somewhat derivative, but which brilliantly evoked the feel of Kirby’s comics, while making sense of their somewhat nonsensical plots. This issue, Superboy attends the unromantic wedding of Tuftan and Nosferata. Then he heads to Paris, where he fights a giant gargoyle and makes an enemy of a supermodel named Hex.

DIAL H #9 (DC, 2013) – “A Hiding to Nothing,” [W] China Miéville, [A] Alberto Ponticelli. China Miéville’s Dial H was too weird and esoteric for its own good, and it showed a lack of comics writing experience. However, in this issue China comes up with a stunning idea: a superhero named Glimpse who people can only see out of the corners of their eyes. In comics terms, this means he’s only partially depicted in every panel he appears in; we only ever see his hand or foot or the back of his head. It is very rare for superheroes to have powers that involve breaking the fourth wall, and I wish this would happen more often. I had an idea once for a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes who would always be just outside the panel border.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2019: ALL AGES (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Griefer,” [W] Hope Larson, [A] Meredith Gran, and “Date Knight,” [W] Cavan Scott, [A] Kawaii Creative Studio. This issue’s first story is about a Minecraft griefer who learns the error of her ways. It’s forgettable, but not bad. Meredith Gran is best known for the webcomic Octopus Pie, which I have not read. There’s also an Incredibles backup story in which the kids try to stop their parents’ date night from being interrupted by villains. This story is even worse than the “Crisis in Mid-Life” miniseries, and that miniseries was pretty bad. I’ve completely given up on the Incredibles franchise. It’s become a vehicle for pointless nostalgia.

BIRTHRIGHT #7 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. A further continuation of the plot from the last few issues. There’s a rather poignant flashback to Mikey’s first birthday in Terrenos. The major new development is that Brennan develops a crush on a girl named Becca. I believe I am now out of unread issues of Birthright.

LITTLE ARCHIE #154 (Archie, 1980) – “Imagine That!”, [W/A] Bob Bolling, plus other stories. This issue has just one Bob Bolling story, a six-pager where Little Archie and Sue Stringly discover a military satellite. It’s an okay story, but not Bolling’s best. The rest of the issue is full of forgettable Dexter Taylor stories.

USAGI YOJIMBO #27 (Dark Horse, 1991) – “My Lord’s Daughter,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. Usagi is on a quest to rescue his lord’s daughter from an ogre. He defeats 40,000 demons, then a sword-wielding octopus, then a giant centipede, then the ogre. Finally he rescues the princess but refuses her offer of marriage. At the end, it turns out this is all a story Usagi is telling to the children of the family he’s staying with. The twist ending to this story is predictable, given the wild implausibility of Usagi’s story. But this issue is still extremely fun and includes some beautifully drawn monsters and fight scenes. There’s also a backup story by Mel. White, a prominent furry fan.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES VOL. 4# 57 (DC, 1994) – “Friends and Foes,” [W] Tom McCraw, [A] Christopher Taylor. A muddled story with bad art, way too many characters, and a ton of subplots that don’t interact well. Even to an experienced Legion fan, this story is impenetrable. It makes me think that the abandonment of this Legion continuity, just a few issues later, was a mercy killing.

ARCLIGHT #4 (Image, 2017) – untitled, [W] Brandon Graham, [A] Marian Churchland. This issue has some fairly good art, but an unintelligible plot. I believe Brandon Graham is capable of writing plots that make sense, but here he failed to do so. The Arclight universe never really got off the ground.

THE DESTRUCTOR #2 (Atlas/Seaboard, 1975) – “Deathgrip!”, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] Steve Ditko. The Destructor had the best talent lineup of all the Atlas/Seaboard titles; besides the two just named, this issue is inked by Wally Wood. However, while this issue is well-drawn and well-plotted, there’s not much that distinguishes it from any other random ‘70s superhero title. This series could have been good if it had had more time to develop its continuity and characters, but it never got the chance. If Paramount and Steven Paul were willing to spend lots of money to acquire the Atlas/Seaboard library, then they must be pretty desperate for intellectual property. The only way to make a profitable film from any of the Atlas/Seaboard comics would be to essentially redesign them from scratch.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #3 (Marvel, 2018) – “Winter in America: Part III,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. I lost interest in this series almost immediately, but kept buying it nonetheless, out of a misplaced sense of obligation. This issue, Cap visits a small rural town where Hydra has revitalized the local economy and given people pride again. I was going to say that Hydra can be read as Trump, but the problem with that is that Trump hasn’tdone anything for the rural American economy, and yet rural white people still vote for him. So the political allegory in this comic is more complex than that. However, Ta-Nehisi Coates’s major problem is that his comics are not exciting; they have more intellectual interest than entertainment value. This issue is never entertaining, not even when Cap fights a giant army of Nukes.

BLACK AF: WIDOWS AND ORPHANS #4 (Black Mask, 2018) – untitled, [W] Kwanza Osajyefo, [A] Tim Smith 3. Another issue with an incoherent plot consisting mostly of pointless fight scenes. I really want the Black comics to be good, but at the moment, they are not.

IMAGINARY FIENDS #3 (Vertigo, 2018) – “The Cat’s Paw,” [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Stephen Molnar. I barely remember anything about this comic. It’s not terrible, but none of Tim Seeley’s other creator-owned works have had the passion or the local specificity of Revival.

V-WARS #0 FCBD (IDW, 2014) – untitled, [W] Jonathan Maberry, [A] Alan Robinson. Besides Female Furies, this may be the worst comic I’ve read all year. It’s an adaptation of a horror novel in which each region of the world is infested with its own native variety of vampires. The protagonist is an academic expert on vampire mythology, who has been recruited by the government to become a super vampire hunter, because he knows so much about vampires. FYI, everyone: this is a wildly inaccurate portrayal of what humanities academics do. A humanities scholar is not just someone with an encyclopedic knowledge of their topic, but someone who understands the larger significance of their topic and how it functions within society. For example, I know someone who is an authority on monster theory. He would probably not be capable of listing every type of monster in every culture. What he can do is explain why monsters are significant in general, and how certain specific cultures have used monster narratives to think about particular cultural problems. I doubt he would be capable of actually fighting monsters.

That is only the beginning of the problems with this comic. Its first story ends with a splash page in which the protagonist discovers his little daughter devouring her mother’s corpse. I guess there’s a place for this sort of horror porn, but it’s not something I’m interested in. Perhaps worst of all, this comic ends with twelve pages of text written in a typewriter font. When I read a comic book, the last thing I want to do is read prose text – especially boring prose text that’s typeset in an unreadable font. I spend enough time reading novels already. Overall, this comic is a disaster.

RISE OF THE MAGI #0 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Marc Silvestri, [A] Sumeyye Kesgin. Another FCBD comic that I acquired a few years ago but never read. This comic isn’t offensively bad like V-Wars, and it has some interesting art, but it’s not especially interesting. I can’t think of a single good comic that Top Cow has published.

OMEGA THE UNKNOWN #4 (Marvel, 2008) – untitled, [W] Jonathan Lethem, [A] Farel Dalrymple. Besides Farel’s typically gorgeous art, this issue is most notable for a scene where a high school boy is effectively murdered by bullies. After kidnapping and tormenting him, they give him a gun and dare him to fire it, and seeing no way out of the situation, he shoots himself. Jonathan Lethem is not the best comics writer, but by the end of this sequence I was furious, and I wanted the boy to shoot the bullies, no matter the consequences. This scene is probably based on Lethem’s own experiences with similar bullying, as fictionalized in The Fortress of Solitude.

ULTIMATE DAREDEVIL VS. ELEKTRA #1 (Marvel, 2003) – untitled, [W] Greg Rucka, [A] Salvador Larroca. Back in 2003, I somehow managed to read this comic without buying it. I later did buy it, but didn’t go back and read it again, until now. I did buy the other three issues of the same miniseries. Anyway, this issue is not a superhero comic at all, but a realistic story about Elektra’s freshman year at Columbia and her romance with Matt. The most notable thing in this issue is that Elektra’s roommate gets sexually harassed by a jock, and at the end of the issue, we discover that he’s raped her. This sort of realistic and sensitive depiction of sexual violence was rare at the time.

ATLAS #2 (Marvel, 2010) – untitled, [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Gabriel Hardman. Atlas and Delroy Garrett, the former Triathlon, team up to fight some giant monsters. This is an entertaining and well-crafted comic, though nothing about it particularly stands out.

WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #27.AU (Marvel, 2013) – “Age of Ultron: Road Trip,” [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Paco Medina. I must have bought this mistakenly thinking it was a regular issue of Wolverine and the X-Men. Instead it’s an Age of Ultron crossover in which Wolverine and Sue Storm go back in time to when Ultron was created. It’s a pointless comic, and it has some gruesome scenes where Wolverine vomits up a baby Groot. It incorporates some artwork from ‘60s Marvel comics, but the only effect of this gimmick is to remind the reader how much better those comics were than this one. There’s one flashback scene where Sue is trying to end an argument with Reed by leaving the room, and Reed grabs her. Nowadays this would be considered abuse.

ALPHA FLIGHT #3 (Marvel, 2011) – “Powered & Dangerous,” [W] Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente, [A] Dale Eaglesham. I bought Alpha Flight #3 and #4 by accident, by pulling them out of a dollar box when I meant to grab something else. This comic isn’t terrible, but it’s no different from any other superhero comic, and it doesn’t feel Canadian. John Byrne’s Alpha Flight was a labor of love because he’s from Canada himself, and when writing Alpha Flight, Byrne incorporated his insider knowledge of Canada – just like when Greg Pak writes about Korean-American characters. Pak and Van Lente are not from Canada and don’t know more than the most basic information about it, so their Alpha Flight feels uninformed and lacks a clear reason to exist.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #4 (DC, 2012) – “The Long Con,” [W] Nick Spencer, [A] Wes Craig. Here’s another comic with no reason to exist other than nostalgia for the characters. Nick Spencer’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents has none of the excitement or originality of the original, or even the ‘80s revivals. Wes Craig’s artwork in this issue is sometimes brilliant, but at other times muddy and unreadable.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #18 (Marvel, 1972) – “The Thing in the Temple!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] Gil Kane. Conan and his pal Fafnir have just made the slave-girl Aala the queen of Bal-Sagoth. But in this issue, Conan and Aala get attacked by monsters, Aala turns on them, and then the city is destroyed by a volcano. Conan and Fafnir escape and are picked up by Prince Yezdigerd, who is on his way to assault the city of Makkalet, as mentioned in the above review of Conan #6. This issue isn’t the best, especially since it lacks BWS art, but it’s not bad. The letters page includes a letter by big-name SF fan Ted White.

JLA #30 (DC, 1999) – “Crisis Times Five Part Three: Worlds Beyond,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Howard Porter. I’d have read this sooner if I’d realized it was Jakeem Thunder’s origin story. As its title suggests, this issue is part of a JLA/JSA crossover in which the combined teams are embroiled in a battle between two fifth-dimensional genies, Yz and Lkz (a.k.a. “Say You” and “So Cool”). Grant’s innovation in this story is to show that Mr. Mxyzptlk, Quisp, and Johnny Thunder’s Thunderbolt are all from the same Fifth Dimension. This issue includes a scene where Alan Scott and Zauriel create an entire civilization that evolves at rapid speed – like in the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror segment “The Genesis Tub.”

ALPHA FLIGHT #4 (Marvel, 2011) – “With Many, Strength,” [W] Grge Pak & Fred Van Lente, [A] Dale Eaglesham. Canada is taken over by fascists, and it turns out the Master of the World is responsible. This is another example of the writers’ lack of Canadian knowledge: if fascism ever does come to Canada, it will probably not look like it would in America. This issue also includes an annoying piece of Tuckerization in which a person says that Arune Singh, then a Marvel employee, is the greatest goalie in Habs history. The writers should have chosen a team that doesn’t have multiple Hall of Fame goalies. I notice that since the end of Incredible Hercules, Pak and Van Lente have gone in opposite directions: Greg Pak has become a star with series like Mech Cadet Yu and Ronin Island, while Fred Van Lente’s career has gone nowhere.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2019 (SPIDER-MAN/VENOM) #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled Venom story, [W] Donny Cates, [A] Ryan Stegman, and untitled Spider-Man story, [W] Saladin Ahmed & Tom Taylor, [A] Cory Smith. This issue’s first story is dreadful. It reintroduces Carnage into continuity by having him commit some gruesome, pointless mayhem. The second story is a pleasant surprise. Peter Parker and Miles Morales are debating about whether Manhattan or Brooklyn has better pizza. Then they team up to fight the Shocker, who tells them that Bronx pizza is better. In the end, Peter and Miles realize that the best pizza is the one that tastes the most like home.

SUPERBOY #34 (DC, 1996) – “Going Mental,” [W] Ron Marz, [A] Ramon Bernando. This comic has all the characters from Kesel and Grummett’s first Superboy run – Rex, Roxy, Tana, Dubbilex, etc. – but none of the heart. Ron Marz’s characters act emotional, but you never get the sense that they really feel the emotions they’re expressing. Also, Marz writes wooden dialogue. Perhaps I’m biased because I don’t like Marz’s writing, but there’s a reason for that.

New comics received on Thursday, May 16, just three days ago, meaning I’m almost caught up with reviews:

LUMBERJANES #62 (Boom!, 2019) – “The Right Stuff,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] AnneMarie Rogers. The other Lumberjanes travel to the Land of Lost Objects, where they manage to find Mal, but then get attacked by two giant birds. This is another excellent issue. AnneMarie Rogers’s art has improved exponentially since her first issue; her linework no longer looks crude or unrefined at all. She does a great job of visually distinguishing the Roanokes from each other. The highlight of this issue is when April says “I’ve never seen something so truly ancient before,” and it turns out she’s looking at a rotary phone.

PLANET OF THE NERDS #2 (Ahoy, 2019) – “War for the Planet of the Nerds,” [W] Paul Constant, [A] Alan Robinson. The three jocks learn some things about the 21st century, including that you can no longer beat someone up in public and get away with it, and that the police have become militarized. Also, they discover that they’ve gone forward in time and that their old victim, Alvin Pingree, is now a CEO. This comic is funny but also has some subtler moments, like when the black jock, Drew, has to pretend to be shocked by police brutality. This issue also has a backup story in which Drew suffers discrimination from his high school guidance counselor. I don’t know if Paul Constant himself is black, but he shows a deeper understanding of racism than some writers I could name.

ALEXANDRA OCASIO-CORTEZ AND THE FRESHMAN FORCE: NEW PARTY, WHO DIS? (Devil’s Due, 2019) – multiple stories, [E] Josh Blaylock. I was afraid this comic would be a dumb gimmick, and it is, but it’s not dumb. It’s intelligent and well-crafted, and it’s exactly what I needed this past week, when all the political news has been horrible. A week after the Alabama abortion ban, it’s hard to remember how hopeful I felt on the night AOC was elected. But this comic’s overarching message is that AOC and her fellow first-term representatives are going to lead a renaissance in this country, and it delivers that message powerfully and in a variety of different ways. I especially like the opening story, a pro wrestling parody (see https://www.instagram.com/p/Bxh1Xg1B4jx/), but there’s lots of other great stuff in this issue. In a bleak political landscape, AOC and the Freshman Force provides comic relief but also hope.

IRONHEART #6 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve L. Ewing, [A] Kevin Libranda. Riri goes looking for a missing Miles Morales, and finds that he’s been trapped in a time loop by a villain named Tank. This is the least impressive issue of Ironheart yet, but it’s fun. Its central theme is that Miles and Riri are learning to like each other, even though they didn’t hit it off well at first. This issue has a running joke where neither Miles nor Riri can remember the name of the movie Groundhog Day.

PRINCELESS VOL. 8: PRINCESSES #2 (Action Lab, 2019) – “Angelica,” [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Jackie Crofts. Unlike last issue, this is not an origin story. Instead it chronicles Angelica’s efforts to find something she’s good at. She turns out to be a great player of a certain board game, which seems to be based on Settlers of Catan or some other Euro-style game. As a result of this expertise, the Black Knight recruits her as a strategist. This isn’t a bad issue, but I want to get back to Adrienne soon.

CALAMITY KATE #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Corin Howell. Kate fights some monsters while having flashbacks to the breakup of her relationship. At the end of the issue, she somehow finds herself on the way back to New York. Over the course of this issue, the monsters come to seem like metaphors rather than real entities, and the reader wonders if they actually exist. A common thread in Mags’s comics is that many of her heroines are complete screw-ups. They have good intentions, but they seem incapable of coping with adult life. Calamity Kate is an especially pure example of that theme. I wish it had more than one issue left.

ORPHAN AGE #2 (AfterShock, 2019) – “Give,” [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Nuno Plati. The three protagonists go to an abandoned mall to buy stuff, but the proprietor tries to rob them, and they thwart him by kidnapping his son. The proprietor tells an interesting story about how when all the adults died, the kids who survived were the ones who went looking for tools. I like this comic, especially its artwork and coloring. However, I think Ted could have spent more time on worldbuilding. I’d like to understand more about how this world works, and what happened when the adults died. It feels as if we’ve skipped a bunch of chapters.

SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH #2 (Archie, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Veronica Fish & Andy Fish. Sabrina tries to figure out what’s up with the kraken that attacked her last issue. Meanwhile, Harvey asks her out. This is a fun issue, and while this series is perhaps not as original or memorable as Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, at least it’s being published on a monthly basis.

FARMHAND #8 (Image, 2019) – “A Time to Reap,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. The intruder from last issue proves to be a recipient of Jeb’s donor organs, except his new eyes have turned into flowers. He almost kills Jeb, but Riley saves him with the aid of his caterpillar-puppy pal. This is another good issue, though it has nothing particularly unexpected.

GIDEON FALLS #13 (Image, 2019) – “He Said I Was Special,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. Father Fred travels from Steampunk Gideon Falls to Dystopian Gideon Falls, and then at the end of the issue, he finds himself in Pastoral Fantasy Gideon Falls. I don’t know quite what’s going on in this storyline, but it’s fascinating. A nice touch is that in the segment at the end of the issue, the panel borders change from straight lines to blank white spaces in the shape of twigs or wisps of smoke.

IMMORTAL HULK #17 (Marvel, 2019) – “Abomination,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. The Hulk, now with the Joe Fixit personality in command, outsmarts Bushwhacker and beats the crap out of him. At the end of the issue we learn that the next villain being deployed against the Hulk is the Abomination. This issue is another thrilling blend of superheroic action and body horror. Immortal Hulk is the most original Hulk comic I’ve read since Bruce Jones’s run in the 2000s.

BLUBBER #3 (Fantagraphics, 2016) – “Blubberoo” and other stories, [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez. This is one of the most disgusting comics I’ve ever read. It’s an entire issue full of sex, brutal violence, and scatology. Nearly every page has at least one penis on it, and usually several. I don’t understand what Beto was thinking when he drew this. I can’t say it’s poorly crafted, but I also don’t know what sort of person would enjoy it.

BLACK BADGE #10 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Tyler Jenkins. The Black Badge kids learn about an earlier class’s graduation exercise, which was actually a test for recruitment into the evil cabal that controls the Black Badges. Back at camp, the kids realize that their mentor, Gottschalk, has been falsely condemned as a traitor. Then it’s time for their own graduation exercise, but the other groups of scouts are there to prevent them from graduating. This is an exciting issue, and it reminds me a lot of MIND MGMT.

WAR OF THE REALMS #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Stand at the Black Bridge,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Russell Dauterman. This issue’s title is an obvious tribute to one of Walt Simonson’s greatest Thor moments, the Executioner’s last stand at Gjallerbru. In this issue, it is instead Odin and Frigga who are standing alone against all the forces of Hel. Odin’s “Iron All-Father” costume is pretty cool, especially the helmet with one eye hole. As with previous issues, this is a typical dumb crossover, but it separates itself from other crossover stories by being genuinely entertaining.

ALL TIME COMICS: ZEROSIS DEATHSCAPE #0 (Floating World, 2019) – “The Pit,” [W] Josh Bayer, [A] Josh Simmons. I ordered most of the previous All Time Comics releases, but didn’t read them. This issue includes a fairly short superhero story drawn in an alternative comics style, along with a lot of ancillary material. It’s okay, but not especially great.

HIGH LEVEL #4 (DC, 2019) – “Pleasure Island,” [W] Rob Sheridan, [A] Barnaby Bagenda. Thirteen has to rescue Minnow from a bunch of child slavers who are also white supremacists. Barnaby Bagenda’s artwork in this issue is excellent as usual, but Robb Sheridan’s story is not up to snuff. By having Thirteen fight sexists and racists, he tries to establish her as a champion of equality. But this doesn’t work because the villains in this issue are caricatures. They’re cartoon strawman versions of racists and sexists. I know there are many people who literally advocate for white supremacy, but most racists today are like the guidance counselor from Planet of the Nerds #2 – that is, white people who say and even think they’re not racist, but who actively discriminate against black people. If you want to show that you’re an anti-racist or feminist writer, you need to do more than just have your hero fight the KKK; you need to show an understanding of how racism really manifests itself today. My further complaint about this issue is that Thirteen is a shallow character with no distinctive personality. I won’t be getting issue 5.

AMERICAN CARNAGE #7 (DC, 2019) – “Judgment,” [W] Bryan Hill, [A] Leandro Fernandez. Richard is supposed to ensure the safety of a junkie who stole from the Aryan Brotherhood, but the junkie gets kidnapped before Richard can smuggle him away, and Richard has to team up with the Obama mask dude to save him. This issue has great art, as usual, and there’s nothing about it that pisses me off, which is more than I can say about issue 6.

AQUAMAN #48 (DC, 2019) – “Mother Shark Part One,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Viktor Bogdanovic. Aquaman has a vision in which he learns about his origin, then discovers that Mera is responsible for his death (though he got better). I’ve mostly lost confidence in Kelly Sue’s writing, but this issue is intriguing, and it suggests that we’ll see more of Mera soon.

INTERCEPTOR #1 (Vault, 2019) – “Leathers,” [W] Donny Cates, [A] Dylan Burnett. This FCBD issue is a preview of a new series. Interceptor’s premise is that humans have to leave Earth because of a vampire invasion, but then their new home planet, Palus, gets invaded by vampires too. Interceptor does not take itself seriously. For example, early in the issue we learn that the current President of Palus is 65 years old, but he looks as if he’s about 8, and we never learn why. However, Interceptor’s jokes are also not funny. It employs an immature Deadpool-esque style of humor. I still like Babyteeth, but other than that, I haven’t read anything else by Donny Cates that I liked.

MORNING IN AMERICA #3 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Claudia Aguirre. Now reduced from four to three, the Sick Sisters investigate the local police station, then get attacked by a giant flying bat-thing. This is a very interesting series, though I don’t like it as much as Calamity Kate. It doesn’t quite follow Mags’s usual theme of a heroine who’s a screw-up, although the Sick Sisters are not exactly fully functioning members of society.

THE SYSTEM #2 (DC, 1996) – untitled, [W/A] Peter Kuper. A series of intersecting silent vignettes, all taking place in the same city and connected by visual segues. The whole issue is drawn in an expressionistic painted style. It’s a fascinating comic, though the lack of dialogue is a perhaps unnecessary constraint that makes the plot hard to follow. I haven’t read much Kuper because back when he was publishing comic books, I thought his style of comics was boring. I need to read more of his work.

CONAN THE CIMMERIAN #21 (Dark Horse, 2010) – “Blood on the Ilbars,” [W] Tim Truman, [A] Tomás Giorello. Conan barely survives the destruction of the Kozaki by Shah Amurath’s forces, then encounters Shah Amurath himself pursuing a woman named Olivia. This leads into the adaptation of “Shadows on the Moonlight” in the following issue. (Incidentally, I’ve never read REH’s original Conan stories, and I kind of want to, even though I’ve heard bad things about them.) This issue isn’t the best, mostly because it’s full of redundant captions written in purple prose. Truman was probably trying to imitate REH’s prose style, but I don’t think it was worth the effort.

AVENGERS #299 (Marvel, 1989) – “I ©NY,” [W] Walt Simonson, [A] John Buscema. I believe that the actual Avengers were disbanded at this point, so this issue stars the members of the next Avengers team: The Captain, Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, and Gilgamesh the Forgotten One. In the midst of Inferno, Cap encounters the New Mutants, while Franklin Richards is kidnapped by Nanny and the Orphan Maker. Because of all the non-Avenger characters in it, this issue doesn’t feel much like an Avengers comic, but it’s not bad. However, Nanny and the Orphan Maker were two of the dumbest Marvel villains ever. John Buscema’s art in this issue is excellent, but the reader tends not to notice it much.

JLA #20 (DC, 1998) – “Mystery in Space,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Arnie Jorgensen. Adam Strange kidnaps the JLA and enslaves them. It turns out he thinks this will somehow bring back Alanna, who was still believed dead at this point. This issue’s plot is only mediocre, and in particular, Mark fails to capitalize on the dramatic potential of Steel, a black character based on an African American folk hero, becoming a slave. Also, Arnie Jorgensen’s artwork is frankly terrible. He was nowhere near ready to draw DC’s flagship title.

ORION #24 (DC, 2002) – “The Eyes of the Hunter!”, [W/A] Walt Simonson. A blind Orion battles a villain named Arnicus Wolfram who has obtained an Apokaliptian time travel device. Wolfram’s origin is interesting: he used to be a warrior of the ancient kingdom of Angkor. Overall this issue is well-crafted and exciting, but somehow I’ve never really gotten into Walt Simonson’s Orion. Maybe this is because Orion is a fundamentally unsympathetic character.

INCREDIBLE HULK #218 (Marvel, 1977) – “The Rhino Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore,” [W] Len Wein & Roger Stern, [A] George Tuska & Keith Pollard. This issue’s cover says “Because you demanded it – Doc Samson in solo super-action at last!!” Indeed, this issue is a Doc Samson solo story, and the Hulk only appears on a couple pages. Doc Samson spends most of the issue fighting the Rhino, whose depiction is highly off-model; he looks like a normal dude, rather than a giant hulking bruiser. This isn’t a terrible issue, but there have been better Doc Samson stories.

FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2013 (INFINITY) #1 (Marvel, 2013) – “Infinity,” [W] Jonathan Hickman, [A] Jim Cheung. This issue’s first story is a dumb introduction to a crossover that’s already been forgotten, though the art is good. What’s more interesting is the backup story, a reprint from Logan’s Run #6 in which Thanos battles Drax. I have no idea why this story appeared in a comic based on a licensed property, but oh well.

KING CONAN: THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON #1 (Dark Horse, 2013) – “O Sleeper, Awaken,” [W] Tim Truman, [A] Tomás Giorello. An adaptation of the beginning of REH’s only Conan novel. I liked this better than Conan the Cimmerian #21, perhaps because it’s better plotted, or because it has fewer redundant captions.

UNCANNY AVENGERS #1 (Marvel, 2012) – “New Union,” [W] Rick Remender, [A] John Cassaday. After Professor Xavier’s death, Havok is invited to join a new Avengers team. This issue has good art, but is completely lacking in fun or humor. Also, it ends with a disgusting plot twist: the Red Skull has stolen Professor X’s brain.

UNCANNY X-MEN #2 (Marvel, 2012) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Carlos Pacheco, Jorge Molina & Rodney Buchemi. The X-Men battle Mr. Sinister, who has created a bunch of clone copies of himself. Mr. Sinister is an annoying villain, but this issue has some very clever writing, good dialogue, and bizarre art, none of which Uncanny Avengers #1 has. I’d be interested in reading more of Gillen’s X-Men.

Some reviews, but I still have more to write

4-26-19

New comics received on 3/28:

FANTASTIC FOUR #8 (Marvel, 2019) – “First World Power,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Aaron Kuder et al. For a long time I thought that Lee, Byrne and Waid were the three best Fantastic Four writers, but now Hickman is also a candidate as one of the three best, and possibly Slott as well. Simonson is not in my top three because his run was so short. This issue continues the plotline with Doom, Victorious and the imprisoned Galactus. The issue ends with Sue making Doom’s armor invisible and revealing his horribly mutilated body to the whole world. Meanwhile, Franklin (who now has blue hair for some reason) runs away from home and encounters Wendy and her friends from FF #239. That was not one of Byrne’s more memorable issues, and I had to check my copy of it to remember who Wendy and her friends were.

WONDER WOMAN #67 (DC, 2019) – “Giants War Part 2,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Cary Nord. Diana and Giganta continue their pursuit of the Titan, while Maggie finds a mysterious sword in a lake. In my mind this issue has become blurred together with issue 68.

BLACK HAMMER: AGE OF DOOM #9 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Dean Ormston. Lucy and Abraham’s lives continue to get worse, while on Mars, Mark Markz’s lover is murdered. The highlight of this issue is the scene where Abe is reading a comic book, and some young punks tear it in half, spit in his eye, and beat him up. This scene shows how this version of Spiral City is totally devoid of hope. But the issue ends with Lucy recovering her powers.

THE AVANT-GUARDS #3 (Boom!, 2019) – I just lost power for no apparent reason, so I might as well write some reviews, since there’s enough daylight to see by. This issue, the Avant-Guards play their first game, against a team from a veterinary school. And they win in a blowout. This was surprising to me because I expect that in sports stories, the protagonists will start out really bad, but the other team is even worse. This series has some excellent characterization: the focal character this issue is Liv, who is incredibly cheerful. Also, this issue features some adorable dogs, though I’m not a dog person.

MOON GIRL AND DEVIL DINOSAUR #41 (Marvel, 2019) – “Bad Dream, Part Four: Face Your Fears,” [W] Brandon Montclare, [A] Natacha Bustos. Lunella finally gets Bad Dream to fall asleep, then returns him to his parents. This storyline was not bad, but not great either. It could have been a couple issues shorter.

ISOLA #7 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brenden Fletcher, [W/A] Karl Kerschl, [A] Msassyk. This series just earned a bunch of Eisner nominations. I think they’re deserved, although I have concerns about the pace of its storytelling. This issue, Rook and Olwyn descend into a mining village in the chasm, where all the children have been stolen. This new plotline is eerie and intriguing, and the art this issue is brilliant. There’s a two-page splash showing the massive scale of the mining operation, and a splash page with a bunch of weird flying owl-monkeys.

MARVEL RISING #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Heroes of the Round Table!”, [W] Nilah Magruder, [A] Roberto Di Salvo. I’m glad this series is back, but this new debut issue has way too much exposition and not enough characterization or humor. At times it reads like a public service comic about college majors, and not a very well-written one either. When Squirrel Girl makes a speech about how English majors learn “very important skills for a super hero,” it feels as if she’s either talking down to the reader, or reading from a press release. Also, it’s very odd that ESU only has a single “Department of Science,” and I’ve never heard of a research university where journalism and communications were in the English department.

IRONHEART #4 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Luciano Vecchio. This issue wastes a lot of space on Midnight’s Fire’s origin story. I don’t care about him, I care about Riri. The beginning of the issue is better, where Riri gets increasingly annoyed at the dean’s officious interference, and her mother tells her a story about her childhood.

SNOTGIRL #13 (Image, 2019) – “Eyes on Me,” [W] Bryan Lee O’Malley, [A] Leslie Hung. My favorite issue in some time. Lottie is doing a pop-up event at a store, but her friend Meg shows up with her dog, who promptly shits on the floor. The “pewp” sound effect is perhaps the most memorable part of the issue. Lottie’s attempt to clean it up goes horribly wrong, and the pop-up event is ruined. Meanwhile, Cutegirl continues messing with Lottie’s mind. Things turn out reasonably okay in the end, but I can sympathize with Lottie when she says “I guess it’s just cool to know I’m the least important person in everyone’s life today!”

THE TERRIFICS #14 (DC, 2019) – “Terrifics No More! Part 4,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Joe Bennett. The Terrifics fight the Dreadfuls and kick their asses. Then they decide to stay together even though their dark energy bond is broken, and Mrs. Terrific, Offspring and Element Dog become permanent team members. This is a heartwarming conclusion to Jeff’s run. I doubt that Gene Luen Yang will be able to maintain the same level of quality, though I’ll give him a chance.

HEX WIVES #6 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Ladies Liberty,” [W] Ben Blacker, [A] Mirka Andolfo. A very satisfying conclusion. The wives finally get their revenge on the husbands, then leave town to go learn about their true identities. I fear that this may be the last issue, but if it is, then at least the series has ended on a high note.

GLOW #1 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tini Howard, [A] Hannah Templer. I have not seen the Netflix series that this is based on, but I ordered it anyway because I like the art style and the premise. Glow is about a group of female professional wrestlers and takes place in the ‘80s. The artwork in this series is really cute, and the dialogue is humorous. But what strikes me about this comic is the characters’ unfair working conditions. They have to rehearse every single day, after their day jobs. Then when they think they have a weekend off, they discover that they have to pay to work that day. It’s like they’re adjuncts or something.

DIAL H FOR HERO #1 (DC, 2019) – “The Hero Within,” [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Joe Quinones. This is DC’s second Dial H for Hero revival in the past decade. The protagonist this time is a teenager living in a boring dead-end town. The first hero he turns into is Monster Truck, a parody of Liefeld characters, and the Monster Truck sequence is drawn in a Liefeldian style. Dial H for Hero is less ambitious than China Miéville’s Dial H, but it’s more accessible, and it’s written by a writer who has previous comics experience.

SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH #1 (Archie, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Veronica Fish & Andy Fish. By publishing this comic, Archie is essentially admitting that Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will never be finished. I liked that series, but the creators were not capable of delivering even one issue a year, and it’s high time to give up on it. Like Dial H for Hero, Sabrina series is less ambitious than its predecessor; in exchange, however, Sabrina has a creative team that can keep a regular schedule. This Sabrina series is a fairly standard high school drama, but with more sophisticated art and more realistic writing than a typical classic Archie comic. It also includes a horror subplot about a wendigo, so Sabrina’s magical powers are more than just a gimmick.

CODA #10 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Matias Bergara. Matias Bergara received a well-deserved Eisner nomination for his art on this series. This issue, we learn that the bathtub mermaid witch has engineered all the events of the entire series in order to set herself up as a benevolent queen. Her goal was to defeat the Thundergog and acquire the imprisoned Ylf for herself, and she more or less accomplishes that this issue. So I guess it’s up to Hum and Serka to save the world.

MR. & MRS. X #9 (Marvel, 2019) – “Gambit & Rogue Forever Part Three,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Oscar Bazaldua. This series appears to have been silently cancelled, which is a pity because it was really good, and probably the best comic with these characters. This issue, Gambit discovers that the McGuffin of the current storyline is Spiral’s baby. Meanwhile, inside her mind, Rogue confronts her past self and her psychic hang-ups. Confusingly, Rogue is also appearing in Captain Marvel right now, but that story is unrelated to this one.

BOOKS OF MAGIC #6 (Vertigo, 2019) – “A Twist in the Narrative,” [W] Kat Howard, [A] Tom Fowler. Tim heads to Faerie to find his mother and Ellie, a kidnapped classmate of his. This series’ plot continues to move at a glacial pace.

GODDESS MODE #4 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Dispose Pattern,” [W] Zoe Quinn, [A] Robbi Rodriguez. I feel kind of unmotivated to read this series, and I’m not sure why, because it’s good. Maybe the problem is that there’s just too much going on in the plot, and it’s hard to keep it all straight. The thing that stands out most in this issue is the woman who suffered a moral dilemma from working as a social media moderator.

BAD LUCK CHUCK #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Disaster on Demand,” [W] Lela Gwenn, [A] Matthew Dow Smith. This series’ protagonist has exceptionally bad luck, like Calamity King from the Legion. A woman hires her to track down her daughter, who’s joined a cult. I ordered this comic on a whim, and I kind of wish I hadn’t, because it’s not all that interesting.

BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY #8 (Gold Key, 1980) – “The Battle Over Planet Earth,” [W] Michael Teitelbaum, [A] Al McWilliams. This is the first Buck Rogers comic I’ve read. Before reading it, I thought that Buck Rogers was the bargain basement version of Flash Gordon, and I still think so now. This issue has a convoluted and unexciting plot, but some excellent artwork, especially in the space battle sequences. However, Al McWilliams’s backgrounds and interiors are pretty boring.

BIRTHRIGHT #5 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bresson. The flashback sequence continues, while in the present day, Mikey kills the wizard Ward. At the end of the issue, Mikey’s childhood friend Rya travels through a portal to Earth, and we discover that she’s pregnant with Mikey’s child. This is shocking since by Earth chronology, Mikey should still be a child himself.

LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES VOL. 4 #10 (DC, 1990) – untitled, [W/A] Keith Giffen, [W] Tom Bierbaum & Mary Bierbaum. This was one of the only issues of v4 that I was missing, other than about eight issues from the very end of the run. As usual with v4, this issue includes a ton of concurrent plotlines. The main event of the issue is that Roxxas invades the Ranzz family plantation on Winath and seemingly kills a bunch of Legionnaires, though none of them actually died. (I spelled that “Roxas” at first thanks to Kingdom Hearts.) There are some very nice interactions between characters, like the scene where Imra tells Brainy that she’ll call him for dinner, and he says “Just send mine up.” Another highlight of the issue is the end, where Tenzil arrives on Earth with a bunch of Venturan Walking Money.

SYNERGY #1 (IDW, 2019) – various stories, [E] Megan Brown. An anthology of stories and pin-ups by female contributors to IDW’s Hasbro titles. The stories in this issue are a mixed bag, and it contains too many pin-ups and not enough comics. Overall it doesn’t justify its $7.99 price tag. However, I had to buy it because of Katie Cook’s autobiographical story. This story is brilliantly done, and provides some fascinating insight into my favorite pony writer. I especially like the scene where she tells her children “That’s Mommy in a pony suit” and “I wrote her backstory,” and her kids are unimpressed. I also liked the autobio stories written by Maighread Scott and Emma Vieceli, but I wish that this issue had consisted entirely of stories like these.

BLACK PANTHER #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Gathering of My Name,” [W] Ta-Nehisi Coates, [A] Kev Walker. Mostly another big fight scene. Like Ta-Nehisi’s previous Black Panther storyline, The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda is wearing out its welcome a bit.

G.I. JOE: SIERRA MUERTE #2 (IDW, 2019) – “Sierra Muerte Part 2,” [W/A] Michel Fiffe. This isn’t bad, but it’s still not as interesting as Copra or Bloodstrike Brutalists. See my review of #1 for more on this series. Chad Bowers’s essays in the back of this series are making me more interested in rereading Larry Hama’s GI Joe, which was one of the first comics I ever read. However, Bowers’s extremely admiring attitude is a bit annoying.

GO-BOTS #5 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Tom Scioli. A weird conclusion to a weird and fascinating series. Tom Scioli’s work is a fascinating combination of a Gary Panter- or Fort Thunder-esque aesthetic with commercial media franchises. The issue ends by strongly implying that the Go-Bots are the ancestors of the Transformers, as with the line about the one dude creating “ an optimizedversion of my self.” The “they are all equal now” caption in the last panel is a reference to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.

INVADERS #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “War-Ghosts, Part III,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Carlos Magno. Another installment of the Randall and Nay Peterson plot. Randall dies at the end of the issue, although that’s hardly a surprise considering his age. This series was never very interesting, and I’m not getting issue 4.

DAREDEVIL #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Know Fear Part 3,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Marco Checchetto. This storyline is essentially a retread of Born Again; the plot is that the Kingpin pushes Matt beyond his limits and forces him to doubt himself. The difference is that in “Know Fear,” the reader doesn’t even sympathize with Matt. We’re supposed to believe that Matt was framed for killing that dude, but we haven’t been given any evidence of that; the more we read, the more certain it seems that Matt really did kill him. As a result, I find myself resenting Matt for not turning himself in.  He really feels like a menace to society.

ASTONISHER #4 (Lion Forge, 2018) – “After the Fall,” [W] Alex de Campi, [A] Pop Mhan. This issue, the protagonist escapes from a mental asylum with the aid of his friends. I should have quit reading this series almost as soon as I started reading it, because I’ve never understood its plot or premise.

DETECTIVE COMICS #1000 (DC, 2019) – numerous stories, [E] Chris Conroy & Dave Wielgosz. The average quality of this issue was higher than that of Action Comics #1000. There were no truly great stories, but no awful ones either. I think the best one is Paul Dini and Dustin Nguyen’s “The Legend of Knute Brody,” about an epically inept crook who turns out to be Batman in disguise. In selecting creators for this issue, DC provided a representative sample of the past 50 years of Batman’s history. Denny O’Neil’s writing and Neal Adams’s art have not aged well, but they certainly deserve to be included here.

LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: THE TEMPEST #5 (Top Shelf, 2019) – “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke!”, [W] Alan Moore, [A] Kevin O’Neill. At this point I’m only reading this series out of a sense of obligation and completism. This series never made any sense to me in the first place, and it becomes even more incomprehensible with each issue. And I say that as someone who enjoyed The Birth Caul and the second half of Promethea.

PUNKS NOT DEAD: LONDON CALLING #2 (IDW, 2019) – “…To the Faraway Towns,” [W] David Barnett, [A] Martin Simmonds. I thought the artwork last issue was a bit unimpressive, but  the art this issue is as amazing as in any issue of the first miniseries. This issue continues the existing plot, and also introduces a new character who can see Sid.

THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN #2 (Valiant, 2019) – untitled, [W] Tini Howard, [A] Amilcar Pinna. A flashback to Sarnai’s history with the immortal warrior queen. There are some nice lines in this issue, especially “Some men do not understand that the word for ‘respected and feared woman’ is simply: ‘woman.’” However, the protagonists of this series are a genocidal villain and her lover, and it’s hard to sympathize with either of them. I assume this comic has some larger purpose, which I am not aware of, within Valiant’s shared universe.

BIRTHRIGHT #6 (Image, 2015) – as above. Mikey’s parents have a heart-to-heart talk. Meanwhile, Mikey bonds with his brother, but then callously kills a mother bear that had already stopped attacking him. This scene reminds us that Mikey is actually evil, as we already knew.

DETECTIVE COMICS #499 (DC, 1981) – “Allies in the Shadows,” [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Dan Newton. Batman and Blockbuster are trapped in a West Virginia coal mine with a bunch of miners, and Batman has to keep Blockbuster calm until they can escape and go after the corrupt mine owners. This comic is effectively a Batman-Hulk crossover; you could replace Blockbuster with the Hulk without having to change anything else about the story. But that’s not a bad thing, because Batman and Blockbuster’s interactions are really interesting, and in general this is a very solid and well-drawn Batman story. This issue also includes an unimpressive Batgirl backup story by Burkett and Delbo.

In early April, I went to Davenport, Iowa for the International Comic Arts Forum. Highlights of this conference included seeing my old mentor and friend Ana Merino for the first time in over a decade, and hanging out at the airport with Ana, Jose Alaniz, and Jaime Hernandez. On Sunday, I skipped one of the artist talks to visit a nearby comic book store, Superstars & Superheroes. This is an amazing store; like the defunct Hoyt’s in Gainesville, it’s completely full of old comics, many of them at very reasonable prices. I bought a modest stack of comics there, including the following two, and I could have bought even more if I’d had time.

THE ADVENTURES OF LITTLE ARCHIE #29 (Archie, 1961) – “Dig Those Grubbers” and other stories, [W/A] Bob Bolling and Dexter Taylor. My copy of this issue is in such bad condition that I don’t want to remove it from its bag. The first of this issue’s two Bolling stories is Mad Doctor Doom and Chester’s second appearance. Like Barks’s “Land Beneath the Ground,” it’s about some creatures that live in the Earth’s crust. In the second story, Archie is late for school because he’s returning a baby bird to its nest. A nice pun in this story is that Archie encounters a bird fancier named Phoebe Finch. This issue also includes a bunch of Dexter Taylor stories. Taylor’s work on this series is always disappointing by comparison with Bolling’s, but I think he was better in the ‘60s than in later decades.

DOOM PATROL #104 (DC, 1966) – “The Bride of the Doom Patrol,” [W] Arnold Drake, [A] Bruno Premiani. One of the weirdest superhero wedding issues ever. Steve Dayton, Cliff Steele and Larry Trainor (Mento, Robotman and Negative Man) are all in love with Rita Farr (Elasti-Girl). After Rita falls in love with Steve and accepts his proposal, Cliff and Larry get all jealous and sabotage their wedding. Then Mento attacks the Doom Patrol’s headquarters, but it turns out “he” is really Madame Rouge. A battle between the Doom Patrol and the Brotherhood of Evil ensues, after which Steve and Rita get married after all. As this summary indicates, Arnold Drake’s Doom Patrol is just as bizarre and illogical as Bob Haney’s Titans; however, Drake’s Doom Patrol has the advantage of Marvel-style characterization. All the characters in this issue behave in embarrassing ways, but at least they have somewhat understandable motives for their actions.

New comics received on April 7, which was right after I got back from ICAF, so I was even more exhausted than usual:

PAPER GIRLS #27 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian K. Vaughan, [A] Cliff Chiang. This issue advances a bunch of different plotlines, and then at the end, Erin encounters Jahpo. There are just three more issues after this one. I have no idea how Brian and Cliff are going to be able to resolve all the dangling plotlines.

CONAN THE BARBARIAN #5 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Captain of the Ship of the Dead,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mahmud Asrar. Conan is trapped on a derelict ship along with a bunch of corpses and an idol that turns people into monsters. Through sheer force of will, he survives until he encounters a pirate ship, then defeats the pirates singlehandedly and becomes their new captain. The moral of the story is that “Conan knew he was not meant to be alone”: despite being kind of a grumpy misanthrope, he needs other people’s company. This issue makes effective use of both Lovecraftian horror, and Jason Aaron’s grim humor.

GIANT DAYS #49 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Max Sarin. Esther has to write a dissertation on American literature, but is plagued by writer’s block and tense relations with her parents. This was a funny issue with some heartwarming moments (“You should have more kids.” “You were plenty”), though I don’t remember much about it specifically. I think Esther’s “dissertation” is what we Americans would call a BA thesis.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Eve Ewing, [A] Joey Vazquez. This issue is a team-up between Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man. It’s also a flip book, so one half of the issue tells the story from Kamala’s perspective, then the other half tells the same story from Peter’s perspective, and the two stories meet in the middle. This is a cute gimmick, though it’s not as brilliantly executed as Silver Surfer #11. Kamala and Peter are a natural pairing because of their shared interest in science.

DIE #5 (Image, 2019) – “Premise Rejection,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Stephanie Hans. The heroes defeat Sol, but it turns out they don’t all want to go home, and also, all the dead people in the gameworld are the ghosts of former players. So that’s the end of the first storyline. This is a fascinating series, although you kind of need to read Kieron’s notes to understand it. But at least that’s an improvement over The Wicked + The Divine, where Kieron doesn’t even provide notes (at least not notes that help explain the story).

FEMALE FURIES #3 (DC, 2019) – “Nevertheless, She Persisted,” [W] Cecil Castellucci, [A] Adriana Melo. I read this because I was tired and felt like hate-reading something, and this is a very hate-readable comic. Auralie tries to escape Apokolips, but Barda and Granny Goodness force her to return to Willik, who promptly kills her. But not before she gives a depressing speech about how all she wanted to do was dance. This story’s title evokes Maxine Waters, but I would argue that it’s not a feminist story at all; it’s just torture porn. Auralie’s suffering and death are utterly meaningless, and are presented with a pornographic level of detail. The story denies her any kind of agency: even when she tries to help herself, she fails. I guess Auralie’s death is supposed to be what inspires Barda to become a hero, but that effectively means that Auralie is being fridged for the benefit of Barda and Scott, and fridging isn’t any better when it’s done on behalf of a female character’s narrative arc. Besides being horrible on its own, this story also tarnishes Big Barda’s character irredeemably, and it’s an insult to the memory of one of Kirby’s greatest Fourth World stories, “Himon” (Mister Miracle #9). In future it will be difficult to read “Himon” without perceiving Auralie as a helpless rape victim. Overall, this is a train wreck of a comic, and everyone involved with it should be ashamed.

GREEN LANTERN #6 (DC, 2019) – “Under Strange Skies,” [W] Grant Morrison, [A] Liam Sharp. Now this is closer to the kind of experience I want when I read a superhero comic. On Rann, Blackstar Hal Jordan kills Adam Strange in a duel. For a moment I thought Adam was really dead, but then I reached the panel where Hal winks at Alanna, showing that Adam is alive and Hal has a plan. And he does, thought it ends with him being sent to some limbo dimension, where he encounters Myrwhidden [sic]. This issue is full of nice moments. I like how Alanna gets to kill the villain at the end, and Controller Mu’s reference to Aleea as a “strangelet” is a brilliant pun.

POWERS IN ACTION #2 (Action Lab, 2019) – “The Impending Storm,” [W/A] Art Baltazar. Like all of Art’s work, this comic is light and accessible, but entertaining. It has the flavor of a classic superhero comic, with just enough innovation to not be a pure retread. I like the scene where the big strong dude tries ice cream for the first time.

BRONZE AGE BOOGIE #1 (Ahoy, 2019) – untitled, [W] Stuart Moore, [A] Alberto Ponticelli. I was so sleepy when I read this that I can barely remember it, but it’s good. As its title indicates, this comic is a mashup of several different genres of ‘70s comics. The protagonist of this first  issue is Brita Constantina, the teenage daughter of a character who’s essentially Conan the Barbarian. Brita knows about the 20th century because of her talking monkey companion Sniffer Ape, who’s very similar to Howard the Duck. Then she gets transported to the future, where she encounters a woman who resembles Misty Knight. I wasn’t alive during the ‘70s, but to me the ‘70s have always felt like the first modern decade, and the creators of Bronze Age Boogie effectively capture the atmosphere of ‘70s comics. They even include one page that’s half printed text and half illustration, which was a trademark of Steve Gerber.

IMMORTAL HULK #16 (Marvel, 2019) – “It’s Joe,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Joe Bennett. I ordered this because I’ve been hearing good things about this series. This issue has one plotline where Bruce and Doc Samson are trying to find Rick Jones’s body, and another plotline where a reporter named Jackie McGee is looking for Bruce. Most of the issue is narrated via captions from Rick’s autobiography. Overall this is a pretty fascinating comic. It feels like both a horror comic and a classic Hulk comic at once.

ATOMIC ROBO: DAWN OF A NEW ERA #4 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Brian Clevinger, [A] Scott Wegener. The best line in this issue is on the first page: “The thing I’m having trouble with isn’t primordial cosmic beasts, but that their names are puns in English.” “They would work out to monster puns in any language. Such is their power.” There’s lots of other fun stuff in this issue. The main event is that Robo’s allies learn that he’s resurrected Alan, though the impact of this moment is lessened because I can’t remember who Alan is.

BLACK HAMMER ’45 #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ray Fawkes, [A] Matt Kindt. This issue is mostly a flashback sequence in which the Black Hammer pilots fight a Nazi werebat. Matt Kindt’s aviation art is pretty good, and this issue does a good job of capturing the sensibility of old Blackhawk comics. (It turns out I already mentioned in my review of #1 that this series is the Black Hammer version of Blackhawk.) But this series is not as interesting as the Black Hammer titles written by Jeff Lemire.

THE DREAMING #8 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Love, Part 2,” [W] Simon Spurrier, [A] Abigail Larson. This issue is kind of difficult, and not as fascinating as issue 7. Over the course of the issue it becomes clear that Daniel has been trapped in the same way as Morpheus was trapped by Roderick Burgess. Daniel vanishes with Ivy Walker, going I’m not sure where, and I think that’s the end of this storyline. A couple things worth noting: Daniel says that it’s every child’s fantasy to romance the babysitter, which is a reference to how Rose babysat him when he was a baby. This issue includes a reference to gu poisoning. This is an actual method of poisoning from Chinese culture, in which multiple venomous creatures are put into a sealed container, and then a poison is made from the last one that survives.

ADVENTURES OF THE SUPER SONS #9 (DC, 2019) – “The Good, the Bad and the Sons,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [A] Scott Godlewski. This issue is another parody of Western cliches, with Damian, Jon and Kid Lantern continuing their team-up with Jonah Hex. It’s a fun comic, but I still don’t like how this series is isolated from the rest of the DC universe.

MARVEL ACTION: BLACK PANTHER #1 (IDW, 2019) – “The Little Things,” [W] Kyle Baker, [A] Juan Samu. Before I get to reviewing this comic, it is really stupid how Marvel is outsourcing their kids’ superhero comics to IDW. I know Marvel has made multiple failed attempts at kids’ superhero lines, but that’s no excuse for giving up. Why can’t they try to replicate the success they’ve already had with Moon Girl? Anyway, this Black Panther comic is not bad, but it’s nowhere near as good as Shuri, and it’s not the best work Kyle Baker is capable of.

DOMINO: HOTSHOTS #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “Cold War Part 2,” [W] Gail Simone, [A] David Baldeon. I’m already losing my enthusiasm for this series, although I was very tired when I read this issue. This comic is a fun lighthearted romp, but Gail’s comics tend to leave me cold. They’re fun, but they lack the passion and enthusiasm I find in similar comics by other writers, and they seem like parodies of themselves.

RED SONJA #3 (Dynamite, 2019) – “The Gold Mine,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Mirko Colak & Bob Q. The strategies and intrigues in this comic are exciting, but it still doesn’t feel like a Red Sonja comic, or even a barbarian comic. As previously noted, Mark Russell’s work is effective because he adopts the premises and conventions of each franchise he’s adapting, but he also turns those franchises into political allegories. For example, his Lone Ranger miniseries worked as both a Western comic and an allegory about border politics. But his Red Sonja shows no understanding of the barbarian genre or the character’s history, and therefore it falls flat to me.

THE GIRL IN THE BAY #3 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Time’s Shadow,” [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Corin Howell. I am losing confidence in JM DeMatteis – see the review of Impossible, Inc. below – but The Girl in the Bay remains interesting. I think what I like about it is its nostalgic evocation of the ‘60s, and specifically of ’60s Orientalist mysticism. In that sense, this comic reminds me of Rogan Gosh or Kim Deitch’s story “The Road to Rana Poona.” The plot of this issue is pretty much what you would expect.

SECRET SIX #2 (DC, 1968) – “Plunder the Pentagon!”, [W] E. Nelson Bridwell & Joe Gill, [A] Frank Springer. The original Secret Six were six talented people with severe vulnerabilities – a  dark secret, a terminal medical condition, a crippled child, etc. A mysterious person named Mockingbird solved their problems for them, but now they have to perform secret spy missions on Mockingbird’s behalf, or he’ll reveal their secrets, stop their medical treatment, etc. The catch is that one of the Secret Six is Mockingbird, and we don’t know which one. The premise of this series is spectacular, and ENB and Joe Gill take full advantage of it. This issue has a super-complicated plot that revolves around a Soviet attempt to steal blueprints from the Pentagon. The Secret Six have to foil the plot, while also trying to guess which of their number is Mockingbird. As the issue goes on, the plot becomes too complicated to follow (and also very implausible), but that’s part of the fun. This is a really enjoyable issue, and I need to track down the rest of this short-lived series.

STAR WARS #35 (Marvel, 1980) – “Dark Lord’s Gambit,” [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] Carmine Infantino. Just after Episode IV, Luke has to visit a planet called Monastery to obtain its support for the Rebels. However, Darth Vader is also trying to recruit the same planet for the Empire. Also, the handsome young woman who invites Luke to Monastery turns out to be secretly working for Vader. When writing this comic, Archie clearly did not know that Luke was Vader’s son or Leia’s brother. As a result, there is a love triangle between Luke, Leia and Han, which feels very creepy in hindsight. And Vader feels like just a generic Marvel villain. Also, Infantino’s art had already gone into a steep decline by 1980.

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #4 (Marvel, 1973) – multiple stories, [E] Roy Thomas. This issue begins with a Lovecraftian horror story by Ron Goulart and Gene Colan. Sadly, this story’s coloring is way too bright and cheerful, and as a result it fails to generate any sense of horror. Gene was capable of drawing excellent horror comics, but he didn’t do so in this case. The second story, despite its all-star creative team of Steve Gerber and P. Craig Russell, is very slight. The last story, by Gardner Fox, Don McGregor and Win Mortimer, is the best, because it’s about a man who grows a face on his chest. However, this revelation would have been much more shocking  if it had come on the last page rather than the first page, which is where the creators put it.

DATE WITH DEBBI #1 (DC, 1969) – “Detention’s the Thing!” and other stories, [W] Steve Skeates, [A] Samm Schwartz. An uninspired Archie ripoff, with nothing especially new or interesting about it.

MARVEL PREMIERE #18 (Marvel, 1974) – “Lair of Shattered Vengeance!”, [W] Doug Moench, [A] Larry Hama. Doug Moench may have been the second worst writer of purple prose in ‘70s comics, after Don McGregor. (You could also put Gerber on that list, but at least his prose was good.) Despite that, this is an interesting comic. Larry Hama’s art is pretty exciting, and this issue includes an important moment in Danny Rand’s life. He encounters his father’s killer, Harold Meachum, who gives Danny more information on their shared past before being murdered by a ninja. Just them, Meachum’s daughter walks in and mistakenly thinks Danny killed her father. I’ve never liked Iron Fist as much as Master of Kung Fu, but it’s a good example of the kind of comic that Bronze Age Boogie is based on.

STRANGE SPORTS STORIES #4 (DC, 1974) – “The Challenge of the Faceless Five,” [W] Cary Bates, [A] John Rosenberger. This comic is an interesting experiment, but not an especially successful one. The first story would be ridiculously implausible even without the SF element. Its protagonists are a team of five baseball players who have played together since first grade and have neverlost. Also, they’ve played “every second of every game, without substitutions.” Not even Bill Russell’s Celtics were that good. The story gets worse from there. A fortuneteller reveals that the five “Unbeatables” are going to become an elite planetary security force, and will then take on some alien invaders and lose because of overconfidence. So in order to save the world from that fate, they have to lose a basketball game… to their own future sons. Um, yeah. As this story demonstrates, Cary Bates was incapable of writing anything other than superhero comics in the Silver Age DC style. The backup story, by Denny O’Neil and Irv Novick, is about the police officer son of a boxer who was murdered by the mob. Despite its obvious resemblance to Daredevil, this story is much better than the lead story because its supernatural element is more understated.

IMPOSSIBLE INCORPORATED #5 (IDW, 2019) – “The Beginningless Beginning,” [W] J.M. DeMatteis, [A] Mike Cavallaro. I enjoyed the first couple issues of this miniseries, but it quickly ran out of steam. It tries to do too many things at once, and doesn’t succeed at any of them. Its plot is so cosmic that the reader’s sense of wonder is overwhelmed. What I liked about the first couple issues was their exploration of Number Horowitz’s relationship with her father, but the rest of the series didn’t deliver enough of that. I will think twice before ordering JM DeMatteis’s next miniseries.

M.A.R.S. PATROL TOTAL WAR #4 (Gold Key, 1967) – “Operation Deep-Freeze,” [W] Leo Dorfman, [A] Mike Roy. Another comic I bought in Davenport. Unfortunately the previous issue of this series was the last one with Wally Wood art, and this issue has a vastly inferior creative team. This issue is a reasonably entertaining war comic with SF elements, kind of like GI Joe, but it’s not great.

GIRLS’ ROMANCES #83 (DC, 1962) – various stories, [E] Phyllis Reed. After reading The Ten-Cent Plague back in March, I’ve gotten interested in reading more romance comics. These comics are easy to dismiss because, in addition to being targeted at a marginalized audience, they tended to have very tame stories that preached conventional moral values. But these comics were aimed at girls, even though they were mostly created by adult men, so they’re an important part of the story I’m trying to tell in my next book. And I’m guessing that the genre was more diverse and intriguing than one might think. In this issue’s first story, the protagonist falls in love with a man who already has a girlfriend, and decides to leave him alone, even though he’s interested in her too. The second story is about a man who falls in love with his dead brother’s widow, and they don’t get together in the end, though there’s a suggestion that they will later. The third story is about a romance that fails because the woman has much more money than the man. The fourth story (whose splash page is by John Romita) is actually kind of progressive. The woman is a rich heiress, and the man is a poor sailor. In the middle of this story, she tells him that someday he’ll own his own boat, and “then my family will sit up and take notice!” That results in this exchange:

HIM: Is that what you’re counting on? That I’ll “better” myself so that I can become acceptable to the Fairbanks?

HER: Well, there’s nothing wrong with that – I mean – you don’t want to work with your hands for the rest of your life, do you?

HIM: That’s exactly what I want to do! I happen to love working with my hands – and if that’s not good enough for you, it’s lucky we found it out now!
She learns her lesson from this, and they do end up together in the end, but this story is an acknowledgement that love isn’t always enough. In general, this comic was much more intriguing than I expected, and I want to collect more comics like it.

FANTASTIC FOUR #145 (Marvel, 1974) – “Nightmare in the Snow!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Ross Andru. Stranded in the Himalayas after a plane crash, Johnny and Medusa encounter an abominable snowman named Ternak who wants to take over the world. Reading this issue again, I realize that Ternak is very similar to Gorilla Grodd. This is an okay issue, but not great.

BEETLE BAILEY #21 (Dell, 1959) – multiple uncredited stories. At ICAF, Andy Kunka was kind enough to give this to me, as well as another issue of Beetle Bailey that I haven’t read yet. I want to know where he gets all these old Dell comics, so I can go there myself. This comic isn’t the best, but it’s much more interesting than the regular Beetle Bailey strip because of its longer stories, which provide more room to develop the humor. Compared to Sad Sack (or at least the one issue of Sad Sack that I’ve read), it’s a bit more plausible, and it shows more knowledge about the military.

New comics received on April 12:

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #43 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan North, [A] Derek Charm. It’s very unfortunate that this is a War of Realms crossover, because most of its readers will have no idea what War of Realms even is. However, Ryan North does his best to explain all the necessary background and to avoid assuming any prior knowledge of continuity. All the reader has to know is that frost giants are invading Canada and only Squirrel Girl can stop them. Other than that, I think the highlight of this issue is Doreen’s snow uniform. I wish I remembered why there’s an Ultron tree at Doreen’s parents’ house.

RONIN ISLAND #2 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Greg Pak, [A] Giannis Milonogiannis. This series has already been extended from five to twelve issues, and that honor is well deserved. This issue, the invading samurai take over the island in order to “save” the villagers from the invading zombies. The invasion and colonization are bad enough, but what’s worse is the samurai’s racist behavior. But then the zombies show up, and Kenichi and Hana are faced with a series of moral dilemmas. Like Mech Cadet Yu, Ronin Island is an exciting adventure story, but it also has realistic characterization and complex politics.

UNSTOPPABLE WASP #6 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Alti Firmansyah. Nadia spends most of this issue trying to atone for all the stuff she did in the last two issues. Meanwhile, Priya discovers she has plant-growing powers, and Shay and Ying have lunch with Shay’s mother, who turns out to be a horrible person. The scene with Shay’s mother is the heart of the issue. In just a few pages, she emerges as the most distasteful character Jeremy has ever created. She’s a self-absorbed, arrogant body-shamer who cares more about her daughter’s appearance than her daughter’s feelings. It’s deeply satisfying when Ying tells her off.

WONDER WOMAN #68 (DC, 2019) – “Giants War Finale,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Cary Nord & Ronan Cliquet. Diana and Giganta have a heart-to-heart talk while fighting the Titan, but then Maggie appears, brandishes the sword, and tells it to shove off. This ending is a little anticlimactic, but it leads into the next story. Willow’s characterization is getting really good. Maggie is a fascinating new character.

SHE COULD FLY: THE LOST PILOT #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Christopher Cantwell, [A] Martin Morazzo. Some time after the end of the last series, Luna is getting a lot of therapy, while Verna and Bill are trying to sell the device they stole, and no one knows where Dana Church is. And Kido may or may not be alive. I’m excited that there’s a sequel to one of the best miniseries of last year. However, reading this comic makes me worried about Christopher Cantwell’s mental health. This comic is a brutal and unsettling depiction of mental illness and PTSD, to the point where it’s almost closer to the horror genre than the SF or thriller genres. The scariest thing in this issue is the girl with the braces that look like scalpels.

THE LONG CON #8 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W] Dylan Meconis & Ben Coleman, [A] E.A. Denich. It’s becoming difficult to keep the characters in this comic straight, but this issue focuses on Flix Bixby, a fictionalized version of Wil Wheaton. This issue he has to go on trial to prove he’s “really” is Chip Nimitz, the character he played. The trial sequence ends with a gay kiss which is illustrated like a panel from a shonen manga. Also, the judge of the trial, Flavia Happenstance, is based on Octavia Butler. The other highlight of this issue is the sign that says GATEKEEPING IN PROGRESS. That phrase is another example of how this series is a very witty satire of fan culture, based on insider knowledge.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Re-Entry, Part 4,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. Makhizmo/Machus/Nuclear Man forces Carol to fight Rogue, and Carol loses on purpose so that Rogue can use her powers. It looks like Carol has won, but it turns out Machus has an ace up his sleeve. Confusingly, this is not the same Rogue who’s currently appearing in Mr. & Mrs. X. I’m glad that Kelly was nominated for an Eisner, because she hasn’t been getting as much recognition as she deserves. However, though this Captain Marvel storyline is well-executed, it’s not my favorite of her works.

WONDER TWINS #3 (DC, 2019) – “Monkey Business,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. The Wonder Twins have to fight the League of Annoyance again. Meanwhile, Gleek is traumatized by memories of his circus career, during which he had to ride a bike through a flaming hoop. At the end of the issue, Gleek has to do exactly that to rescue the Wonder Twins and save the day. Zan and Jayna’s kindness to Gleek is what eventually saves them, which demonstrates the moral of the story: “You save the world one act of kindness at a time.” This issue is a dmeonstration of Mark Russell’s writing skill, specifically his ability to create satisfying plots and to integrate the theme of his story with the plot.

OUTER DARKNESS #6 (Image, 2019) – “Each Other’s Throats,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. At the end of last issue, things were looking really bad for the Charon’s crew: they were trapped on an ice planet along with a demon. This issue they somehow make it off the ice planet alive. But now Sato Shin, who is possessed by a different demon (if I understand correctly) is enslaved to the disgruntled first officer, Satalis. Also, the Charon crew don’t actually kill the first demon, they just discorporate it for a hundred years, which explains last issue’s opening sequence. That’s the end of the first story arc. I’m really enjoying this series, even though or rather because all the characters are awful.

RAT QUEENS SPECIAL: SWAMP ROMP #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Ryan Ferrier, [A] Priscilla Petraites. The Rat Queens travel into a swamp to search for a creature called the Slog Chimp. This issue is fairly enjoyable, and it makes a genuine effort to emulate the atmosphere of Rat Queens volume 1, but it’s not great. I’m going to keep reading Ryan Ferrier’s Rat Queens for now, but I have low expectations for it.

AGE OF CONAN: BÊLIT #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Mad Quest,” [W] Tini Howard, [A] Kate Niemczyk. I really liked Tini Howard’s Assassinistas, but I haven’t been equally impressed by anything else she’s written. Age of Bêlit is not as interesting as other lady pirate comics, like Raven: The Pirate Princess or Polly and the Pirates, and it doesn’t tell us anything about Bêlit that we didn’t already know. Issue 3 of this series will be my last.

CATWOMAN #10 (DC, 2019) – “VRRRRROOOMMM,” [W] Joelle Jones, [A] Fernando Blanco. That’s probably not intended as the title, but it’s the only text on the title page, besides the credits. This issue is enjoyable, but I can’t remember much about it specifically. It continues the plots with the Penguin and the evil political matriarch. There are more panels depicting cats in this issue than in the last few issues combined.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #8 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Eight-Legged Griot,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Shakpana continues to cause mayhem on Earth, while in the Dreaming, Erzulie and her allies go to see Anansi. The issue ends with Erzulie challenging Anansi to a storytelling contest. The theme of this issue is that stories have power. I love the scene where Uncle Monday is telling a story about a jaguar, and he puts his finger into the panel that depicts the story, and the jaguar bites him on the finger.

X-23 #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “Dear Gabby Part 1,” [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] Diego Olortegui. Laura and Gabby invade a facility that’s making more clones of them. Then they have a major falling out, because Laura wants to stop the production of additional clones, and Gabby doesn’t. Gabby runs off by herself. Laura and Gabby’s relationship is the whole point of this series, and this new storyline is going to present a severe challenge to that relationship.

ORPHAN AGE #1 (Aftershock, 2019) – “Childhood,” [W] Ted Anderson, [A] Nuno Plati. Ted Anderson’s second creator-owned series takes place in a postapocalyptic world where all the adults died. Twenty years later, the preteen protagonist’s village is invaded by religious fascists, and she has to escape. This premise is not as original as that of Moth & Whisper, but tis first issue is exciting, and I really like this comic’s artwork and coloring.

BY NIGHT #10 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Christine Larsen. The two protagonists travel into the alternate dimension, where they finally find Chet Charles. At this point I’m only reading this series because it’s too late to stop.

LOVE & ROCKETS #6 (Fantagraphics, 2018) – various stories, [W/A] Gilbert Hernandez & Jaime Hernandez. I somehow missed ordering this, but it was given away for free at ICAF. As I mentioned, one of the highlights of the show was hanging out with Jaime Hernandez. I’ve met him before but haven’t talked to him very much, and it was really nice to get to know him a bit more. This issue includes a lot of random miscellaneous material. I think the best things in it are the scenes in the Beto stories where Guadalupe interacts with Gato’s ghost.

SUPERMAN CONFIDENTIAL #3 (DC, 2007) – “Kryptonite,” [W] Darwyn Cooke, [A] Tim Sale. This story takes place at the beginning of Superman’s career, and focuses on his relationships with Lois and Luthor. It’s very well written, and Tim Sale’s artwork is beautiful. I haven’t read much of his work because I don’t like Jeph Loeb’s writing, but he’s a brilliant artist, whose style is very dissimilar from the standard DC house style.

B.P.R.D. HELL ON EARTH #107 (Dark Horse, 2013) – “Wasteland Part 1 of 3,” [W] Mike Mignola & John Arcudi, [A] Lawrence Campbell. A few years ago I bought a bunch of BPRD comics because I thought I wanted to get a complete collection of it, but the problem is that I don’t actually like this series. It’s boring and repetitive. At least this issue has some cool-looking monsters. Also, I like the moment where a woman tells a child “Only five? You look so grown up, I thought you were at least seven!” That’s a very realistic line of dialogue.

SUPERMAN #383 (DC, 1983) – “Your World or Your Life, Superman – One Must Die!”, [W]. Cary Bates, [A] Curt Swan. This is a reasonably enjoyable issue, but not all that memorable. A giant armored robot named Robrox attacks Superman for no reason. It turns out that Robrox has discovered that Superman is contaminated with radiation, and if Superman uses his heat vision, he’ll cause a chain reaction that will kill everyone on earth. Man, Cary Bates’s plots are tough to summarize. Meanwhile, Lois goes on a trip to the Middle East to get away from Superman.

ADVENTURE COMICS #451 (DC, 1977) – “The Secret of the Sinister Abyss,” [W] David Michelinie, [A] Jim Aparo. Topo kidnaps Aquababy, and while looking for him, Aquaman runs into Starro. As it turns out, this issue was only Starro’s second appearance, and it depicts him as an unimpressive villain who’s no match for Aquaman. It wasn’t until the ‘90s that Grant Morrison established Starro as one of the most fearsome villains in the DC Universe. This issue also has a Martian Manhunter backup story by Denny O’Neil and Mike Nasser. It’s most notable for the horrible expression on Superman’s face in the last panel.

SHOWCASE #93 (DC, 1970) – “Never Trust a Red-Haired Greenie,” [W/A] Mike Sekowsky. This issue stars Manhunter 2070, aka Starker, a futuristic bounty hunter. It’s a fairly mundane thriller story with science fiction trappings. The most interesting thing about it is the titular red-haired greenies, who remind me of Kono and the Sklarian people from the v4 Legion. The issue ends on a cliffhanger that was never resolved, and Starker’s only later appearances were in the 1990 Twilight miniseries and the Judas Coin graphic novel. Showcase was cancelled after this issue, but was revived with the same numbering in 1977.

PROPHET: EARTH WAR #3 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Brandon Graham & Simon Roy, [A] Grim Wilkins. I really liked Brandon Graham’s work, and I was frustrated when he committed career suicide with his “diss track” comic. It’s a shame that his toxic behavior ruined his successful career, especially since besides being a brilliant artist himself, he was also a great developer of new talent. Grim Wilkins, who drew this issue, is one of the many artists he promoted. In general this issue is similar to any of Brandon’s other Prophet comics, and I’m not going to try to explain its plot.

DC NATION #0 (DC, 2018) – “Your Big Day,” [W] Tom King, [A] Clay Mann, plus two other stories. This 25-cent comic seems more calculated to repel new readers than attract them. It begins with a story where the Joker puts a man through horrible psychological tortures, then murders him in cold blood. This story is brutal and horrific, and I don’t know what kind of person would enjoy reading it. Next is a Superman story which has excellent art by José Luis García López, but is unfortunately written by Bendis. The most interesting story is the third one, which introduces a bunch of different Justice Leagues with different specialties (magic, science, etc.). This story almost makes me want to read the “No Justice” storyline.

SILK #6 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, [W] Robbie Thompson, [A] Tana Ford. Silk tells Mockingbird about an encounter with the Green Goblin. This comic makes a valuable attempt to depict Silk’s struggles with mental illness, but its story is overly compressed, and overall it’s not nearly as interesting as Spider-Woman or Spider-Gwen.

BLOODSHOT: SALVATION #11 (Valiant, 2018) – untitled, [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Doug Braithwaite. In the present, Bloodshot’s daughter Jessie is stolen from her mother Magic by a villain. In 4002 AD, a talking dog tries to convince Bloodshot to kill a man who will become a villain in the future… it’s complicated. At the end of the issue, Bloodshot surprisingly does kill the man in exchange for being sent back to the present. Like all of Jeff Lemire’s work, this is a gripping and powerful comic.

BLOODSHOT: SALVATION #12 – as above. Bloodshot returns to the present and saves Jessie, but spares the evil government official who was behind Jessie’s kidnapping. The series ends on a bittersweet note, with Bloodshot and his family back together but on the run from the government. This series was followed by Bloodshot: Rising Spirit, which is not written by Lemire.

BATMAN #29 (DC, 2017) – “The War of Jokes & Riddles Part 4,” [W] Tom King, [A] Mikel Janín. Bruce Wayne hosts a dinner meeting between the Joker and the Riddler. The issue is structured around the sequence of courses of a formal French meal, from hors d’oeuvres to coffee. I haven’t been impressed with Tom King’s Batman, but this issue is clever.

G.I. COMBAT #192 (DC, 1976) – “The General Has Two Faces,” [W] Robert Kanigher, [A] Sam Glanzman. It’s hard to go back to DC war comics after reading a bunch of Two-Fisted Tales. Compared to Kurtzman’s war comics, Bob Kanigher’s war comics are jingoistic, implausible, and immature. They don’t feel like an accurate depiction of war, no matter how many of the creators were veterans. At least this issue has Sam Glanzman art. In this issue’s first story, the Haunted Tank crew are trying to hunt down Rommel, and they end up in a German castle full of fugitive students. There’s a backup story by Bart Regan and Ric Estrada, about an OSS agent.

UNCANNY X-MEN #264 (Marvel, 1990) – “Hot Pursuit,” [W] Chris Claremont, [A] Mike Collins. Mike Collins may have been the worst artist to work with Claremont on X-Men. In this issue’s main plot, Forge teams up with a female cop named Jonesy to fight some Genoshan agents. Then the same Genoshans attack X-Factor’s headquarters. There are interesting things in this issue, but it includes too many different plotlines at once. It’s rather jarring how on the last page, the Genosha plotline is temporarily forgotten, and Claremont instead focuses on the amnesiac Colossus and his girlfriend, who have played a very minor role in the rest of the issue. It feels as though by this point in the series, Claremont didn’t have a clear agenda. Luckily the next issue begins the storyline that introduces Gambit.

BATMAN #485 (DC, 1992) – “Faces of Death,” [W] Doug Moench, [A] Tom Grindberg. Black Mask kidnaps Lucius Fox, and Batman has to rescue him. Tom Grindberg’s art in this issue is quite atmospheric and moody, but otherwise this is a really average issue. Doug Moench’s second stint on Batman wasn’t that much better than his first.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS #4 (IDW, 2013) – untitled, [W] Phil Hester, [A] Andrea Di Vito. The THUNDER Agents and Iron Maiden battle some kind of giant robot demon. This series was one of two different THUNDER Agents revivals published around the same time, and neither of them was especially exciting. Neither of them had as much energy as the original series, or even the two ‘80s revival series.

THE MAXX #20 (Image, 1995) – untitled, [W/A] Sam Kieth, [W] William Messner-Loebs. This issue is the conclusion to the main storyline with the Outback and Mr. Gone. There was only one more issue, which I think was some kind of epilogue. It’s a bit hard to understand this issue’s plot out of context, but Sam Kieth’s artwork is beautifully weird, with contorted page layouts and bizarre hairy creatures. The Maxx was the first Image comic that made any attempt to be artistic or introspective, and it was the precursor to Image’s transformation into a serious comics publisher.

JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS #105 (Archie, 1982) – “Voice of Experience,” [W] Frank Doyle, [A] Stan Goldberg. This issue’s first two stories are both about Alexandra Cabot, the Pussycats’ managers sister, who has magical powers and a talking cat. I don’t understand why Archie needed this character when they already had Sabrina. Otherwise, this is a generic Archie comic.

SWEET TOOTH #11 (DC, 2010) – “In Captivity, Conclusion,” [W/A] Jeff Lemire. It’s stupid of me to read this series out of order, because this issue includes some essential information that I was missing when I read some of the subsequent issues. This issue consists of a flashback sequence in which Tommy Jepperd is imprisoned in the research facility, while his wife Louise is giving birth. Tommy escapes from captivity but can’t save Louise and his son from dying in childbirth (or so they tell him). His captors offer to return his wife’s body if he brings them a live hybrid child. Which explains why Tommy kidnapped Gus. Also, we learn that all the children born since the global pandemic are hybrids. Like every other Lemire solo work, Sweet Tooth #11 is gripping and powerful. I already have some of the last issues of Sweet Tooth, but I kind of don’t want to read them yet.

New comics received on April 19:

LUMBERJANES #61 (Boom!, 2019) – “The Fright Stuff,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] AnneMarie Rogers. When the girls get chased by a monster at night, Riley is thrilled, but Mal is terrified. So Mal asks Riley how to be braver – which is a great idea on the writers’ part, because these two characters have never interacted very much. Riley takes Mal to the woods to look for the monster, but her plan works too well, because Mal gets stuck in the Land of Lost Things. This issue is a promising start to the next storyline. Lumberjanes no longer has any semblance of an ongoing plot, and the characters are never going to leave camp until the series gets cancelled, but who cares. Incidentally, we learn from this issue that Riley has two twin siblings as well as a brother named Declan. That breaks the pattern where all Riley’s siblings were named after science fiction protagonists.

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #2 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. Kamala is traumatized by watching her parents melt in front of her, but she still has to fight Josh as well as a giant three-headed lizard monster. And then after Kamala does find her parents alive, some alien dudes tell her that she’s their planet’s chosen one. This is an exciting issue, and Saladin powerfully depicts Kamala’s horror when she thinks her parents have been killed. This issue is still not quite as good as Willow’s best storylines, but that’s an unfair standard.

ASSASSIN NATION #2 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kyle Starks, [A] Erica Henderson. While trying to protect their boss, the assassins reminisce about the first people they killed. I was unimpressed with this issue at first, but I really liked the flashback sequences, which demonstrate some impressive visual economy.

CALAMITY KATE #2 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Corin Howell. Kate is driving her friend crazy, but all she cares about is her monster-hunting rivalry with Javelin. This is another fun issue, and Calamity Kate might be my second favorite Visaggio comic after Kim & Kim. I really like the scene where Kate’s friend (whose name I forgot) is teaching her daughter to tie her shoes – it reminds me of the difficulty my parents had in teaching me to tie my shoes.

PETER CANNON, THUNDERBOLT #4 (Dynamite, 2019) – “Watch Part Four,” [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Caspar Wijngaard. According to my DCBS order forms, I did receive issue 3 of Peter Cannon, but I can’t find my copy anywhere. I even looked under my bed and didn’t find it, though I found a different comic I was missing (see below). This has never happened to me before, and I’m not sure whether to buy another copy or not. Anyway, issue 4 is a homage to Eddie Campbell’s Alec. I may have missed some of the references in this story – for example, I’m not sure who Doctor K is, though he seems like a blend of Walter Kovacs and Alan Moore. But in general, the creators perfectly capture the visual appearance and the atmosphere of Campbell’s early work, and this issue is delightful. Sadly, thanks to the news that Dynamite allowed a certain horrible person to commission covers for them, I will have to seriously consider boycotting them.

PLANET OF THE NERDS #1 (Ahoy, 2019) – “Journey to the Planet of the Nerds,” [W] Paul Constant, [A] Alan Robinson. In Ahoy’s latest ongoing series, some bullying jocks are transported from 1988 to 2019 thanks to accidental cryogenic freezing. They wake up in a world where the nerds have won the war against the jocks. ‘80s (and ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘90s) nostalgia has become a common theme in comic books, appearing most notably in Paper Girls, but this series does it really well. It takes the familiar theme of movies like Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds, and transports that theme into a world where nerd culture has a very different meaning. I look forward to seeing where this series goes.

MIDDLEWEST #6 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. Abel gets into a comfortable routine at the carnival, but of course it doesn’t last, because there’s a storm coming, and the storm is Abel’s dad. Magdalena tries to hypnotize Abel to cure his anger, but she only succeeds in trapping Abel inside his own mind, just as his dad arrives. This is another excellent issue, though I still think Jorge Corona doesn’t quite have the ability to fully realize Skottie’s visions.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #5 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garrón. On this issue’s first page, Miles orders a Jamaican beef patty on coco bread with cheese and pepperoni. I have had patties often, but have never heard of a patty with cheese and pepperoni. It seems like this combination is unique to New York. It sounds a bit disgusting, but also tasty, and it’s a natural combination of two different cuisines – kind of like Korean tacos. In the rest of the issue, Miles gets involved in a gang war, lies to his girlfriend about his secret identity, and worries about how to maintain his supply of web fluid. As I write this summary, I realize that despite having a different protagonist, this Miles Morales series is very similar to a classic Spider-Man comic.

FARMHAND #7 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Rob Guillory. We begin with a flashback to Zeke’s mother’s death, then we return to the present day, where the plots and intrigues and subterfuges continue. I’m getting the impression that the Jedidiah seed is alive and has developed some kind of collective intelligence. Another high point of ICAF was Rob Guillory’s chat with Qiana Whitted. I asked him about the Easter eggs and hidden messages that he includes in his work, and he said (quoting my own Tweet): “They were inspired by Watchmen and Jim Mahfood’s work. He mostly does them on his own initiative. They’re usually the last thing he does when working on pages.”

GIDEON FALLS #12 (Image, 2019) – “The Laughing Man, Part One,” [W] Jeff Lemire, [A] Andrea Sorrentino. This title got a well-deserved Eisner nomination for Best New Series, and I think I’m going to vote for it – though Bitter Root, Crowded and Isola would also be excellent choices. This issue, Father Fred visits a Wild West version of Gideon Falls, then a steampunk version of the same town. And he starts making a diagram of how all the Gideon Fallses relate to each other. As usual, Andrea Sorrentino provides some bizarre page layouts.

MORNING IN AMERICA #2 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Claudia Aguirre. The Sick Sisters break into a house to investigate the mysterious disappearances, but one of them gets carried off by some kind of monster. This series is fascinating so far; the characters all have distinctive and memorable personalities, though I can’t remember their names. Morning in America is another example of a comic based on ‘80s nostalgia, and it has a certain similarity to Paper Girls, though its premise is very different.

SHURI #7 (Marvel, 2019) – “A Friend in Need Part Two,” [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Paul Davidson. This issue is not as good as Nnedi’s issues, but it might be Vita Ayala’s best comic yet. It focuses on a high school student who becomes a supercriminal because his family is desperately poor. It shows a keen understanding of contemporary poverty, and the ending, where Shuri offers to provide Augustin with opportunities once he gets out of jail, is heartwarming. I’d like to see more comics where superheroes show compassion to criminals, instead of beating them up.

XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS #1 (Dynamite, 2019) – untitled, [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Olympia Sweetman. I probably shouldn’t have ordered this. I’m not a fan of the Xena franchise, and I’m no longer willing to buy a comic just based on Vita Ayala’s name. (And I am sometimes willing to read a licensed-property comic if I’m not familiar with the property it’s based on – a notable example is Jem.) This comic is not bad, but it doesn’t give me enough of motivation to keep reading the series.

BLACK BADGE #9 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W/A] Matt Kindt. This issue starts with a flashback to an earlier generation of Black Badges on a mission in Cold War Berlin. Then the current Black Badges find themselves in a mysterious village that looks like something out of The Prisoner. I’m not quite sure what’s going on here.

WEST COAST AVENGERS #10 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Moy R. I’m noticing a number of comic artists without actual names – Moy R, Bob Q and Dozerdraws all come to mind. Of course this is not a new trend; there’s also Herge, David B, Spain, etc. WCA #10 is the last issue, and that is very unfortunate because this has been a really fun series. Besides the shrimp planet, the highlights of this issue are two metatextual moments: Hawkeye’s shirt getting torn for no reason, and the ending, where Kate says “Who’s the Dutch Oven and why’s he saying he can get us cancelled?” and then the caption says THE END! I couldn’t remember who the Dutch Oven was, but I guess he’s a rejected applicant from an earlier issue.

HIGH LEVEL #3 (Vertigo, 2019) – “The Outlands,” [W] Rob Sheridan, [A] Barnaby Bagenda. The art in this series is quite good, and I really like the interactions between the two main characters. However, this comic has a boring plot and a boring premise. And this issue ends with the main characters being kidnapped by bounty hunters. This sort of deliberate interruption to the plot is very annoying. The protagonists’ only goal is to get to High Level, and now they have to spend a whole issue escaping from their captors, without getting any closer to High Level. Overall, while this comic has some good qualities, I feel justified in giving up on it.

AQUAMAN #47 (DC, 2019) – “Unspoken Water Part 5,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha. In an epic fight, the sea gods sacrifice themselves to defeat Namma, and Aquaman becomes a god himself. This was an okay storyline, but I want to see more of Kelly Sue’s version of Mera.

DAREDEVIL #4 (Marvel, 2019) – “Know Fear Part 4,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Marco Checchetto. This issue unfortunately guest-stars the Punisher, a character I hate with a passion. I consider him a supervillain, not a hero. The point of this story is to explain the difference between Daredevil and the Punisher, but Frank Miller already did that in Daredevil #183-184. I didn’t order issue 5.

AMERICAN CARNAGE #6 (DC, 2019) – “Faith,” [W] Bryan Hill, [A] Leandro Fernandez. This comic deserves a trigger warning, because it begins with a five-page sequence in which Wynn advocates white supremacy. This sequence is well-executed and makes sense in context, but it’s disgusting to read. It makes me want to reach inside the comic and wring Wynn’s neck. After that, it’s hard to remember anything else about this issue, but it ends with Richard getting his cover blown. On the subject of white supremacy, the New Yorker just published an interview with a scholar named Eric Kaufmann who advocates “white identity politics” and denies the existence of structural racism. I think that people like Kaufmann are just as bad as Wynn, and even more dangerous because their racism is less obvious.

LUCIFER #7 (DC, 2019) – “A Slight Detour to Hell,” [W] Dan Watters, [A] Max Fiumara & Sebastian Fiumara. Yet another completely incomprehensible issue. I should have given up on this comic after issue 1. I’m sorry I ordered issue 8.

THE WAR OF THE REALMS: WAR SCROLLS #1 (Marvel, 2019) – various stories, [E] Will Moss. I ordered this because of Zdarsky and Quinones’s “War of the Realms,” a tribute to their Howard the Duck series. It’s only four pages, but it’s a lot of fun, and it reminds me how much I enjoyed that Howard comic. There’s even an appearance by Biggs the talking cat. However, the other stories in this issue are forgettable, even the one by Jason Aaron and Andrea Sorrentino, and this comic doesn’t justify its cover price. I wonder how Sorrentino found the time to draw his story for this issue, while also drawing Gideon Falls.

THE WAR OF THE REALMS #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Midgard Massacre,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Russell Dauterman. I meant to order every issue of this series, but I forgot to order issue 1. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, because these crossover events are always disappointing. At least this issue is a reunion of the greatest Thor creative team since Walt Simonson. And there are some cute callbacks to other Jason Aaron comics – for example, the catcalling snakes from Doctor Strange’s mansion make a cameo appearance. But as usual with crossover comics, the fight scenes are the least interesting thing in this issue.

THOR #12 (Marvel, 2019) – “The War of the Lokis,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Mike del Mundo. This comic must have been accidentally published under the wrong title, because Thor doesn’t appear in it. The entire issue is about Loki’s confrontations with his past selves. I’m getting kind of sick of Loki, and I didn’t find this issue very interesting. Also, it would be nice if a comic named after Thor would have Thor in it.

TRUE BELIEVERS: AVENGERS – ENDGAME! #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “Endgame!”, [W] Stan Lee, [A] Roy Thomas. I ordered this because I don’t already have Avengers #71, which is reprinted in this issue, although Avengers #71 is within my price range and I might get it someday. In “Endgame!”, Kang plays a game against the Grandmaster in which the prize is power over life and death. Kang wins, but decides to use his power to kill the Avengers instead of reviving his beloved Ravonna. And he doesn’t even succeed in killing the Avengers, because he’s defeated by the Black Knight, who’s not an Avenger yet. Because this is a Roy Thomas comic, it also includes an unnecessary appearance by Golden Age characters. This is not among Roy’s best Avengers stories, but it’s good, and Sal Buscema’s art is more exciting than I expected.

SPIDER-MAN: LIFE STORY #2 (Marvel, 2019) – “Our Fathers’ Way,” [W] Chip Zdarsky, [A] Mark Bagley. Again, I forgot to get issue 1 of this series. Chip Zdarsky has written a lot of comics lately that I did not enjoy, but this issue is good. It includes a lot of shocking plot twist, and it takes advantage of the “what if” format in order to do things that couldn’t be done in a regular Spider-Man comic. (The premise of this series is that it tells Spider-Man’s life story if he had aged at a normal rate.) I plan on continuing to read this series.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #118 (DC, 1975) – “Takeover of the Earth-Masters!”, [W] Elliot S! Maggin, [A] Dick Dillin. This was the comic book I found under my bed (see the review of Peter Cannon #3 above). In this issue, the JLA fight a bunch of shapeshifting creatures called Adaptoids. It’s a pretty average issue, but it has some OK characterization, though not as much as an Englehart JLA issue.

DENNIS THE MENACE BONUS MAGAZINE SERIES #182 (Fawcett, 1978) – “The Secret Santa,” uncredited. Dennis and his friends convince themselves that Mr. Wilson is Santa Claus. This comic is really cute and well-executed, but there’s not much difference between one Dennis the Menace comic book and another.

PRETTY DEADLY #7 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Emma Rios. I honestly never liked this comic. My reviews of issues 1 through 4 were all negative, and I never got around to reading the other issues. In this issue, as in the rest of the series, Emma Rios turns in some brilliant page layouts, but Kelly Sue’s dialogue is awkward and unnatural, and her plots and characters make no sense. Also, this series includes a World War I sequence which is historically inaccurate and implausible.

ANGELA: QUEEN OF HEL #3 (Marvel, 2016) – “Greatest Hits,” [W] Marguerite Bennett, [A] Kim Jacinto & Stephanie Hans. This is another of those comics I shouldn’t have ordered. This issue has some good ideas in it, such as its depiction of Marvel’s Heaven, but it’s mostly just a retread of Kieron Gillen’s Journey into Mystery.

MERCURY HEAT #7 (Avatar, 2016) – untitled, [W] Kieron Gillen, [A] Nahuel Lopez. This, on the other hand, is a comic I regret not buying more of. Like most Avatar comics, it’s full of gruesome and exploitative violence, but it also has excellent dialogue and brilliant ideas. For example, the protagonist has a heads-up display that shows ads while she’s in the middle of combat, and she has the ability to edit her own memories. This is not one of Kieron’s major works, but it’s not bad either.

FURTHER ADVENTURES OF NICK WILSON #1 (Image, 2018) – untitled, [W] Eddie Gorodetsky & Marc Andreyko, [A] Stephen Sadowski. I have no idea why I ordered this. It was probably just because it was a #1 issue from Image, and it looked vaguely interesting. It turns out to be a trite, unfunny superhero parody, about a superhero who loses his powers and can barely make a living. I’m glad I didn’t order any more issues of this.

PEEPSHOW #9 (Drawn & Quarterly, 1996) – “Fair Weather Part Three,” [W/A] Joe Matt. A school-aged Joe Matt is dragged to church by his parents. Then he shows an older kid a hole in a wall that can be used to spy on naked girls (is this where the series’ title comes from?), and in exchange, the older kid gives him a copy of Action Comics #1. But of course it turns out to be the 1970s oversized reprint. This is a beautifully drawn comic, it’s less unpleasant than some of Joe Matt’s other work, and it captures the boredom and pettiness of childhood.

SUB-MARINER #20 (Marvel, 1969) – “In the Darkness Dwells… Doom!”, [W] Roy Thomas, [A] John Buscema. The army chases Namor into the Latverian embassy, where Dr. Doom deprives Namor of water in order to obtain Namor’s armies for himself. Namor manages to set off the sprinkler system and escape. This comic is exciting, but not that much different from any other Namor-Doom story. However, Big John’s artwork is brilliant. I think I’ve always taken him for granted, maybe because I was exposed to his work when I was too inexperienced to appreciate it, or because he so rarely got to draw in his own natural style.

STRAY BULLETS: SUNSHINE AND ROSES #1 (Image, 2015) – “Kretchmeyer,” [W/A] David Lapham. Beth meets a new love interest named Kretchmeyer. But it turns out Kretchmeyer is an assassin, and he’s the cause of a gang war between Scottie and Del. (Scottie was responsible for the murder that Ginny witnessed in Stray Bullets #2, reviewed earlier.) Mayhem ensues. The highlight of this issue is a half-page panel where Kretch and Scottie are both pointing guns at Beth’s head, and Beth says “Nobody fucking move.”

MARVEL PREMIERE #40 (Marvel, 1978) – “Battle with the Big Man!”, [W] Marv Wolfman & Bill Mantlo, [A] Bob Brown. This issue stars Torpedo, a boring new character. His only distinguishing features are that he used to be an NFL player, and that he’s married with children. The plot is just as forgettable as the character. Torpedo never got his ongoing series, but became a supporting character in Rom, which was also written by Mantlo.

G.I. COMBAT #157 (DC, 1973) – “The Fountain,” [W] Robert Kanigher, [A] Sam Glanzman. The Haunted Tank liberates a village with a fountain that has miraculous healing powers. This story has some nice artwork and visual storytelling, but it has the same problems as any Kanigher war story; see the above review of G.I. Combat #192. Early in the story, General Jeb Stuart prophecies that Lieutenant Jeb Stuart will come out of this mission a different person, but that prophecy is not fulfilled in a satisfying way. This issue’s first backup story, by Raymond Marais and Ric Estrada, is a retelling of the Nibelungenlied. It’s written confusingly, and makes little sense even if you know the story it’s based on. There’s also a USS Stevens backup by Glanzman. This piece has some lyrical writing and gruesome artwork, but it’s not a story, just a riff on “This is the House That Jack Built.” I know that Glanzman’s USS Stevens stories are classics, but I’ve never gotten into them.

YUMMY FUR #1 (Vortex, 1986) – three stories, [W/A] Chester Brown. This reprints the first three of Chester’s self-published minicomics. These stories are totally illogical and absurdist, and are only of interest as a demonstration of how Chester’s style evolved.

DEADPOOL #4 (Marvel, 2013) – “The Quick and the Dead and the Really Dead,” [W] Brian Posehn & Gerry Duggan, [A] Tony Moore. Deadpool fights a bunch of zombie versions of dead presidents. This comic’s humor is blunt and unsubtle and, in my opinion, not funny. As with BPRD, there was a brief period when I was trying to collect Deadpool comics, but it turns out I don’t like Deadpool.

NEW MUTANTS #49 (Marvel, 2012) – “Fight the Future Part 3,” [W] Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, [A] Felix Ruiz. The New Mutants battle a future version of Cypher. This series was a nice throwback to Claremont’s New Mutants, but it wasn’t all that good, and I have little interest in collecting the rest of it.

POWER PACK #54 (Marvel, 1990) – “Dino-Might or Boys and Their Toys!”, [W] Judy Bogdanove, [A] Jon Bogdanove. Jack Power is bored, so he invites Franklin Richards to visit the mall and see a dinosaur exhibit. It turns out the exhibit was set up by the Mad Thinker. Hijinks ensue. This issue suffers from awkward dialogue and an implausible plot. On the other hand, it’s a lot of fun. And it’s the only example of a team-up between Jack and Franklin, who are a natural big brother-little brother pairing. This issue includes a cameo appearance by Calvin and Hobbes, and a number of its background characters appear to be based on real people, but I don’t know who.

BEEP BEEP THE ROAD RUNNER #22 (Gold Key, 1971) – “The Conked Condor” and other stories, uncredited. Besides having terrible writing and art, this comic bears no resemblance to the cartoons it’s based on. The Road Runner cartoons were unforgettable because they had a simple but perfect formula, and because their humor was purely visual and aural, with no words except captions and ACME product labels. This comic throws the Road Runner format out the window. It violates at least four of Chuck Jones’s nine rules for the Road Runner cartoons – “no outside force can harm the Coyote,” “no dialogue ever,” “the Road Runner must remain on the road,” and “all action must be confined to the Southwest American desert.” Not only do the characters speak, but the Road Runner speaks in rhyme, and for some reason he has three sons who also speak in rhyme. And this issue includes stories that take place in a city, a haunted house, and a mountain range. I don’t know what the creators of this comic thought they were doing, but they didn’t succeed.

 

Eisner ballot

I got nominated for an Eisner! I’m kind of shocked. This may be the greatest moment of my career.

Here are my Eisner picks, as usual. I will use an asterisk * to denote categories where I have not read any of the nominees, and am just guessing as to which one I would like best.

Best Short Story*


Best Single Issue/One-Shot
  • No Better Words, by Carolyn Nowak (Silver Sprocket)

I missed ordering Peter Parker #310.


Best Continuing Series
  • Runaways, by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka (Marvel)

Best Limited Series
  • Mister Miracle, by Tom King and Mitch Gerads (DC)

Exit Stage Left is also a strong candidate.


Best New Series
  • Gideon Falls, by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino (Image)

Crowded and Isola are also excellent choices. I wouldn’t have nominated Man-Eaters.


Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 8)*
  • Petals, by Gustavo Borges (KaBOOM!)

Best Publication for Kids (ages 9–12)
  • Be Prepared, by Vera Brosgol (First Second)

Still haven’t read Crush


Best Publication for Teens (ages 13–17)
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang (First Second)

Tough, but The Prince and the Dressmaker was one of the best books of the year.


Best Humor Publication
  • Giant Days, by John Allison, Max Sarin, and Julia Madrigal (BOOM! Box)

Best Anthology
  • Puerto Rico Strong, edited by Marco Lopez, Desiree Rodriguez, Hazel Newlevant, Derek Ruiz, and Neil Schwartz (Lion Forge)

I have this but haven’t read it yet.


Best Reality-Based Work*
  • One Dirty Tree, by Noah Van Sciver (Uncivilized Books)

Best Graphic Album—New*
  • Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Graphic Album—Reprint
  • Young Frances, by Hartley Lin (AdHouse Books)

Berlin and Girl Town would also be great choices.


Best Adaptation from Another Medium*
  • Speak: The Graphic Novel, by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll (Farrar Straus Giroux)

Best U.S. Edition of International Material*
  • Herakles Book 1, by Edouard Cour, translated by Jeremy Melloul (Magnetic/Lion Forge)

I’m surprised not to see any books from IDW or Cinebook nominated.


Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia*
  • Dead Dead Demon’s Dededede Destruction, by Inio Asano, translated by John Werry (VIZ Media)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Strips*
  • Pogo, vol. 5: Out of This World At Home, by Walt Kelly, edited by Mark Evanier and Eric Reynolds (Fantagraphics)

Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books
  • Dirty Plotte: The Complete Julie Doucet (Drawn & Quarterly)

Best Writer
  • Jeff Lemire, Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Doctor Star & the Kingdom of Lost Tomorrows, Quantum Age (Dark Horse); Descender, Gideon Falls, Royal City (Image)

A very strong category, but Jeff Lemire has been extremely strong and consistent this year.


Best Writer/Artist
  • Jen Wang, The Prince and the Dressmaker (First Second)

My other choice would be Nick Drnaso, but I haven’t read Sabrina yet.


Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team
  • Karl Kerschl, Isola (Image)

I’m pleased to see Matias Bergara nominated.


Best Painter/Multimedia Artist (interior art)
  • Dustin Nguyen, Descender (Image)

Best Cover Artist (for multiple covers)
  • Nick Derington, Mister Miracle (DC)

Best Coloring
  • Tamra Bonvillain, Alien 3 (Dark Horse); Batman, Doom Patrol (DC); Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Multiple Man (Marvel)

Best Lettering
  • Todd Klein— Black Hammer: Age of Doom, Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald (Dark Horse); Batman: White Night (DC); Eternity Girl, Books of Magic (Vertigo/DC); The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Tempest (Top Shelf/IDW)

Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism*
  • Back Issue, edited by Michael Eury (TwoMorrows)

Best Comics-Related Book*
  • Drawn to Purpose: American Women Illustrators and Cartoonists, by Martha H. Kennedy (University Press of Mississippi)

Best Academic/Scholarly Work
  • Between Pen and Pixel: Comics, Materiality, and the Book of the Future, by Aaron Kashtan (Ohio State University Press)

Congratulations to my fellow nominees. So nice to be able to say that.


Best Publication Design*
  • A Sea of Love, designed by Wilfrid Lupano, Grégory Panaccione, and Mike Kennedy (Magnetic/Lion Forge)

Best Digital Comic*

Best Webcomic*

 

Two (big) weeks of reviews

COPPERHEAD #9 (Image, 2015) – untitled, [W] Jay Faerber, [A] Scott Godlewski. Sheriff Clara and her posse try to track down her missing partner. One of the posse is the same ne’er-do-well one-eyed dude that she arrested in issue 1, or else a relative of his. They eventually find him in the Bastion, a refuge for criminals. I had high expectations for this issue after reading #6 through #8, but it turned out to be a bit disappointing.

COPPERHEAD #10 (Image, 2015) – as above. Clara finally rescues her partner, Budroxifinicus or whatever, then returns to town to find that the mayor has been murdered. Again, this issue was disappointing.

I got my next shipment of new comics on Monday, March 18, right after I got back from ICAF. The highlight of ICAF for me was that I got to meet, and even be on a panel with, G. Willow Wilson herself. It was a thrill to finally meet someone whose work has inspired me so much. Unfortunately, by the time I got back, I was so exhausted that I found it hard to appreciate the comics I was reading.

Appropriately, the first comic I read this week was:

THE MAGNIFICENT MS. MARVEL #1 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Minkyu Jung. Saladin is the obvious choice to succeed Willow on Ms. Marvel, and this issue is a really promising start to his run. The main event is that Kamala’s dad finally learns her secret identity, and is not happy about it. Then Kamala fights some hybrid animal monsters, and the issue ends with her parents dissolving into goo. The most outstanding aspect of this issue is its humor. Saladin’s writing is very funny, in a related but distinct way as compared to Willow’s writing.

LAGUARDIA #4 (Dark Horse, 2019) – “Future Citizen,” [W] Nnedi Okorafor, [A] Tana Ford. Future and Citizen are reconciled, and Future becomes a liaison to alien immigrants.  This issue is an understated but sweet conclusion to one of the best miniseries of the year. It continues this series’ central theme in which aliens are used as a metaphor for immigration and the blending of cultures.

ASSASSIN NATION #1 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kyle Starks, [A] Erica Henderson. Erica’s first creator-owned series is radically different from Squirrel Girl in terms of subject matter. It’s about an assassin who hires a bunch of other assassins to protect him from being assassinated himself. But this series has the same irreverent sense of humor as Squirrel Girl does, even though it’s intended for a much older audience. The central conceit of the series is that the assassins all compete to be #1 on the world assassin rankings. There’s lots of violence and death, but it’s not meant to be taken seriously.

RUNAWAYS #19 (Marvel, 2019) – “But You Can’t Hide Pt 1,” [W] Rainbow Rowell, [A] Andrés Genolet. Turns out it was Molly who asked to come along with Alex, and it’s because she thinks Alex can bring her parents back. Like Ripley in Lumberjanes, Molly is a more complex character than she appears to be; she has deep anxieties behind her façade of a happy child. The issue ends with the other Runaways tracking Molly and Alex down, but while this is a heartwarming moment, the story isn’t over yet. By the way, it’s a bit disappointing that Molly has been wearing the same hat for this entire storyline. I have this headcanon that one of Molly’s powers is the ability to conjure silly hats from thin air.

MY LITTLE PONY: NIGHTMARE KNIGHTS #5 (IDW, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Tony Fleecs. The Nightmare Knights succeed in defeating Eris and freeing Daybreaker and Nightmare Moon, and it turns out that Capper’s apparent betrayal was indeed part of his plan. But they don’t succeed in turning the princesses back into Celestia and Luna; instead, they become the new evil rulers of this world. So the Nightmare Knights didn’t achieve much after all.  This was perhaps the grimmest pony comic yet, though it’s still kid-friendly. dr

SHURI #6 (Marvel, 2019) – “A Friend in Need Part One,” [W] Vita Ayala, [A] Paul Davidson. In the first issue of a fill-in storyline, Shuri teams up with Miles Morales to fight a new villain called Collision. Ms. Marvel appears at the end of the issue. Vita Ayala writes good dialogue, but her writing doesn’t excite me as much as Nnedi does. And the guest stars in this issue seem a bit gratuitous, although that may be unfair, since this series has already had a bunch of guest stars.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #42 (Marvel, 2019) – “Kang vs. Squirrel Girl of Three Eras!”, [W] Ryan North, [A] Naomi Franquiz, Derek Charm & Erica Henderson. Ryan’s 50th issue of Squirrel Girl is one of his best. In this issue Squirrel Girl fights Kang and (of course) wins, thanks to assistance from her future and past selves. This issue’s plot is brilliant. All the uses of time travel in the issue are consistent and make logical sense, and that testifies to Ryan’s technical virtuosity. It’s also fun to see three different versions of Doreen interacting, and as an added bonus, this issue has art from both major Squirrel Girl artists as well as a guest artist. As an added bonus besides that, this issue’s letters page contains annotations to Ryan and Erica’s first Squirrel Girl story.

RAT QUEENS #15 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kurtis J. Wiebe, [A] Owen Gieni. The Rat Queens defeat Braga’s brother and the other villains, and then Violet and Orc Dave decide to get married. This was a reasonable conclusion to Kurtis Wiebe’s run, but as usual with Rat Queens volume 2, it was nowhere near as good as any issue of the first volume.

WONDER WOMAN #66 (DC, 2019) – “Giants War Part 1,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Cary Nord. Diana teams up wth Giganta to battle a rampaging Titan – the mythological kind, not the superhero kind. Also, the three mythological creatures from #63 are now permanent fixtures in the series. Willow’s writing in this issue is very funny, and she writes some nice interactions between Diana and Giganta, although this series is still not at quite the same level as Ms. Marvel.

AGE OF CONAN: BÊLIT #1 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Lost Verses,” [W Tini Howard, [A] Kate Niemczyk. A young Bêlit’s father is going to train her to become a pirate queen, but things go badly wrong. She ends up having to mercy-kill him herself, before finding a pirate ship so she can gain revenge on his betrayers. This issue is okay, but nowhere near as fun as Raven: The Pirate Princess. And it seems kind of unnecessary, since Belit’s early years were already covered in Roy Thomas’s first Conan run.

CALAMITY KATE #1 (Dark Horse, 2019) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Corin Howell. I am going to have to create a new tab in my long boxes for “Visaggio, Magdalene, other than Kim & Kim.” This is at least her sixth different original series, counting Kim & Kim, and there are more coming. Calamity Kate is about a professional monster hunter, who, like many of Mags’s protagonists, is also kind of a train wreck as a person. As the series begins, she drops in on an old friend of hers, a widowed single mother, and immediately upends her life. This series has a really funny and touching setup, and I’m excited to read more of it.

WONDER TWINS #2 (DC, 2019)  -“Little Boxes,” [W] Mark Russell, [A] Stephen Byrne. This issue is mostly a critique of the private prison industry. Like most of Russell’s politically oriented stories, it’s incisive and powerful while also being genuinely funny. But the highlight of this issue is the scene where Beast Boy is filming a “Hot Mess Fruity Pies” ad. It’s exactly like the old Hostess Fruit Pies ads, but with an added twist: the villain is Jack O’Bin, who wears French revolutionary clothing and has a jack o’lantern for a head. And when Beast Boy defeats him, he quotes Rousseau: “Man is born free, but is everywhere in chains.”

CATWOMAN #9 (DC, 2019) – “The Two-Step ChaChaCha,” [W] Ram V, [A] John Timms. In this one-shot fill-in issue, Selina executes an elaborate caper in order to steal back a stolen bracelet. This issue is funny and well-plotted, but not especially memorable.

HOUSE OF WHISPERS #7 (DC, 2019) – “The Troubles I’ve Seen,” [W] Nalo Hopkinson & Dan Watters, [A] Domo Stanton. Speaking of troubles, I’m troubled that Dan Watters is co-writing this series, because I like Nalo’s work a lot more than his. This issue reintroduces the creepiest Sandman villain, The Corinthian. The sequence that introduces him initially seems like a pointless dream about people eating animal eyes, but as I read further, I slowly realized that the Corinthian was back. This slow realization was a really cool effect. House of Whispers #7 ends by introducing one of the most famous African deities: Kwaku Anansi. I look forward to seeing what Nalo does with this character.

X-23 #10 (Marvel, 2019) – “X-Assassin Part 4,” [W] Mariko Tamaki, [A] Diego Olortegui. It turns out that the assassin clones were built with an artificially shortened lifespan. The still-unnamed clone sacrifices her already-doomed life to kill her creator, Dr. Chandler. I already read this story once, when it was called Scud the Disposable Assassin. But X-23 #10 is a funny and sad issue, and it has a totally different tone from Scud.

BLACKBIRD #6 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Sam Humphries, [A] Jen Bartel. I accidentally ordered two copies of this issue with two different covers. This issue, Nina finally confronts her mother, and it turns out that to save Nina’s life, Nina’s mother put some kind of curse on Marisa. So Nina’s mother is awful, and Nina decides to give up on her and join the Zon Cabal – because “Zon Cabal never called me crazy baby.” This series went in a very different direction than I expected, but it still makes sense as a coming-of-age tale, in which a young woman decides to throw off her mother’s yoke and start making her own choices.

OUTER DARKNESS #5 (Image, 2019) – “Each Other’s Throats Pt. 5: Planetfall,” [W] John Layman, [A] Afu Chan. I was really tired when I read this. Outer Darkness #5 begins with a horrifying scene of a little girl getting killed by an alien monster. Then we go back in time 125 years (?!) to the main story. Thanks to the demon’s sabotage, the Charon crashes on an ice planet, and when the crew tries to regroup afterward, the possessed Sato Shin starts murdering his crewmates. The fun part of this comic is how things keep getting worse and worse. The joke is that this series is basically Star Trek, except 1) the captain is terrible at his job, and 2) the major characters aren’t immune from bad consequences.

THE LONG CON #7 (Oni, 2019) – untitled, [W] Dylan Meconis & Ben Coleman, [A] E.A. Denich. The heroes are about to get shot by Skylarks fans, but are saved by an army of lady barbarian cosplayers. The franchise they’re from is an obvious reference to Xena. Then after further dangerous travels, the heroes end up in Hollywoodland. Again, I was too tired to enjoy this much, but it’s an excellent issue. There are some great one-panel scenes near the end, including a giant chess board where Loren can only move diagonally, and a “Women Wyverns in Comics” panel.

HOUSE AMOK #5 (IDW, 2019) – “We Dissolve,” [W] Christopher Sebela, [A] Shawn McManus. Olivia and Dylan manage to save themselves, but their parents’ and brother’s fates are unclear, and the girls are traumatized for life. The series ends 24 years later with a much older Ollie showing up at Dylan’s door. This comic demands a sequel, because its conclusion doesn’t resolve much of anything.

HEAD LOPPER #11 (Image, 2019) – “Head Lopper and the Knights of Venora Part 3,” [W/A] Andrew MacLean. This issue finally shows us how Agatha lost her head. Of course it also advances the Knights of Venora plotline, but I had trouble following that part of the story, though this was likely due to my exhaustion.

BY NIGHT #9 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] John Allison, [A] Christine Larsen. This issue is a flashback to the creation of the interdimensional portal. It’s colored in an old-fashioned style with Ben Day dots, and it even includes a parody version of a ‘90s Bullpen Bulletins page. It’s one of the better issues of the series, but that’s not saying much.

A few older comics:

INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #2 (Marvel, 2013) – “Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” [W] Mark Waid, [A] Leinil Francis Yu. Bruce Banner has been effectively enslaved by SHIELD, or at least that’s what Tony Stark thinks, and he’s not happy. This is a somewhat inconsequential comic, but it’s entertaining and well-drawn. It includes a quotation from the SF writer Charles Yu.

THUNDERBOLTS #145 (Marvel, 2010) – “Field Test,” [W] Jeff Parker, [A] Kev Walker. A new team of Thunderbolts is sent on a fake training mission, followed by a real mission to hunt some rogue Asgardian trolls. Except it turns out one of the trolls is human. I bought this issue because it’s the debut of Troll, a cool-looking minor character, but it’s also a good comic in its own right. Jeff Parker is a consistently excellent writer, even though almost all of his assignments have been rather low-profile, and Kev Walker’s art is quite good.

BIRTHRIGHT #14 (Image, 2016) – untitled, [W] Josh Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. I liked Birthright #1 enough that I was glad to realize I already had another issue of the same series. This issue is obviously tough to understand without having read #2 through #15, but it’s fun. The main thing I remember about it was the surprising realization that Mikey has a child on the way, although this was already revealed in an earlier issue.

SILK #5 (Marvel, 2016) – untitled, [W] Robbie Thompson, [A] Veronica Fish. This series was never as good as Spider-Gwen, let alone Ms. Marvel or Squirrel Girl. This issue’s storyline is totally forgettable, and its plot is way too compressed; for instance, it wastes an entire page on an unimpressive splash panel of Black Cat knocking Silk out a window. I should have dropped this series sooner.

BATMAN #641 (DC, 2005) – “Family Reunion Conclusion: Face to Face,” [W] Judd Winick, [A] Doug Mahnke. I don’t understand the plot of this issue, but it ends with the revelation that Red Hood is Jason Todd. This issue is a good example of the problem with most modern Batman comics: it’s grim and gritty, excessively violent, and pessimistic, and it has no real point.

MAGNUS ROBOT FIGHTER #2 (Dynamite, 2014) – “Caught in the Correctional!”, [W] Fred Van Lente, [A] Cory Smith. This is at least the third different Magnus revival from as many different companies, and none of them have been truly successful. This is because the licensees are hard to work with, but also, I think, because Magnus has limited appeal today. The original Magnus series had minimal characterization, and its SF elements are badly dated. What made Magnus a classic was Russ Manning’s brilliant artwork, and none of the Magnus revivals were ever able to match that. Fred Van Lente’s Magnus at least has some interesting ideas, like Magnus being a twentieth-century schoolteacher who somehow finds himself in North Am, but Van Lente doesn’t do much with those ideas.

New comics received on March 22:

LUMBERJANES #60 (Boom!, 2019) – “The Life of the Party,” [W] Shannon Watters & Kat Leyh, [A] AnneMarie Rogers. I was still pretty tired when I read this. Jo and her companions escape from the serpent and make it back to camp in time for the play. April saves Jo some embarrassment by declaring that it’s a surprise party for all the campers with summer birthdays, not just Jo. This was an effective concluding chapter, but I think April and Jo could have learned more than they did. April should have learned to stop throwing unwanted birthday parties for Jo, and Jo should have learned to stand up for herself.

INVISIBLE KINGDOM #1 (Image, 2019) – “Walking the Path Part One,” [W] G. Willow Wilson, [A] Christian Ward. A very exciting debut from an all-star creative team. Willow is one of the best writers in comic books right now, and Christian Ward is probably the single best artist. Considering the interests and talents of the two creators, it’s appropriate that this series is a space opera about religion. There are two protagonists – Vess, a new initiate to a religious order, and Grix, a space pilot – and while they don’t meet each other in this issue, they both seem to be involved in the same conspiracy. This issue is a bit of a low-key start, but this series looks fascinating.

MONSTRESS #21 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Marjorie Liu, [A] Sana Takeda. Maika spends most of this issue talking to her dad, who seems like a real jerk. Also, we’re introduced to a bunch of new characters who are allied with Maika’s dad. I don’t remember much else about this issue.

MY LITTLE PONY: FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC #76 (IDW, 2019) – “Cosmos Act the 3rd: …And Far Too Many Stars Have Fell on Me…,” [W] Katie Cook, [A] Andy Price. The title is a song lyric. This issue, the two parties of ponies recover two of the remaining stars, and Cosmos decides to find the last one herself. This issue’s plot is fairly predictable, but as usual, Katie’s writing is very funny, and Andy’s art is spectacular. The highlight of the issue is the line “Canterlot! Canterlot! In short, there’s simply not a more congenial spot.”

RAINBOW BRITE #5 (Dynamite, 2019) – untitled, [W] Jeremy Whitley, [A] Xenia Pamfil. Wisp gets captured and sent to prison, where she meets the green Color Guard. Then the ultraviolet sprite goes and finds Willow. The issue ends on a cliffhanger, and so far there’s been no announcement as to whether this series will continue, or, if so, in what form. That’s a shame, because it’s only just getting interesting. This issue finally reintroduces Willow, which cures my biggest annoyance with the series.

GRUMBLE #5 (Ahoy, 2019) – untitled, [W] Rafer Roberts, [A] Mike Norton. This issue is mostly a flashback showing what happened to Tala’s mother and grandfather. It seems like they’re all part of some demon species, and they’re being chased by something called a S’Taera, which has killed Tala’s grandfaher and abducted her mother. So Tala’s goal is to get her mother out of the S’Taera’s prison, but she has to replace her with someone else, which is what Eddie is for. This is an exciting issue, but Eddie’s absence from the flashback sequence is unfortunate. Early in the issue there’s a reference to the Jucy Lucy sandwich.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #3 (Marvel, 2019) – “Re-Entry Part 3,” [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Carmen Carnero. The war with Machus/Nuclear Man continues. It turns out that Som is Machus’s son. Rogue appears at the end of the issue. So far this series hasn’t made much of an impression on me.

MILES MORALES: SPIDER-MAN #4 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Saladin Ahmed, [A] Javier Garrón. I forgot about this issue until I looked at it again while typing this sentence, but now that I look at it again, I remember that it’s quite good. Miles and his roommate and girlfriend decide to skip school to go see a hip hop exhibit, but the vice principal is trying to catch them playing hooky. So this issue is like one of the Little Lulu stories with Mr. McNabbem. It’s very funny, while also showing deep insight into the characters. The high point of the issue is the two-page sequence with the Family Circus-esque dotted lines.

BLACK BADGE #8 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Matt Kindt, [A] Tyler Jenkins. Two White Badge spies are spying on the individual Black Badges, but Willy turns the tables on them and kills them. This issue offers some interesting background information on the protagonists.

HIGH LEVEL #2 (Vertigo, 2019) – “Minnow,” [W] Rob Sheridan, [A] Barnaby Bagenda. This is a mild improvement over the last issue, because there are some cute interactions between the protagonist and the little girl. However, this comic is still not good enough to continue reading.

FARMHAND #6 (Image, 2019) – “ReCreation,” [W/A] Rob Guillory. I just got back from ICAF, where I met Rob Guillory, not for the first time, and watched him do an interview with my friend Qiana Whitted. The interview was enlightening; in particular, until Rob made it explicit, I didn’t get the joke that Farmhand is about “organic farming” in the sense of growing organs on a farm. I’m glad to have the series back, and I really appreciate Rob’s transparency about when each issue will come out. However, this issue was a bit of an interlude. It advances a bunch of ongoing plots, and it reveals that the organ seeds will only grow in response to Jedediah’s voice, but it didn’t have much else that was new.

MIDDLEWEST #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] Skottie Young, [A] Jorge Corona. This issue begins with a flashback to another shocking scene of child abuse. Abel’s mother sends him a new bicycle, but Dale smashes it out of pure spite. Then Abel confronts Bobby – I think that’s the girl’s name – and the old magician, who turns out to be Jebediah’s sister. The issue ends fairly happily, but we’re reminded that Dale is still hunting for his son.

SUPERB #18 (Lion Forge, 2019) – “Live Fast, Die Young,” [W] David F. Walker, [A] Alitha Martinez. Nothing particularly new here. The Cosmosis backup story in this issue is a parody of an anti-drug story, but it doesn’t seem all that funny even for readers who will get the joke.

BITTER ROOT #5 (Image, 2019) – untitled, [W] David F. Walker & Chuck Brown, [A] Sanford Greene. This issue is mostly a series of fight scenes. I’m really enjoying this series, but it’s hard to find anything to say about each issue. As with Bitch Planet, Bitter Root’s paratextual material is often just as interesting as its stories. This issue includes an essay by another of my fellow comics scholars, Stacey Robinson.

WEST COAST AVENGERS #9 (Marvel, 2019) – untitled, [W] Kelly Thompson, [A] Gang Hyuk Lim. It turns out that Johnny and Ramone (I just got that joke) are Wakandans, and then Ramone gets metal skin powers. Also, Kate’s mom is a vampire. I wonder if Kelly is ever going to get to resolve the ongoing plotline about Kate’s mom. Both Hawkeye and this series got cancelled while that plotline was still going on.

DARK RED #1 (Aftershock, 2019) – “The Forgotten Man,” [W] Tim Seeley, [A] Corin Howell. This is another horror series set in the upper Midwest, but it has a much less interesting setup than Revival; it’s just a standard vampire story. Also, the protagonist is a hardcore Trump supporter, so sympathizing with him is out of the question. I’m not planning to read any more of this series.

AQUAMAN #46 (DC, 2019) – “Unspoken Water Part 4 of 5,” [W] Kelly Sue DeConnick, [A] Robson Rocha. Aquaman and Caille fight Namma and win, but she comes back as a dragon. This issue is okay, but not especially memorable.

AMERICAN CARNAGE #5 (DC, 2019) – “War,” [W] Bryan Hill, [A] Leandro Fernandez. In general this is another excellent issue, but it contains one scene that drove me nuts. The black FBI agent character, Sheila, is talking to a Beto O’Rourke-esque politician, and she accuses him of only caring about white voters while taking black voters for granted. Then she tells him “People like you are why I vote Republican.” Now perhaps I shouldn’t comment on this because I’m not black, but the logic here makes no sense. She thinks Democrats are passively racist, so she prefers to vote for the party that’s actively racist? And the way this scene is written makes it seem like Bryan Hill agrees with Sheila. As I pointed out on Facebook, this is an example of the biggest problem with this series, which is that I don’t like any of the characters.

SPARROWHAWK #5 (Boom!, 2019) – untitled, [W] Delilah S. Dawson, [A] Matías Basla. Of course, sometimes the whole point is that you aren’t supposed to like the characters. This issue, Artemisia kills the Unseelie Queen and takes her title, but her sister (?), Caroline, gets pulled into Faerie. And then the boar dude sends her on a mission to kill and replace Artemisia. I don’t know what we’re supposed to learn from this, if anything, but Sparrowhawk is a powerful work of dark fantasy.

THOR #11 (Marvel, 2019) – “The Eve of War,” [W] Jason Aaron, [A] Lee Garbett. A series of vignettes taking place right before War of the Realms. Frigga is the central character. This is an okay issue, but nothing special. I like how Thor’s favorite foods are mutton, oxtails and lamb shanks.

On March 24, I went to the latest Charlotte Comicon. This was the best convention I’ve attended since last Heroes Con, mostly because I felt genuinely excited. I came in determined to have fun and buy stuff, and I did. Here are some of my purchases:

IRON MAN #18 (Marvel, 1969) – “Even Heroes Die!”, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] George Tuska. This is probably the best run of Iron Man issues prior to Michelinie and JR Jr. This issue has a complicated plot in which Tony has been replaced by an LMD, while Madame Masque and Midas mistakenly think the real Tony is the impostor. Also, Tony and Madame Masque are developing feelings for each other. In the end, Tony puts on his old golden armor to defeat the impostor, but suffers a heart attack. It’s a confusing story, but Archie tells it effectively, and Tuska makes a reasonable effort to draw like Steranko.

TEEN TITANS #9 (DC, 1967) – “The Big Beach Rumble!”, [W] Bob Haney, [A] Irv Novick. Like many early Titans stories, this one shows the Titans addressing a problem specific to teens. It’s spring break, and the students from two rival universities are meeting on a beach to resolve their feud. The Titans defuse the fight by getting the students to work together to build a jetty, but that’s just the first half of the story. In the second half, the Titans and the students fight a dumb villain named Captain Tiger. (All of Haney’s Titans villains were dumb.) This issue is very fun, and it shows Haney’s interest in resolving tensions between adults and kids. Unfortunately, Nick Cardy just did the inks and not the pencils.

QUANTUM TEENS ARE GO #1 (Black Mask, 2017) – untitled, [W] Magdalene Visaggio, [A] Eryk Donovan. Another Mags Visaggio series that I hadn’t been aware of. This series’ protagonists are a transgender high school girl and her boyfriend. The plot focuses on their hobby of stealing technology to create time travel devices. I need to look for the rest of this miniseries.

GREEN LANTERN #83 (DC, 1971) – “And a Child Shall Destroy Them!”, [W] Denny O’Neil, [A] Neal Adams. Black Canary takes a job at a private school, but it turns out to be run by a creep named Grandy, with the help of a little mute girl with psychic powers. This is neither the best nor the worst issue of this run. It has some touching moments, including the panel where Hal and Ollie are about to be killed by a bunch of kids, and Hal’s reunion with Carol at the end. But Grandy is not a great villain. Neal Adams’s artwork from 1971 looks much more contemporary than his artwork from 2019.

STRAY BULLETS #2 (El Capitán, 1995) – “Victimology,” [W/A] David Lapham. Another shocking tale of violence. In 1977, just after seeing Star Wars, a little girl named Ginny witnesses a murder. Her older sister warns her not to tell anyone, but because she can’t process her trauma, she attacks another child in school. On Halloween, the child’s friends beat Ginny and leave her for dead. Ginny’s descent from happiness to violence to victimhood, through no fault of her own, is painful to watch. Like other stories by Lapham, “Victimology” shows that Americans are never more than a heartbeat away from violence. Ginny doesn’t die in this issue, but survives to play a major role in the series; she’s also known as Virginia and Amy Racecar.

USAGI YOJIMBO #18 (Fantagraphics, 1989) – “The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy, Part VI: Storm Clouds Part,” [W/A] Stan Sakai. This issue begins with a nine-page vignette in which Usagi leaves Geishu, refusing an offer to enter Lord Noriyuki’s service, and encounters Gen on the road. The more interesting part is the second half. Ino was previously thought to be dead, but this issue he wakes up in a remote village. He saves the village from brigands and gains a love interest, but his pet tokage Spot gets killed. We see what happens to him next in “The Last Ino Story” from #38.

PREZ #2 (DC, 1973) – “Invasion of the Chessmen,” [W] Joe Simon, [A] Jerry Grandenetti. One of the most bizarre DC comics I’ve ever read. It focuses on a chess match between the American “Robby Fishhead” and the Soviet “Queen Errant.” The obvious inspiration for this is the 1972 Fischer-Spassky match, yet Bobby Fischer is mentioned as if he’s a different person from Fishhead. The issue also depicts bombings, living chessmen, counterfeit money, and a ton of other stuff. Its plot is impossible to summarize. It’s hard to know what to say about this comic, but it’s certainly a memorable comic.

MELODY: THE STORY OF A NUDE DANCER #5 (Kitchen Sink, 1995) – “Book Three: Dancer’s Debut – Balls,” [W] Sylvie Rancourt, [A] Jacques Boivin. This is a bit like Omaha because it’s a story about a nude dancer, set in a specific and identifiable city (Montreal). Unlike Omaha, it’s autobiographical. Unlike Omaha, it’s also rather slow and mundane. The most interesting part is when Melody and her boyfriend shoplift clothes because they can’t afford to pay for them. However, even if this issue was unexciting, I think this series is potentially fascinating, and I want to read more of it. I believe there’s also a Melody graphic novel which was drawn by Rancourt herself.

MARS #2 (First, 1984) – “Mars Attacks,” [W] Marc Hempel, [A] Mark Wheatley. Morgana and Teezy meet Fawn, and lots of other weird stuff happens. This comic has some interesting writing and art, but its plot makes no sense, and I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be about.

STINZ #4 (Fantagraphics, 1990) – “Sorting Things Out,” [W/A] Donna Barr. While at training camp, Stinz learns that his girlfriend Brüna is pregnant, so he has to rush back home for a shotgun wedding. He ends up having to fight both his own father and his future father-in-law, but true love wins in the end. This comic is hilarious and strangely heartwarming. I definitely like Stinz better than Desert Peach, but in this issue’s letters page, we’re told that Stinz is getting cancelled due to low sales. It did get revived later at another publisher.

BIRTHRIGHT #3 (Image, 2014) – untitled, [W] Joshua Williamson, [A] Andrei Bressan. I bought a bunch of these at the convention, and it turns out that the series is still being published, so I can jump onto it with #36. In this issue’s flashback sequence, little Mikey and his friends battle some giant monsters, while in the present-day sequence, Mikey and Brennan escape from their parentts and go to look for one of the wizards from Terrenos.

AMAZING ADVENTURES #10 (Marvel, 1971) – “—In His Hand… the World!”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Mike Sekowsky. Magneto uses a mind-controlled Black Bolt as his pawn, while the other Inhumans try to get Black Bolt back. This is an okay story, but not great. It was also the last Inhumans story in Amazing Adventures; the next issue starred the Beast. The last page says that this issue’s story will be continued in Avengers #95. It also says that “we’ll fill in the rough gaps between those two sagas at some later date,” but I don’t think that ever happened.

AVENGERS #23 (Marvel, 1965) – “Once an Avenger…,” [W] Stan Lee, [A] Don Heck. Cap quits the Avengers and becomes an itinerant boxer, just in time for the Avengers to be attacked by Kang. This is a classic Avengers story, but its art is unimpressive. Kang’s obsession with Ravonna is creepy and disturbing, though I guess that’s appropriate since he’s a villain.

SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES #11 (EC/Gemstone, 1953/1995) – four stories, [E] Al Feldstein. This issue includes two crime stories, a war story, and an SF story. The most interesting story in the issue is Wally Wood’s “In Gratitude…”.  A white Korean War veteran, Joey, returns home as a hero, but his comrade Hank returns in a coffin, having died saving Joey’s life. Joey’s parents refuse his request to have Hank buried in the local cemetery, because Hank was black. In a public speech, Joey castigates the townspeople for their racism. This story is powerful but also surprising. I knew about the famous story with the orange and blue robots, but I didn’t realize EC had published any other stories that directly addressed racism. The other three stories, including the SF story, are all about jealous spouses. In Johnny Craig’s “The Tryst,” an insanely overprotective husband murders a young boy who he thinks is his wife’s lover. Reed Crandall’s “The Space Suitors” is about an extramarital affair in space that results in three deaths. In Jack Kamen’s “Three’s a Crowd,” a different jealous husband murders his wife and best friend because he thinks they’re having an affair, but it turns out the wife was pregnant, and they were planning a surprise baby shower. I don’t blame the husband in this story for being suspicious, because the wife and best friend were acing really shady.

JOURNEY #2 (Aardvark-Vanaheim, 1983) – “The Forgotten,” [W/A] William Messner-Loebs. Wolverine MacAlistaire encounters an insane widow who thinks he’s her husband. It turns out she’s gone nuts because of the deaths of her husband and children. And MacAlistaire can’t stop having sexual fantasies about her. This issue is hilarious and creepy at once. It’s unrelated to the series’ ongoing plotline about Tecumseh’s war.

THE HORROR OF COLLIER COUNTY #1 (Dark Horse, 1999) – “Them,” [W/A] Rich Tommaso. This miniseries starts out as a slice of life story, about a single mother who moves with her child to her own mother’s house in Florida. But there’s also some kind of a horror plot, the nature of which is not clear yet. Much of Tommaso’s work is set in Florida, and he’s very good at capturing Florida’s hot, sticky, laid-back and ominous atmosphere. Compared to Tommaso’s later work, this issue’s art is more cartoony and less Clear Line, and it’s also in black and white. Until now I hadn’t read any Tommaso comics older than Dark Corridor, and I look forward to exploring more of his early work.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #2 (Marvel, 2015) – “Water Proof,” [W] Dan Slott, [A] Giuseppe Camuncoli. Spider-Man and Prowler infiltrate an underwater Zodiac base. This is an entertaining Spider-Man story, but it’s nothing spectacular. I wonder if Slott’s best Spider-Man stories were from earlier in his run.

BATMAN #374 (DC, 1984) – “Pieces of Penguin!”, [W] Doug Moench, [A] Don Newton. The Penguin visits Gotham in order to steal the plans for an airborne defense system. Also, there are subplots involving Vicki Vale, Julia Pennyworth and Harvey Bullock. Doug Moench was not an especially good Batman writer, and Newton’s art is rendered unrecognizable by Alfredo Alcala’s inking. According to Wikipedia, Moench more or less created Bullock, but is not recognized as his creator because he borrowed the name from an earlier character introduced by Archie Goodwin. However, Moench’s version of Bullock is just a stupid comic relief character. Later writers would make him more interesting.

KORAK, SON OF TARZAN #4 (Gold Key, 1964) – “Wizard’s Gorge” and “Warrior from the Past,” [W] Gaylord Du Bois, [A] Russ Manning. In this issue’s first story, Korak battles a fake witch doctor who is angry that white doctors are stealing his business. This story has beautiful art, but its treatment of African traditional healers is pretty embarrassing. In the backup story, Korak encounters a lost tribe of mammoth hunters, as well as some mammoths. This story has equally good art, and is less racist.

U.S.AVENGERS #2 (Marvel, 2017) – “$kullocracy Part Two,” [W] Al Ewing, [A] Paco Medina. The USAvengers and a future Danielle Cage battle the Golden Skull. When I looked at this issue just now, it was so unfamiliar that I thought I hadn’t read it at all, and I had to examine it closely to make sure I had in fact read it. So I guess this wasn’t one of the more memorable issues of USAvengers.

ACTION COMICS #462 (DC, 1976) – “Super-War of Independence!”, [W] Cary Bates, [A] Curt Swan. Superman battles Karb-Brak, the pale white-skinned dude with orange hair and yellow and purple clothes. In a tie-in to America’s bicentennial celebration, Karb-Brak sends him back in time to 1776.  What’s more interesting is the backup story by ENB and Swan. It has a forgettable plot, but it’s a rare Krypto solo story.

BATMAN AND ROBIN ANNUAL #2 (DC, 2014) – “Batman and Robin: Week One,” [W] Peter Tomasi, [A] Doug Mahnke & Pat Gleason. I need to collect more of this series because I really like how Peter Tomasi writes Damian. However, this issue is not that great, and it doesn’t justify its extra length. As the title indicates, it takes place at the start of Batman and Dick Grayson’s partnership, and the villain is called Tusk and has giant tusks. I think Tomasi is better at writing a bratty, sarcastic Robin than a cheerful Robin.

THE TWISTED TALES OF BRUCE JONES #1 (Eclipse, 1986) – five stories, [W/A] Bruce Jones. Bruce Jones is best known as a writer, but is also a professional-caliber artist. His art in this issue is impressive, although it’s heavily indebted to other artists like Roy Krenkel, Al Williamson and Jeff Jones. For example, the third story, “Stopped,” feels like an imitation of Jeff Jones’s Idyl and I’m Age. The plots are typical EC-style shock-ending SF and fantasy stories. They’re competent, but not as good as the stories in Alien Worlds or the original Twisted Tales. The last story, “Booba the Jungle Boy,” is an extremely stupid Tarzan parody.

DAREDEVIL #101 (Marvel, 1973) – “Vengeance in the Sky with Diamonds!”, [W] Steve Gerber, [A] Rich Buckler. In this issue Daredevil fights Angar the Screamer, one of the most dated villains in Marvel’s history. Angar has long hair and wears a hippie fringe vest and no shirt, and his power is to get people high on LSD. This issue might have been a classic if it’d been drawn by an artist who could have done justice to Angar’s powers. For example, Jim Starlin or Frank Brunner could have created some very compelling hallucinatory images. Sadly Rich Buckler is not up to this challenge, and his hallucinations are more silly than scary. Gerber’s story is all right, but not the best he was capable of.

CAPTAIN MARVEL #39 (Marvel, 1975) – “The Trial of the Watcher,” [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Al Milgrom. Mar-Vell and Rick visit the planet of the Watchers,  where Uatu is put on trial for his history of interfering with Earth. I had high expectations for this issue because it’s a cosmic story by Englehart, but it was disappointing. Al Milgrom does his best to draw like Jim Starlin, but he’s not Starlin. This issue is the first appearance of Aron the Watcher, who later became a Fantastic Four villain.

BATMAN #346 (DC, 1982) – “Half a Hero…”, [W] Gerry Conway, [A] Don Newton. Two-Face escapes prison and sets up shop in a literal halfway house, i.e. a house that’s half beautiful and half dilapidated. Meanwhile, the new mayor fires Commissioner Gordon. This issue is much better than #374 because its plot is less convoluted, and because Frank Chiaramonte’s inking doesn’t obscure Don Newton’s storytelling skill. The issue also includes a Catwoman story by Bruce Jones and Trevor von Eeden, but it suffers from extreme overwriting.

HERO FOR HIRE #3 (Marvel, 1972) – “Mark of the Mace!”, [W] Archie Goodwin, [A] George Tuska. I just noticed that this is the same creative team as Iron Man #18. This issue, a villain named Gideon Mace (whose hand is also a mace) organizes an army of veterans who are angry at being ignored. But his Bonus Army scheme turns out to be just a distraction to allow him to rob banks. While its racial politics may be questionable, the early Hero for Hire always had a very gritty and realistic feel, as well as a compelling protagonist and a distinctive setting in pre-tourist Times Square.

BIRTHRIGHT #4 (Image, 2015) – as above. Mostly just a continuation of the plot from #3. A notable feature of this series is the fairly realistic relationship between Wendy and Aaron, Mikey and Brennan’s parents. Their marriage has been ruined by what happened to Mikey, and Aaron is mostly to blame, yet he and Wendy still have to co-parent their remaining child.

INCREDIBLE HULK #165 (Marvel, 1973) – “The Green-Skinned God!”, [W] Steve Englehart, [A] Herb Trimpe. A very strange issue from the best run of Hulk stories between Stan Lee and Peter David. The Hulk has been kidnapped by a submarine captain named Omen (Nemo spelled backwards – I just noticed that). Omen and his crewmen have a bunch of grown children who have spent their entire lives under the sea in his submarine, and whose bodies are grossly distorted by water pressure. With the Hulk’s help, the children revolt against their parents and force Omen to take the ship to the surface, but as soon as they get out of the sub, they all die from the bends. There’s also a villain named Aquon the Man-Fish, which sounds like a Pokémon’s name. Overall, this is a weird but compelling issue.

LUCIFER #6 (Vertigo, 2019) – “A Long-Awaited Comeuppance,” [W] Dan Watters, [A] Max Fiumara. Another issue with some good dialogue, but a completely impenetrable plot. I’ve had enough of this series.

CRIMINAL #3 (Image, 2019) – “Bad Weekend Part Two,” [W] Ed Brubaker, [A] Sean Phillips. The Hal Crane saga continues. Ricky, Teeg Lawless’s son, helps Crane and Jacob look for Crane’s stolen art, but they can’t find the art they’re looking for. The secret is that the art isn’t missing. It’s a Star King (Flash Gordon) strip that was the direct cause of Archie Lewis (Alex Raymond)’s death, and Crane gave it to Jacob but forgot having done so. “Bad Weekend” is a poignant story about the brutal way the comics industry treats its living legends. On the letters page, Brubaker mentions that there was a famous real comics artist who had a habit of stealing artwork to pay gambling debts. I wonder who this was.

WIZARD BEACH #4 (Boom!, 2019) – “Long Distance Wizards” and other chapters, [W] Shaun Simon, [A] Conor Nolan. Hex watches the annual Running of the Jellyfish, then leaves the beach to return to his homeland. This series has a fairly standard plot, but its artwork and dialogue are excellent.

STRAY BULLETS #28 (El Capitán, 2002) – “The Prize,” [W/A] David Lapham. This issue has a complicated plot that revolves around an imprisoned woman named Beth. I’m honestly not sure what’s going on here.